samedi 9 février 2013

Knowledge and Power in the Discourse of Modernity

Text by Terrence Adams
Knowledge and Power in the Discourse of Modernity: The Campaigns Against
Popular Religion in Early Twentieth-Century China

The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 50, No. 1. (Feb., 1991), pp.

    Prasenjit Duara wrote the “Campaigns Against Popular Religion in Early Twentieth-Century China”, which was published by the journal of the Association for Asian Studies Inc. He was a history professor at the University of Chicago for much of his professional teaching career, consequently earning him the role of chairman of the history department in 2004. Prasenjit Duara obtained his Ph.D. in 1983 at Harvard University, based on his doctoral thesis “Power in Rural Society: North China Villages”.  He is currently the Raffles Professor of Humanities at the National University of Singapore, and the Director of Asian Research Institute and Research in Humanities and Social Sciences. 

    This essay written by Prasenjit Duara analyzes the modernist understanding of the historical transition amongst the campaigns, of the attacks of popular Chinese religions during the first three decades of the century. The author establishes this analysis through two different rational perspectives. The professional historian perspective and the Chinese advocates perspective, he represents these perspectives through the argumentbetween the dichotomy between objectivism and relativism.  According to Duara, the term “Modernity” suggest a discourse which structures the perception of the world not only cognitively through the categories of rationality and science, but also by means of such values as progress and secularism, which are often inseparably entwined with the former.  Once the capability of human understanding is expanded beyond modern rationality, all bias between traditional and modern society will be eliminated. The basic argument of this article is the contradiction between objectivism, and relativism is not acceptable for the misunderstanding of traditional and modern society conflict.

    Duara has separated his essay into a threefold argument, modern views of traditions and modernity, beyond relativism and objectivism, and the power of modernity in Republican China followed by the campaigns against religion.Duara states that all modernizers including elites, Nationalist party enthusiast, and the
state simplify the complex social reality of religion, as a means to achieve social, political and spiritual fulfillment through superstitions. According to Dumont this is the “ flattening” perspective of modern ideology.  Therefore implementing that religious practices are pointless and irrational within the realm of science.  The objectivist point of view is depicted in this argument by condemning all actions that are not explainable by the scientific method.  Consequently the relativist point of view demonstrates the understanding of all human significance.  Religious beliefs cannot be demonstrated through rationality or irrationality, in correspondence to facts being true or false.  Therefore the understanding of religious beliefs will never be measured objectively and the coherence of the relativist argument will always lack substance.

    In conclusion, the “flattening” method became a tool institutionalized by the state, which symbolically created a power struggle. Duara states that the advocates of modernity sought to expand their power in relation to each other in a society where their ideas would rule. This created a significant and massive expansion in the power of the state and the ideologies of modernization both Chinese and Western became subject to conflict amongst the weak, and validity was gainedby means of victory. His teaching focus has always emphasized Chinese culture, Chinese civilizations, as well as East Asia nationalism and imperialism therefore the detailed analysis of Chinese modernization and justice is pertinent to this essay. Duara demonstrates the motions of justice through religion and establishes a link between modernization and political corruption.

    In my opinion Prasenjit Duara essay displays the weakness of the scientific method and the importance of the understanding of secular rationality. Faith and religion are beliefs that cannot be validated by factual criteria. Duara raises the importance of expanding rational thought beyond the scientific method in human understanding to further the knowledge of  “modernity”.

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