Daoism, the Crumbling of Tradition, and the Fragility of the Self in China and America

Tue, Nov 14, 2017, 4:30 pm

This event is hosted by Princeton's Department of Religion and co-sponsored by the East Asian Studies Program. 

This book talk is based on the newly released book Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality (Univ. of Chicago Press), a multi-sited ethnographic study of transnational encounters between American spiritual tourists and practitioners and the Chinese monks and hermits of the sacred Daoist peak of Huashan. The co-authors will discuss the dilemmas facing Daoism as it is reconstructed as a modern, globalized spiritual path.

American Daoism, with its emphasis on the body, subjective experience, and self-fulfillment, is a recent expression, and perhaps the fullest consummation, of a long history of spiritual individualism in the West, tending toward the complete disembedding of religious practice from place, tradition, and collective identity. Daoist self-cultivation may appear to be the ideal Oriental counterpart to this Western spiritual individualism—but, in China, it has historically tended to express a tendency toward, and not away from, embedding in locality, tradition, and Chinese national identity. The encounters at Huashan reveal the impasse which threatens both trajectories today, in a condition of high modernity: the fragility of a fully autonomous spiritual self on the one hand, and the crumbling away of the traditional authority of Chinese Daoism on the other.

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202 Jones
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