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Abstract

This essay explores the distinction between trust and confidence both analytically and in terms of the historical development of trust in modern societies. It compares a moral community of trust to communities of confidence and questions the ability of such communities to accept, abide by and live with difference. Finally, it presents the age-old idea of tolerance as a plausible if under-theoretized concept for how to live with ethnic and religious differences in our new multicultural societies. Arguments for tolerance are drawn from the work of John Dewey and the American pragmatist tradition.

In: Comparative Sociology
In: The Future of the Study of Religion
In: Trust

What counts as the same? Judgments of sameness and difference are fundamental to how social groups create and define themselves over time and across space. This is never a purely objective decision because no two things, people, or groups are ever identical. Group identity thus depends in part on interpretive decisions about similarity and difference. This paper examines three primary mechanisms for such interpretation: (1) memory, in which we identify similarities that continue over time and are shared only with certain other people (e.g., memories of an ancestor or a local miracle); (2) mimesis, in which we create similarity by repeating actions over time (as in the performance of periodic rituals); and (3) metaphor, in which we come to see new similarities that had not been obvious before (typical of much conversion, for instance). Each of these modes of sameness and difference creates an alternative social dynamic, with different consequences for how people can live together socially. This presentation will analyze a range of Chinese religious behavior, from ancestor worship to Christian conversion. The approach suggests that theological considerations (as a form of memory) alone never fully determine the social importance of religion, that we need to understand the ability to impose particular interpretive frames, and that pluralism needs to be examined over time as well as space.

In: Review of Religion and Chinese Society