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When asked about the place of religion in their culture, many Chinese people will answer that China is a secular country with no major impact of religion. However, as PETER VAN DER VEER explains in this video, the Chinese are more religious than this perspective suggests and perform many rituals in their daily life. His research shows that this interpretation of Confucianism results from the historical influence of imperialism and the translation of the Western understanding of the terms ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ to an Asian context. Confucianism is being seen as a moral system directly connected to politics rather than a religion as it has no notion of 'god' and is in many other aspects very different from Western concepts of religion.


Peter van der Veer is Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen (Germany). He previously taught anthropology at universities across the Netherlands and the University of Pennsylvania. Van der Veer has been a visiting professor at cutting edge universities in the field of the social sciences, such as the New School in New York, the University of Chicago, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales Paris.

Van der Veer’s ethnographic interests are nationalism and religion in Asia and Europe. His most recent work focuses on religious nationalism in India and China. Particularly, van der Veer sheds light to the everyday practice of Confucianism in today’s China.


Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity

The Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity is one of the foremost centers for the multi-disciplinary study of diversity, in its multiple forms, in today’s globalizing world.

As societies across the globe become ever more diverse, pressing new challenges emerge to the fore, motivating the study of questions such as the relationship between mobility and inequality; the interaction of globalization, religious diversity, and the secular state; the legal boundaries of cultural accommodation; global cities and super-diversity within them; new forms of membership and belonging; and the trans-bordering networking of ethnic and religious minorities. These thematic clusters provide a glimpse into the foundational queries that animate the rigorous scholarly investigation pursued by researchers at the Institute through a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including, but not limited to, anthropology, sociology, political science, and law.

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Original publication

Is Confucianism Secular?

van der Veer Peter
Beyond the Secular West
Published in 2016

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