Religion and Environment in Early China

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project examines rituals directed at the environment in early China, examining ritual action and conceptions of the environment in Warring States, Qin, and Han China (475 BCE – 220 CE). Due to the growing contemporary concern over the environment, there has been increased scholarly interest in philosophies of the environment from early China, yet there have been no studies on religious practice in shaping peoples’ understandings of the environment. This project will address this omission, by examining ritual action in early China, considering ritual as a means through which knowledge of the environment was obtained. Ritual was one of the fundamental ways in which the peoples of early China, and other ancient civilizations, attempted to manage and understand their environment. Seasonal rituals sought to regulate the seasons, and harmonize man’s place within the cosmos. Prayers and sacrifices were frequently performed to influence weather, entreating the heavens to induce or stop rainfall. Sacrifices were often a first line of defence against adverse environmental conditions: floods, droughts, or locusts, to name but a few. Men tried not only to predict the weather, but to use weather itself as a prognosticatory tool. While the specific rituals performed in early China were unique to their particular time and place, these categories of ritual activity transgress geographical and temporal boundaries. This project examines ritual action as an attempt to engage with the environment, and, through these engagements, to view how people gained information about their environment. This knowledge obtained from ritual action was an important part of the body of knowledge that was also formed from the observation and study of the natural world.

In the ancient philosophical texts, rituals directed at the environment are often dismissed as superstition, and in contemporary scholarship, environmental rituals are subsumed into other categories of ritual practice, studied for their role in maintaining social organization, or dismissed as under-theorized. This ignores the fact that ritual action and religious perspectives were among the most common ways that people of various social groups understood their environment. This project will provide us with a more complete understanding of human-environment interaction in early China. As this type of ritual is not unique to early China, or the ancient world more broadly, theorizing environmental ritual as a distinct category will open up new discourses in environmental studies, both historical and contemporary
Effective start/end date1/01/2030/06/23


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.