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Religion In England And China Essay, Research Paper

Throughout history, the civilizations of both England and China have been deeply impacted by religion. In England, two main religions were practiced: Catholicism and Protestantism. While these two religions were practiced somewhat in China, especially Catholicism, they were not the major religions. Conversely, China?s main religions over time have been Buddhism and Confucianism. Along with Taoism and Islam, these religions have helped to shape China.

A major driving force behind the culture of England was the Church of England. Henry VIII founded the Church of England in the 1500?s as a result of his dispute with the Roman Catholic Church. The Church was a very powerful political force (http://www.gober.net/victorian/reports/religion.html). English society was far from a secular one. Because of both its size and power, the Church was able to exercise great power of the people.

It was during the 18th century, 1738 to be exact, when the Evangelical movement began in England (http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/REevangelical.htm). The movement is believed to have begun when John Wesley was converted. Wesley was not allowed to preach in Church of England churches. Because of this, he was forced to preach mostly outdoors, and ultimately form his own organization, which began the Wesleyan Church.

Eighteenth century England was marked by strong feelings of anti-Catholicism. This was due to many reasons. The main reason was the popularity of the Protestant religion in England. The main religion, Anglicanism, was, in fact, a Protestant religion. The main reason for the conflict during this time period was the disagreement concerning the authority of the Pope. Protestants disagreed with the fact that the Pope was the center of the religion rather than Jesus. They believed that this went completely against Christian beliefs and what was taught in the Bible (Haydon 1993:4). There was also a great fear among the English that the Catholics would attempt to take over England and create a Papal monarchy. The fear was that if England became a Catholic-ruled nation, the English people would lose many of their freedoms and liberties. There were many social pressures and prejudices facing Catholics during this time. They could not hold public office. Catholics also could not receive degrees from the top universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. Many were also prevented from gaining employment or fired from their jobs because of their religion (Haydon 1993:14). Some of this discrimination finally came to an end in 1778 with the passing of the Catholic Relief Act, which removed some parts of the anti-Catholic legislation. However, up until 1791, Catholics were not able to legally hold religious services.

Religion continued to have a great impact in China during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Probably the most important religion in China was Confucianism. Confucianism was not the prototypical religion, as it did not have a god (Yang 1961:244). Rather, it was more of a guiding philosophy for the Chinese people. Most of Chinese society during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was dictated by this philosophy. Many of the laws and customs that are still in practice today are based on Confucian philosophy. The main point that Confucianism brought to China was the idea of the five major relationships. These were: sovereign and subject, parent and child, elder and younger brother, husband and wife, and friend and friend. What these relationships did was to end abuse by the so-called higher ups. Under this relationship system, the superior was to treat his subordinate with respect in order to be respected himself. Taoism also was a religion that had an effect on the people of China. The goal of Taoism is to create a relationship with the Tao, which is thought of as Christians think of God. Taoists believed that the key to happiness was to lead a good and moral life. This caused a great impact, as the Chinese were greatly discouraged, not only by law, but also by religion, to act in a moral manner.

Buddhism is another religion that affected Chinese civilization. Buddhism is similar to Taoism and Confucianism in that it taught the importance of good deeds. These three religions combined to form the basis on which many people in China still live today.

Christianity was most successfully introduced into China during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, many of the missionaries, the Jesuits in particular, tried to change the religion to conform to Chinese culture. This did not sit well with the Franciscans and Dominicans. They then appealed to Pope Clement XI. The Pope agreed with them and sent a representative to China in 1721 to enforce his ruling. However, the emperor of China at that time was angered by the fact that foreigners were trying to control religion in his country. Because of this, by 1740 all missionaries were removed from China (Orr 1980:13-14).

One aspect of Chinese religion that differed greatly from western religions was the worship of one?s ancestors. Ancestor worship played a huge part in the everyday life of Chinese people. Every home contained altars representing dead relatives (Yang 1961:29). These ancestors were a part of everyday worship, as it was believed that something terrible would come upon them if they did not pay their respects to the deceased relatives.

Every civilization in the world has been affected in one way or another by religion. Religion can lead to both good and evil. Usually, religion has both effects on the civilization where it is practiced. Oftentimes religion has been a cause of war. In England, religion was a major cause of discrimination during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was very difficult for English Catholics to live normal lives during this time. Even though they believed in the same God as the English Protestants, they could not find a common ground. It seems as if the English, rather than fearing the Catholic religion, feared the power of the Pope instead. By allowing the Catholics to have pure religious freedom, the English believed that the ?tyrannical? Pope would somehow have rule over them. They believed that the only way to keep the power of the Pope out of England was to limit the power of all Catholics within their territory. This was why Catholics were forbidden to hold public office and gain college degrees.

While religion in England seemed to serve mainly as a dividing force, in China it served to unite the people. While China had its share of discrimination, the religions that were practiced there mainly unified the people. Although there was such a diversity of religious practices, many of them were very similar. For example, Confucianism and Taoism had many of the same beliefs and philosophies. These religions both taught acceptance and tolerance for others. This played a large part in the success of the Chinese people throughout history.

The religions of England and China both helped to shape their respective cultures. Each country seems to have been affected differently by the religions that are practiced there. While Protestantism and Catholicism could not seem to find a balance in England, the many religions of China seemed to blend quite easily and without too much conflict. This is mainly because the religions practiced in England had human leaders. Religion, when left alone, can function with great ease. It is when people try to exercise control over the religion that the problems start. Conversely, the religions practiced in China had no human leaders. Rather, these religions were more like a set of philosophies that taught acceptance and tolerance of those around you. This is the main difference in the religion of China and England.


Haydon, Colin. Anti-Catholicism in 18th Century England. Manchester University Press. 1993. New York, New York

Orr, Robert G. Religion In China. Freedom Press, Inc. 1980.

New York, New York.

Stephen Orchard, ? Evangelical Eschatology and the Missionary Awakening.? Journal of Religious History, June 1998 v22 n2 p 132(20).

Yang, C.K. Religion In Chinese Society. University of California

Press. 1961. Los Angeles, California

Yi, Jimmy. ?The Religious Climate of Victorian England? http://www.gober.net/victorian/reports/religion.html. 3/27/00

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