Questioning religious essentialism – Ritual change and religious instability in ancient China

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This paper challenges the recurring theme in archaeological research that places religions at the core of social identity. It investigates the theoretical literature that has influenced how archaeologists understand the study of religion and has subsequently reinforced this idea. It surveys the changing religious attitudes and ritual practices in ancient China during the first millennium BC to demonstrate their surprising instability. A model is presented where ritual is an ever-changing source of ideological tensions and religion is but one facet of social identity, not its basis. Consequently, religion is seen as naturally susceptible to both rapid and slow changes, driven by both inner social processes and external stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-23
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Social Archaeology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 5 Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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© The Author(s) 2014 Reprints and permissions:


  • China
  • Zhou dynasty
  • change
  • culture contact
  • identity
  • religion
  • ritual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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