Summary and Keywords
The three principal religious denominations of China, referred to in English as Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, all share a concern with self-cultivation. Of these so-called “Three Teachings” (Sanjiao), Confucianism situates the self hierarchically within a social order, Daoism attempts to free the self from society and realign it with the more fundamental natural order, and Buddhism ultimately strives to liberate the self by dissolving any and all order. The two indigenous traditions of Confucianism and Daoism have roots in the same cultural environment from which the residual category of Popular Religion also emerged, and the two have long existed in a symbiotic relationship with local cults of worship. After the introduction of Buddhism to China, it too became deeply immersed in this interactive dynamic between more unified denominations and the locally diverse forms of worship of spirits, saints, and sages. Though Popular Religion does not represent a unified ideology or a consistent corpus of self-cultivation practices, its ubiquitous rites of spirit possession similarly relate to the self: by allowing the presence of certain gods to displace individual selves, these rites play with the need to suspend socio-individual identity from time to time, instead allowing the sacred embodiment of lineages, villages, or even entire regions to take precedence.
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