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Vincent Goossaert (Professor at École pratique des hautes études (EPHE), France) Bureaucracy and Salvation: Self-divinization in Chinese Religious History

  • LG. 09, David Hume Tower, University of Edinburgh (map)

Vincent Goossaert (Professor at École pratique des hautes études (EPHE), France)
Bureaucracy and Salvation: Self-divinization in Chinese Religious History
 
Wednesday, January 25, 17:00-19:00
David Hume Tower, LG. 09, University of Edinburgh
 
Abstract: The earliest Chinese documents show that dead humans could become (under certain conditions) ancestors or else suffering, possibly malevolent, and ultimately forgotten ghosts. The late warring state period saw the more or less concurrent emergence of two new postmortem destinations: one is direct access to transcendence via self-cultivation techniques, the other is promotion into the ranks of the otherworldly bureaucracy. While initially opposed, these two options became over the following centuries intermingled in many ways, as the divine bureaucracy continued to expand, to complexify and to incorporate those who had attempted to escape it.
 
This presentation will argue that the aspiration to become a god (divinization) has ever since played a key role in Chinese religious, intellectual and cultural history. While families work at transforming their dead into ancestors, individuals tend to rather prefer divinization for themselves, and often take steps in that direction while alive. The two main ways to divinization that opened during the late warring states have basically stayed the same, but while the first (salvation through self-cultivation) remained elitist, the second (gaining initial access in the divine bureaucracy and then working one’s way up) gradually opened to all and sundry, most remarkably as a consequence of the religious changes of early modernity (10th-13th centuries). Becoming an otherworldly bureaucrat has become in modern time the main way to saving oneself from postmortem suffering and oblivion. This will lead us to reflect upon the intimate connection between two categories not often examined in tandem: bureaucracy and salvation.
 
Vincent Goossaert is a historian, professor at EPHE, France. He was guest professor at Geneva University and Chinese University of Hong Kong. He works on the social history of modern Chinese religion, and has focused on Daoism, on religious specialists as professionals and social roles, on the politics of religion, and on the production of moral norms. He has directed an international project on “Temples, Urban Society, and Taoists” (grants from CCKF, Taiwan and ANR, France), and is now co-directing the international project on “Chinese Religions in France” (grants from CCKF, Taiwan and ANR, France).
 
The seminar will be followed by a drinks reception.
 
We look forward to seeing you there!