Thomas Wilson.
Thomas Wilson, the Bates and Benjamin Professor of Classical and Religious Studies, presented a paper titled, “Confucian Ritual Hermeneutics of the Gods,” at the “Confucianism Enchanted” panel of the national meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Denver, in November.

Wilson asked, “How did Confucian officers of the imperial court imagine the gods found in the Classics? Based on detailed records of court debates in the Song and Ming dynasties, I argue that Confucian officers constructed the gods within the context of ritual interactions with them in the built environments of altar terraces and temples used to feast them,” he said.

“The sources divulge an imperative to build ritual spaces to precisely reproduce the particular sphere of the cosmos in which each god circulated,” Wilson noted. “Suburban Sacrifice feasted the deity called Vast Heaven High God at Round Terrace, which reproduced Vast Heaven as vaulted firmament populated by a host of lesser deities and traversed by High God.

“Based on this Ritual hermeneutic, I argue that Confucian officers construed these ritual spaces not as metaphors for or symbols of some other objective reality, but as perfect indexical reproductions of the Celestial sphere of the cosmos,” Wilson said.

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