SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Sages Through the Ages: Confucius and Laozi

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1
This course looks at Confucius and Laozi as they have been understood in different times and places in history, with a particular emphasis on the two texts attributed to them, the Analects and the Tao-te ching.

The aim of the course is to allow students to understand how the perception of supposedly timeless wisdom has changed according to changed circumstances.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the course a student will:

  • have became familiar with the content of the Daode jing, and some of the content of the Analects and Book of Changes
  • have acquired a basic knowledge of the main phases of the development of Chinese thought by studying the role that these 'key texts' ( or 'scriptures', or 'classics') have played over time
  • be aware oh the importance of textual study of key texts, even though no linguistic means to further that study will be offered
  • be aware of the importance of shifting interpretations of key texts over time, and have demonstrated an ability to discuss the issues that this raises
  • gained some appreciation of the variety of approaches adopted by translators
  • have gained some experience of attempting to assess, within their linguistic limits, the likely value of specific translation
  • be able to locate sources of information relevant to the study of the key texts concerned.

Scope and syllabus

The course will survey:

  • the technologies used to transmit important texts from the middle of the first millennium BCE to the present
  • assess what may be known of their authors; consider how such works reached a fixed form as 'classics'
  • explore the role of commentary and reinterpretation in later history;briefly describe the diffusion of these works beyond China
  • and finally consider through a chronological survey some of the problems raised by translating ancient Chinese texts into European languages, concentrating largely on English.

Method of assessment

1 take-home exam


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