Are Confucianism and Daoism religions or philosophies?

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Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The question of whether Confucianism and Taoism are religions or philosophies is complex and is part of the ongoing theological discourse in both academic and religious circles.

Traditionally, religion deals with questions of the afterlife, cosmology, and eschatology. These components are not present in either the Confucian or the Taoist tradition. There is no mention of what happens beyond death and no discussion of the origins or end of the universe. These traditions have no creation myths, no imagination of life beyond the grave, and no specific dogma regarding the existence of gods or divine beings.

Religion also deals with questions of ethics and the supernatural. Both Confucianism and Taoism contain these elements. They discuss right and proper ways to live, interact, and meditate. In addition, they also discuss aspects of human life beyond the physical, such as the concept of enlightenment.

A compelling argument can be made for either side. In practice, Taoism is usually classed as a religion and Confucianism is usually thought of as a philosophy. However these classifications are in constant flux and remain controversial.