Confucianism: religion or worldview?

Dr Andrew Prince, Director for Brisbane School of Theology’s Centre for Asian Christianity

In some East Asian contexts, the concept of religion encapsulates the ideas of an organisation or movement that a person joins, and also something imported from a Western context. Based on that understanding, many people from across East Asia would argue that Confucianism should be classified as a worldview rather than as a religion [Nadeau: 2014, 21]. A comparison of Confucianism with standard characteristics of a religious entity would seem to support this – including Confucianism’s lack of specific founder or date, lack of belief in God or gods, its emphasis on practice being more important than belief, its lack of specific national identity, and its lack of fixed religious services [Nadeau 2014, 22].

That being said, in his book Asian Religions, Randall Nadeau suggests that human beings are religious by nature, seek to make meaning of their lives, and desire have their lives undergo some form of what he calls “ultimate transformation,” with religion offering something of a blueprint for how this ultimate transformation might occur [2014, 8-9]. Based on this understanding of the nature and function of religion, Nadeau has a strong case for arguing the Confucian tradition more broadly being classified as a religion rather than a worldview [2014, 22].

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