Welcome to the website of Barend J. ter Haar

From October 2018 onwards I teach Chinese studies at the University of Hamburg, with a strong focus on cultural and religious history. Although first of all a social and cultural historian, the religious dimension is so central to Chinese traditional life that much of my research up to now has dealt with religious phenomena. In addition, I have worked extensively on issues of ethnic identity, violence and fear, and social organization. Throughout I am interested in the role of oral and written forms of communication, including classicist texts, but not in a normative way, Instead, written culture, like oral culture, must be studied as a social practice, with due attention, for instance, to historical changes, social and gender differences, interpretation and performance, and so on. An important concern of mine is to demonstrate that traditional culture and cultural patterns are still relevant today, as becomes visible for instance in the case of the Falun Gong or the ongoing role of violence in political contexts throughout the twentieth century.

For those who read Dutch I have published a history of China, entitled Het Hemels Mandaat: De Geschiedenis van het Chinese Keizerrijk (AUP: Amsterdam, 2018 revised edition) (English: The Heavenly Mandate: The history of the Chinese Empire until 1911) with a somewhat revisionist interpretation of the Chinese past. My book on the lay Buddhist group called the Non-Action Teachings (late 16th century to the present) came out in 2014 with Hawai'i University Press, as Practicing Scripture: A Lay Buddhist Movement in Late Imperial China. My newest book is Guan Yu: The Religious Afterlife of a Failed Hero (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). I have just handed in a little book with the preliminary title "Religious culture and violence in traditional China" (30K), and hope to finish the first draft of a more substantial book on Chinese fears and accusations of witchcraft (150K) in the coming months. Furthermore, I am preparing a new long term project on the histories of orality and textuality.

Prospective graduate students and academic visitors are strongly advised to first take a look at (i.e read!) some of my actual published research. Undergraduate teaching here at Hamburg University is in German most of the time, but graduate teaching (and doctoral supervision) is often in English as well. A small example is my view of the notion of "Confucianism" as expressed below.

Finally, a clarification is in order what traditional Chinese culture means to me. It is certainly much more than Confucianism. Indeed, I would argue that whatever "Confucianism" is, it is first and foremost an elite construct that is very different in the Chinese past (even in the recent past) from the constructions of the 20th and 21th centuries. I published an article (2016) on the origins of the Western term in the nineteenth century as a term for a religion, rather than philosophy. Much of what is traded for studies of Confucianism in the past is really about ideologically motivated projections back in time of normative ideals about the role of "Confucianism" as philosophy today. A good example would be "filial piety" (xiao), which has been claimed successfully by texts and authors that we like to assign to Confucianism, Neoconfucianism, or New Confucianism. "Filial piety" has also been blamed for many ills in traditional China by a variety of writers from the May Fourth movement of the early 20th century onwards. I would hold that its dominant manifestation in traditional China was Buddhist in contents and context, rather than Confucian (or, to use a more appropriate term, classicist). To me, "filial piety" must be studied as a social practice, not as part of a written ideology. Similarily, "Confucianism" is part of the discourse of educated people to talk about their culutre, rather than the enigmatic cause of this culture, as many seem to think.

My new email address in Hamburg is barend.ter.haar@uni-hamburg.de . My new webaddress is https://bjterhaa.home.xs4all.nl/index.html. You always find me quickest through email. My Oxford email address and website will become inactive in the coming months.

My new snailmail address:
Universität Hamburg
Fakultät für Geisteswissenschaften
Edmund-Siemers-Allee 1, Flügel Ost, Room 135
20146 Hamburg

Last update: 16.09.2018