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The Chinese Bookshelf of Islam: A World Religion's Place in Modern China's Literary Landscape (2022-)

Anton Terhechte, Research Area 3: "Future Perfect"
Doctoral Research Project

In his dissertation project, Anton Terhechte is researching the (re)classification and (re)organization of religious literature in modern China, with a special focus on Islam. In the modern period, religious literature has been reorganized and made accessible globally on what might be called the 'modern religious bookshelf' – separated from belle-lettres or literature in its narrower modern sense. It has thus broken up formerly independent religious literary canons and rearranged them into a new 'universal' religious canon that speaks both to and of a trans-local and trans-temporal community of religious practitioners and readers.

The entanglement of China's unique literary tradition and knowledge system and its modern transformation, Islam's conflicted history within that as well as its ambiguous role as a world religion seems understudied and lacking theoretical conceptualization. Looking at Islam, particularly within the frame of China's 'literary landscape', the project aims to transcend common configurations of Orientalism as a binary matter. This will add to our understanding of the hegemonic globalization of Western knowledge systems manifested in the modern organization of literature. Such an organization is understood as a normative and discursive practice. Taking into account a non-Western, authoritarian society and political system such as China, the project investigates the possible existence of 'deviant canons' of Islamic literature that are not approved by the state. It scrutinizes China's particularistic ideology of cultural practice and values against the universalist idea of a global religious community and history.

The 'modern bookshelf' advances the material turn – it focuses on infrastructure in the study of religion and literature and its methodology draws from approaches such as the actor-network theory. The bookshelf is hereby thought of both in the physical sense of the word as well as the cataloguing systems of libraries and bookstores that classify and organize literature in modern China.