The Modern Spirit of Asia challenges the notion that modernity in China and India are derivative imitations of the West, arguing that these societies have transformed their ancient traditions in unique and distinctive ways. Peter van der Veer begins with nineteenth-century imperial history, exploring how Western concepts of spirituality, secularity, religion, and magic were used to translate the traditions of India and China. He traces how modern Western notions of religion and magic were incorporated into the respective nation-building projects of Chinese and Indian nationalist intellectuals, yet how modernity in China and India is by no means uniform. While religion is a centerpiece of Indian nationalism, it is viewed in China as an obstacle to progress that must be marginalized and controlled.
The Modern Spirit of Asia moves deftly from Kandinsky's understanding of spirituality in art to Indian yoga and Chinese qi gong, from modern theories of secularism to histories of Christian conversion, from Orientalist constructions of religion to Chinese campaigns against magic and superstition, and from Muslim Kashmir to Muslim Xinjiang. Van der Veer, an outspoken proponent of the importance of comparative studies of religion and society, eloquently makes his case in this groundbreaking examination of the spiritual and the secular in China and India.