Publication Date

Spring 2016

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Jeffrey Samuels (Director), Paul Fischer, and Timothy Rich

Degree Program

Department of Philosophy & Religion

Degree Type

Master of Science


This thesis examines the role of the cultural discourse on the indigenous religious traditions of China and their place within an officially sanctioned construction of Chinese culture. It starts by examining the concept of culture as it developed in the modern era, its place within the construction of national identities, and the marginalizing effects this has on certain members of national populations. Next it turns to the development of the cultural discourse within China from the mid-1800s to the Cultural Revolution, highlighting the social and legal transformations as they restricted and reframed the practice and articulation of religious traditions in mainland China. Following these early articulations of a cultural discourse in China and the subjugation of religious traditions to secular standards of legitimation, it examines the official presentations and governmentally sanctioned forms of the Daoist tradition in post-Mao China during a “cultural revival,” through an analysis of official publications and online presentations. Finally, it examines the way teachers and administrators package Chinese culture for a foreign audience through the Confucius Institute.

This thesis argues that, despite greater freedom to explore indigenous traditions previously written off as “superstitious” within the cultural revival of contemporary China, the official cultural discourse in China continues to operate within the parameters of a modern cultural identity that marginalizes ritualistic forms of religion, allowing these religious forms to survive in an official space only as exotic images, sanitized and secularized activities, or ethical ideals.


Chinese Studies | History of Religions of Eastern Origins | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion