Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Comparative Religion

First Advisor

Dr. E. Thomas Lawson

Second Advisor

Dr. Brian Wilson

Third Advisor

Dr. Eric Reinders

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Campus Only


The West's interaction with the Chinese religious/ philosophical tradition of Daoism has undergone dramatic changes since Matteo Ricci brought the Jesuit order to China. Most academics turned to the Jesuit accounts of China as their primary sources for information, since adequate ethnography of China was in short supply. What these academics found there was a biased thread against Daoism woven into the overall picture of China. This thesis will examine the reasons why the missionary effort created this bias, and, show how some of the greatest minds in the European philosophical tradition wove these biases into elaborate theories about China, in general, and Daoism, in particular. What follows is a survey of the absorption of piecemeal elements of Daoism into mainstream North American culture. As will be demonstrated, these elements of Daoism were utilized by various popular culture and counter-culture icons.

In an attempt to answer the question: "Does a coherent Daoist practice exist in North America, and if so, how can we account for it?", I will report on my fieldwork from the Fung Loy Kok Institute of Taoism. I will return to the European philosophers and address the issue of why their theories cannot adequately explain the persistence or acceptance of religions like Daoism into modem cultures. Lastly, I will present my own theory on the acceptance and persistence of Daoism.

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