Introduction xxiii were printed. But, however nonjudgmental such collections were, they almost always continued to portray the superstitious as an “other” as the collector stood above supersti- tion in his or her quest for knowledge. Superstition and Its Enemies in Modern Times Modern campaigns against superstition have been less likely to be motivated by the desire to purify religion (although the Wahhabist struggle continues) than by “modernizing” political ideologies such as liberal democracy, Marxism, or technoc- racy. The “Meiji reformers” of late nine- teenth-century Japan sought to rid the country, and Japanese Buddhism, of super- stition as part of their efforts to strengthen the nation. Chinese modernizers devel- oped a concept of mixin, usually translated as “superstition,” in order to attack popu- lar religion and divination, as in the 1928 government decree, “Standards for Pre- serving and Abandoning Gods and Shrines,” which defined many traditional Chinese religious practices as supersti- tious. It was followed by decrees against divination. This campaign intensified after the Communist takeover. There has even been a revival of interest in Wang Chong, although Chinese people, both in China and elsewhere, retain many traditional superstitious beliefs. Colonial administrators in the extensive European empires of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often saw attacks on “native” superstition as part of the “white man’s burden” or “civilizing mission,” the ideological constructs that justified imperial exploitation to members of the dominant culture. Colonizers also produced elaborate tomes cataloging and analyzing the super- stitions of the people they ruled over, par- tially motivated by the belief that such knowledge would make colonial adminis- tration more effective. In much of the world, the emphasis remains on understanding superstition rather than combating it. Psychologists, anthropologists, and historians study superstition in its local contexts and as an expression of the human propensity for making connections. The America behaviorist psychologist B. F. Skin- ner (1904–1990) even broadened the concept of “superstition” by extending it to animals in his 1947 paper “Superstition in the Pigeon”! Many books appear studying the supersti- tions of particular regions, occupations, and subcultures. Despite the best efforts of our modern-day Ciceros, Wang Chongs, Ibn Taymiyyas, and Sir Thomas Brownes, super- stition will be with us for a long time to come.
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