Confucian ritual and solidarity: physicality, meaning, and connection in classical Confucianism
Loh, Brian Sian Min
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Consensus scholarship notes that the ethics described in the Confucian textual corpus focuses its attention primarily on concrete relationships, specific roles, and reciprocal duties. This has occasioned concern about whether Confucian ethics can offer adequate moral guidelines for interactions between people who have enjoyed no prior contact. In response, this dissertation suggests that early Confucianism does guide interactions with strangers, but that this guidance is to be found less in its ethical concepts or moral precepts than in its embodied ritual practices. To substantiate this claim, I carefully apply theories drawn from the fields of cognitive science, cognitive philosophy, American pragmatism, and ritual theory to several early Confucian texts: the Analects, Mencius, Xunzi, and the ritual manuals of the Liji and the Yili. From pragmatism and cognitive philosophy, I assemble lenses of conceptual and pre-conceptual meaning and use them to examine the effects of ritual practice on the creation of group boundaries and the generation of solidarity. In so doing, I reveal that the solidarity generated by embodied practice and physical co-presence shapes the boundaries and structure of early Confucian groups as much as concepts or shared values. I further outline the neural and psychological processes by which the physicality of Confucian ritual practice creates pre-conceptual solidarity, then highlight the ways that solidarity is framed and given a meaningful direction by the varied Confucian exemplars. Ultimately, I demonstrate that mutual engagement in ritual practice allows strangers to bond quickly, without the benefit of prior relationship or shared proposition. This, I argue, is the heart of the Confucian treatment of strangers. Ritual practice simultaneously creates a relationship between new contacts and energizes that relationship with strong, pre-conceptually-generated solidarity. This dissertation also analyzes a number of related topics, including the relationship between ritual practice and group boundaries and the influence of the body upon concepts and categorization. In its broadest goals, this study offers insight into the rich character of early Confucian physicality, suggests novel guidelines for the analysis of contemporary Confucianism, and reflects possible ways in which solidarity might be formed between members of groups with different value orientations.