Hey Razib, could you compile a list of Chinese and Indian religious history/philosophy books?
I’ve actually made the call for books on Indian religion and philosophy elsewhere. My knowledge set in this domain is very thin, so I don’t feel comfortable recommending anything. I have read primary sources such as The Bhagavad Gita and The Rig Veda, as well as Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus, but I have no sense of the lay of the land. To be frank Indian religion and philosophy has minimal appeal for me. The materialist school, the Carvaka, is generally characterized by its opponents, so it isn’t as if I find any succor in that direction (imagine that everything you knew about classical paganism was purely through the polemics of Christian apologists).
When it comes to China I am a bit more comfortable. Unlike the case with the Abrahamic religions I assume many readers are not so familiar with the primary texts. So the list below is more weighted toward the “sources,” though I think one can argue that Confucianism as it is lived has as much to do with The Analects as Christianity does with the synoptic gospels. I’ll leave it up to the reader to make an inference as to the lesson one takes from this analogy!
I am personally rather positively inclined toward the “black sheep” of the early Confucian sages, Xunzi, who I suspect would be most comprehensible to those with a “Secular Right” perspective. Xunzi’s emphasis on the necessity of social order and regulation had a more jaundiced tinge than that of Confucius, and especially Mencius, but some have argued that in practice the Confucianism of Chinese civilization owes more to him than to his more well regarded predecessors.
Because of its concrete and “this worldly” emphasis Chinese religion and philosophy can’t be understood well without a reference to the broader history of China, so there are many general history books on the list. Additionally, the final section has a periodic temporal focus, going from dynasty to dynasty. I’ve omitted any books on Buddhism because I think in the Chinese context this religion can be decomposed mostly into its “foreign” and “indigenous.” The synthesis may be novel (e.g., Chan Buddhism, more commonly known as Zen in the West), but usually I think its antecedents in indigenous Chinese or exogenous Indian & Central Asian traditions are pretty clear.
Primary sources & surveys:
The Analects of Confucius
The Authentic Confucius
An Introduction to Confucianism
The Philosophy of Xunzi
Neo-Confucianism in History
Sources of Chinese Tradition, Vol. 1
Sources of Chinese Tradition, Vol. 2
A Short History of Chinese Philosophy
If you read one book on the list, I think Jacques Gernet’s A History of Chinese Civilization is the way to go.