Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

Religious Beliefs

Are Confucianism or CIT appropriately called religious traditions?

Some scholars argue that the teachings customarily identified as Confucianism constitute a system of ethics or political philosophy rather than a system of religious beliefs. Imperial ritual, on the other hand, might qualify as an authentically religious phenomenon because it pays homage to deities called Heaven and Earth. Neither, however, has a distinct “ecclesiastical” structure, official ordained priesthood, or scriptures that claim the authority of divine revelation. Nevertheless, Confucian tradition has many important features that might identify it as a religious tradition, partly because it has been historically so intertwined with the Chinese imperial cult and partly because of its strong sense of the sacred in ordinary human experience. Those features include an acknowledgment of transcendent power called the Dao, manifest in Heaven and Earth, and the long-standing reverence of Confucius as a Holy One on a par with Heaven and Earth.


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