Religion and Modernity

I was prompted to write this post when I saw a Buddhist monk dressed in traditional garb walking down the street, as I happened to glace out the window. His bright orange robe seemed like a splash of light on an otherwise banal city sidewalk. I was fascinated by the juxtaposition of this monk, who looked like he belonged in a beautiful temple high in the Chinese mountains, and the run-down, dirty city street in which we both found ourselves. As Wassterstrom says, China is a country of contradictions.

Photo Credit: Michael Shepard,

This week’s reading has also led me to think about the concept of religion in a modern China. While the opening up of China to the West has allowed for an increase in economic and cultural exchange, this process has done the same for religious ideas. Just as Chinese people have gone from living in groups with their family lineages to high-rises, or from eating dumplings to eating KFC, or from riding bikes to riding the subway, religious practices are shifting. This is not to say, however, that there is any kind of absolute change. To the contrary, a mergence of the old and the new is constantly seen in everyday life (hence the Buddhist monk walking down the street).

The other concept I’ve thought about is that of capitalism and how it is tied to religion. Lizhu Fan in “Spirituality in a Modern Chinese Metropolis” mentioned, “economic opportunity seems to have quickened the impulse of spiritual renewal (Location 595).” The questions I would pose are: Does economic opportunity quicken our spiritual impulse, or does it create it? Does the complexity and stress that comes with modernization cause the desire for us to be spiritually connected or just awaken it? What I am basically suggesting from an economic standpoint is that a new market is being created in the arena of religion. Just as foreign products and luxuries are becoming available to Chinese people, the abundance of ideas and beliefs are now becoming products that individuals can consume. Perhaps the growing obsession with one’s possible material possessions (created in great part by capitalism) is causing people to look inside themselves in order to find what it is that really gives them peace. I don’t mean to cheapen the value in investigating one’s spiritual self, but it is interesting to see the kinds of deep issues and considerations that become pressing when one’s world becomes more complex, or “modern.”