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The Modern Spirit of Asia:
The Spiritual and the Secular in China and India
Peter van der Veer

Finalist for the 2014 Award for Excellence in Religion in Analytical-Descriptive Studies, American Academy of Religion
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014

Paperback | 2013 | $26.95 | £21.95 | ISBN: 9780691128153
296 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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The Modern Spirit of Asia challenges the notion that modernity in China and India are derivative imitations of the West, arguing that these societies have transformed their ancient traditions in unique and distinctive ways. Peter van der Veer begins with nineteenth-century imperial history, exploring how Western concepts of spirituality, secularity, religion, and magic were used to translate the traditions of India and China. He traces how modern Western notions of religion and magic were incorporated into the respective nation-building projects of Chinese and Indian nationalist intellectuals, yet how modernity in China and India is by no means uniform. While religion is a centerpiece of Indian nationalism, it is viewed in China as an obstacle to progress that must be marginalized and controlled.

The Modern Spirit of Asia moves deftly from Kandinsky's understanding of spirituality in art to Indian yoga and Chinese qi gong, from modern theories of secularism to histories of Christian conversion, from Orientalist constructions of religion to Chinese campaigns against magic and superstition, and from Muslim Kashmir to Muslim Xinjiang. Van der Veer, an outspoken proponent of the importance of comparative studies of religion and society, eloquently makes his case in this groundbreaking examination of the spiritual and the secular in China and India.


"A fascinating read."--Nick Leech, National

"The authority of this study is based on a combination of field research in each of the two nations (China and India), along with an impressive command of the literature and tools of cultural anthropology, comparative sociology, and conceptual analysis. The author is a well-respected, contemporary European social scientist, and this study is likely to stimulate intense scholarly discussion for years ahead."--Choice

"[A] particularly outstanding work."--Guo Ting, Oxford Comparative Critical Review

"One of the many merits of Peter van der Veer's The Modern Spirit of Asia is that he acknowledges the unprecedented nature of ‘the project of modernity with all its revolutionary ideas of nation, equality, citizenship, democracy, and rights,' yet shows how it has taken strikingly different shapes in the Chinese and Indian cultural spheres."--Benjamin Schewel, Hedgehog Review

"This is an important book, which will be useful for helping scholars of Chinese religion think more deeply about the question of modernity."--Erik Hammerstrom, Review of Religion and Chinese Society

"This book will be a fundamental point of reference for any ethnography of secularism and for anyone interested in the study of religion, secularism, modernity, and politics in Asia and in the global world."--Chiara Letizia, American Anthropologist


"This wonderful book traces the way interactions with Western imperial power have shaped aspects of nationalism in the two emerging Asian giants, China and India. Peter van der Veer knows these two societies intimately, which is one reason why his study is so perceptive and so informative. At once highly readable and scholarly, The Modern Spirit of Asia is strongly recommended for specialists and nonspecialists alike."--Talal Asad, Graduate Center, City University of New York

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Table of Contents:

Preface ix
Chapter 1 Introduction 1
Chapter 2 Spirituality in Modern Society 35
Chapter 3 The Making of Oriental Religion 63
Chapter 4 Conversion to Indian and Chinese Modernities 90
Chapter 5 Secularism's Magic 115
Chapter 6 "Smash Temples, Build Schools": Comparing Secularism in India and China 140
Chapter 7 The Spiritual Body 168
Chapter 8 Muslims in India and China 193
Chapter 9 Conclusion 214
Notes 231
Bibliography 253
Index 271

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