Confucianism has wide acclaim over how critical it was in shaping Eastern and Chinese culture as a way of life, but one critical question never gets asked. Is Confucianism a religion? The concept of inspiring this paper is the deviation from the immediate thought that Confucianism is a religion by questioning the basic principles under which it operates. In this way, it is easier to understand the basis under which the argument can get described in different stages of interpretation. The essay will highlight the definition of what a religion is and then contrast the basic underlying principles of religion with those of Confucianism. The next is to highlight whether it is a religion and how it resonates with modern eastern culture and even western understanding of philosophy and religions. Finally, the establishment of a proper stance shall cement my decision according to the facts that have gotten presented.

What Is A Religion?

The definition of religion, according to, is a specific fundamental set of beliefs generally agreed upon by several sects of people. From this simplistic view, anything that people devote themselves too will end up as a religion as long as there is an acknowledged consensus. The problem with the definition of religion is the position one will take in the establishment of a proper way to make others understand what it is without having to undermine or overestimate some impacts.

In this way, due to the vagueness of the English definition of religion, then we can make a conventional interpretation of the word through the majority’s eyes. How shall we encounter this question? Currently, the world has a few major religions and many minor ones. The major ones are mostly Abrahamic religions followed by those that originate from the Indian subcontinent. They have a particular set of overlapping characteristics that majorly put them in the same manner of categorization. The presence of differing schools of thought surrounding their development and maintenance over the ages should get acknowledged when pushing for a real argument in what a religion is.

Our Conventional Definition Of A Religion

The four religions with the most massive followings on the planet are similar in more ways than one can imagine. Political motives would quickly diminish this premise, but the impact of a level-headed approach in the establishment of our conventionalized definition should prove to be a potent endeavor that clears the fog. The first problem that should get highlighted is the possibility of bias for these religions hails from different regions of the same continent. Concerning what is academically relevant, the following action is only a way to put a much more central meaning to derive proper understanding into what Confucianism possibly is.

Presence of Central Books That Are Holy

All four major world religions have books that they term as holy. The books are written by people who have undergone some divination and seen a better path to achieve the end goal of the respective religion. In Christianity, the book that holds information written by many authors over different long periods is the Bible. It is translated into many languages for larger crowds to understand the word of God without the need for miscommunication. The Islamic book is similar to the Bible and has many stories that are in line with what the Bible says, and it is called Qur’an. For the case of Hinduism, many books may get called “Hindu Scriptures.” The Bhagavad Gita, Vedas, and even the Upanishads commonly fall under this categorization. Buddhism is similar to all of these, as it has a sacred text called the Tripitaka.

Founders and Major Figures

Not all major world religions have a founder, but they all have significant figures that surround the religion. In the case of Hinduism, it is possible that there were no founders, unlike Buddhism, which had a single founder, Siddhartha Gautama. Christianity and Islam assign the position of founder of the religion to Jesus and the prophet Mohammed (P.B.U.H). The presence of people with equal importance, even deities, is a characteristic they mostly share to elaborate on specific concepts.

Use Of Stories And Parables

In all of these religions, the use of stories and parables is common. Their use puts the development of content that has substance into the religion. The stories could be relatable on a human level because they may be everyday occurrences, or the story could have a higher divine purpose that may need the further intervention of those who are knowledgeable.

Definition of A Religion

According to the few characteristics mentioned above, a standard definition of religion sourced from the English description of others can now get made. Religion is a set of beliefs encompassed in sacred texts written by founders that contain significant stories and parables that are central to the core of religion’s goals.

What is Confucianism?

Confucianism is a world view that came up in China supposedly under the man called Kung Fu Tze. The words “world view” is a blanket term for the practices that could be in religion or philosophy. Now the task ahead is to analyze whether the use of the earlier characteristics can make a significant definition of what gets primarily seen as a religion in the West.

Characteristics of Confucianism

The probability of an emergence of a trend that has not gotten mention do far is high due to the nature of things. One of the major characteristics highlighted is the presence of sacred texts. Confucianism has a body of writing regarded as the central basis of the movement. The name of the sacred texts is Four Books And Five Classics. Here is a compilation of information that Confucius, and his disciples, came up with as a basis of reasoning about the world.

In Confucianism, a question that may bother many is the presence of the man known as Kung-Fu Tze. It is not known whether he existed, or it may have been a creation by many people over the ages, but the evidence is compelling. The Analects, for example, point to the existence of a master called Confucius. In the following text, it is plausible that one of the many disciples had gotten an answer straight from him: “The Master said, Set your heart on the Dao (the way), base yourself in virtue, rely on benevolence, journey in the arts.” The Analects have wide fame for being conversations that went both ways in which the disciple inquired for knowledge on a certain matter, and then the Master would give an answer.

Confucianism also alludes to the presence of another significant religious body, the way Abrahamic religions would mention people who lived at around the same. Such religious crossovers are a common occurrence, and, in this way, Confucianism goes to show a similar trend. In the writings Confucius’ books, the Tao gets a constant mention, yet it is a key feature of Daoism. Confucians and Taoists disagree on their world view, but they both place the Dao as “The way.” Laotzu, the one who founded Taoism, ridicules Confucius for his interpretation of life and the way. He says that “Confucius has not broken through the boundary of worldliness. If he could see life and death as the same thing, putting equal weight on what he can do and what he can’t do, then he would be free of his hindrance’s.”  The words are to mean that the path Confucius follows is an inadequate path that hinders what is right from getting achieved.

The Position Of Confucianism In The World

According to the set definition of a religion that got made up there using a few common characteristics of other religions, Confucianism can get the title of being a religion. There is always the problem of the general world view and how different places come up with specific definitions. Weiming also acknowledges the probability of viewing his teachings in different lights that resonate with philosophy or even religion. The reason many view it as a religion is that it has resonated with the social spheres of Chinese life for millennia and has also influenced neighboring regions into adopting variants of the practice.

Newer practices in the Chinese sphere have emerged, but they still fly the banner high. Those people that are under the most recent sect and appreciation argue that the reason Chinese communities outside of China have thrived is due to Confucian practices. In this way, Allen highlights the significant impact the way of life may have had in other communities, and she points out that it is similar to the way Northern Europe has thrived due to Christianity. A comparison of this proportion only goes further to prove that, in many cases, it will be considered a religion and will get treated as such when comparing it to different situations.

Western scholars argue that there is a likelihood of a majority of Confucius’s teachings being idealized and put out of context. Allen’s article features the views of the Brookses, who are both researchers on the matter. They have the view that Confucius might have been an ordinary person without the whole need for the credit they give to him. In their book, the Brookses argue that a few of the things found in the Analects can get credited directly to him. It is not to show the diminished value of his worth; it is to prove that a belief system may lead to unintended consequences such as associating different qualities than those the man had.

Another western scholar, Lionel Jensen, theorizes that the development of Confucianism as we know it today is possibly a result of westerners going to China. He argues that the probability of western Jesuit missionaries going to China and perpetuating the first thing that sounded familiar was high. The push in this argument further gets strengthened by a similar presence of concepts in what missionaries likened to Christianity. Confucius’s concept of heaven seemed like that of Christianity. In that way, the Jesuits may have inadvertently brought worldwide fame to a man, and an idea that may not have existed in the impact felt as it is today.

The role of Confucianism does not diminish in the world today. Due to the possibly inflated stories that emanated due to different retellings and interpretations, one of the most elaborate works of literature has emerged out of eastern society. In China, the practice may not be as comprehensive as initially thought or even perceived, but the work of literature is considerably influential in many ways.


According to the interpretations used to define religion in the manner that they commonly get referred to, Confucianism falls in line and could get defined as such. The differences that arise are minimal from the largest religions since they have the same basic concepts or what had initially got termed as characteristics. Many western scholars and even easterners agree to the possibility that Confucianism could get the names of other things such as philosophy or even a “way of life.” In all rights, the views do not particularly aim to diminish the value of this Chinese concept, but it does the opposite, it shows how relevant it is in spreading out. Although the original texts may not have come from the supposed author, as shown by the western books written on the matter, Confucius still stands as a giant in the ancient world that contributed to influential thoughts.


Primary Sources

The classic of the way and virtue: a new translation of the Tao-te ching of Laozi as interpreted by Wang Bi. Columbia University Press, 2004.

The complete works of Zhuangzi. Columbia University Press, 2013.

Secondary Sources

Bruce, E., and A. Taeko Brook. “The Original Analects.” (1998).

Jensen, Lionel. “Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese traditions & universal civilization.” Duke University Press, 1997.

Weiming, T. “Confucianism.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Last modified August 12, 2019.

Allen, Charlotte. “Confucius and the Scholars.” The Atlantic. Last modified April 1999.