In this work of historical sociology, I explore various Asian social and cultural responses – actual and potential – to the unsustainable nature of global modernity as we have known it. While the period of this study covers the last hundred years or so, I range back in time to better understand these responses in our present moment that is characterized by three global changes: (1) the rise of non-Western powers; (2) the loss of authoritative sources of transcendence (e.g., Marxism or religion); and (3) the looming crisis of planetary sustainability.
I believe that these changes require us to revisit the paradigm of historical sociology deriving from the nineteenth century which essentially seeks to explain the rise of the West. This narrative was most sharply and exhaustively theorized by Max Weber (1864–1920), a scholar for whose work I have the greatest respect. Weber believed that it was only in the West that knowledge came to have “universal significance and validity.” The overarching theme of Weber’s historical sociology was to trace the long history of the rationalizing process which culminated in modern Western civilization. Rationalization, by which he meant world mastery by calculability and prediction, was made possible by the process of ‘disenchantment’ whereby religious and irrational knowledge came to be replaced by science and technological knowledge. Yet, this very process was itself germinated by certain forms of religious knowledge, ethics and disciplines – namely, Protestantism.