Cosmology, Gender, Structure, and Rhythm

Marcel Granet and Chinese Religion in the History of Social Theory

In: Review of Religion and Chinese Society
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  • 1 The University of Hong Kong
  • 2 香港大学人文社会研究所及社会学系

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This article interrogates the near-complete absence of China as a source of materials and inspiration for constructing theoretical concepts and models in mainstream sociology and anthropology. I outline the story of the largely forgotten mutual engagements, influences, and missed connections between the work of the French sociologist and sinologist Marcel Granet (1884–1940), whose work revolved around Chinese religion, and key figures in the history of sociological and anthropological theory, exemplified by Durkheim, Mauss, and Lévi-Strauss. My purpose is to restore Granet—and, through Granet, China—in the genealogy of classical anthropological and social theory. This involves showing how Granet’s work was informed by the theoretical debates that animated his mentors and colleagues in the French sociological school, and how he, in turn, directly or indirectly influenced subsequent theoretical developments. It also involves raising questions about the implications of connections that were missed, or only briefly evoked, by theoreticians in subsequent generations. These questions open bridges for advancing a mutually productive dialogue between the study of Chinese cosmology, religion, and society, and theory construction in sociology and anthropology.

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