Religion, Violence, and Emotion: Modes of Religiosity in the Neolithic and Bronze Age of Northern China

Abstract

This paper explores the development of religious traditions in the Neolithic and Bronze Age of northern China. It applies the cognitive anthropological theory of Divergent Modes of Religiosity (DMR) for the first time in this part of the world. DMR theory frames ritual behavior in two distinct modes, one that is more traumatic/emotional and occurs less frequently (imagistic rituals) and another that is more placid and occurs more frequently (doctrinal rituals). Various archaeological and historic sources indicate that violent imagistic rituals involving human sacrifice and feasting began deep in the Neolithic; but religion did not become more tame when societies entered the Bronze Age, as predicted by DMR theory. Instead, violent imagistic rituals continued and became arguably more brutal. The application of DMR theory here is a useful means to explore the challenging topic of religious violence and to reveal biases in the treatment of ritual and religion in Shang studies.

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Note on abbreviations. IA: Institute of Archaeology; CASS: Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks to Laura Jones, Francis Allard, David Greenberg, and two anonymous reviewers for offering insight, constructive critique, and raising penetrating questions. And special thanks to Ian Hodder for thought-provoking conversations about this topic and for comments on an early draft of this paper.

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Reinhart, K. Religion, Violence, and Emotion: Modes of Religiosity in the Neolithic and Bronze Age of Northern China. J World Prehist 28, 113–177 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10963-015-9086-4

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Keywords

  • Religion
  • Ritual
  • China
  • Divergent Modes of Religiosity theory
  • Violence
  • Sacrifice
  • Memory