The Modern Spirit of Asia challenges the notion that modernity in China and India are derivative imitations of the West, arguing that these societies have transformed their ancient traditions in unique and distinctive ways. Peter van der Veer begins with nineteenth-century imperial history, exploring how Western concepts of spirituality, secularity, religion, and magic were used to translate the traditions of India and China. He traces how modern Western notions of religion and magic were incorporated into the respective nation-building projects of Chinese and Indian nationalist intellectuals, yet how modernity in China and India is by no means uniform. While religion is a centerpiece of Indian nationalism, it is viewed in China as an obstacle to progress that must be marginalized and controlled.
Van der Veer, an outspoken proponent of the importance of comparative studies of religion and society, eloquently makes his case in this groundbreaking examination of the spiritual and the secular in China and India. This book allows both Indians and Chinese to examine their social history from a comparative viewpoint. These historical trajectories have a lot in common, but at various points Indians and Chinese have made choices that have led to very different outcomes.
The Modern Spirit of Asia is a welcome break from the ubiquitous emphasis on economic growth in the comparison of India and China. It would appeal to all those interested in comparing India and China who want to be informed about the contemporary world in which India and China are major players.
Peter van der Veer is director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen, Germany, and a Distinguished Professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.