Welcome to the website of Barend J. ter Haar

Since October 2018 I have been teaching 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 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 fourth 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 book on Guan Yu came out in 2017 with Oxford University Press, as Guan Yu: The Religious Afterlife of a Failed Hero . A little new book has just come out with Cambridge University Press as well, with the title Religious Culture and Violence in Traditional China. I have now more or less finished my draft of a more substantial book on Chinese fears and accusations of witchcraft. 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 certainly doctoral supervision) is often in English as well. A small example of my approach to China is my understanding of the notion of "Confucianism" as expressed below. Finally, a warning: since I will have to retire in one and a half years from now, I have stopped taking on new PhD students.

So what does traditional Chinese culture mean to me. Is it the same as Confucianism. Hardly! Indeed, I would argue that whatever "Confucianism" is, it is first and foremost an elite construct that is very different from the Chinese past (even the recent past). 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. This is done by means of highly selective readings of the available evidence. 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). For 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 culture, rather than the enigmatic cause of this culture, unlike what 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 are no longer active.

My new snailmail address:
Universität Hamburg
Library, Asien-Afrika-Institut
Edmund-Siemers-Allee 1, Flügel OST
20146 Hamburg

Please do not forget to add my name and the attachment OST, for mail is returned to the sender regularly since the different mail companies often cannot find this building (although it is next to the main building of the university and there are no other numbers in this street!).

Last update: 17.02.2023