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To write about the religious situation in East Asia within the context of a book on ‘secularization and the world religions’ presupposes that the reader understands a number of points. I would like to begin by reflecting briefly on these.
East Asia is taken here to mean China, Japan and Korea. China will be a key focus of attention because it represents the largest and most influential cultural area in East Asia. The term ‘religious’ covers both major global religious traditions and specifically national and local religious forms that dominate the religious situation of individual regions. Alongside older religious traditions such as Daoism, Confucianism and Shintoism, this includes the new religious movements.
The opposite of religiosus is saecularis. Secularization presupposes an original unity and subsequent separation of religious and non-religious spheres. Otherwise, there is no room for this movement from one to the other that constitutes the meaning of the term. The concept of secularization highlights the relationship between modern European history and the Christian tradition. The separation of church and state and the development of a plurality of perspectives and worldviews, which ended the state's monopoly on orthodoxy, and the emergence of a civil society, are key components of secularization within the process of European modernization. In countries in which religion and the state have for centuries had a very different kind of relationship, it is not meaningful to speak of a process of secularization.
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