What We Are Reading Today: Early Chinese Mysticism by Livia Kohn

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Updated 08 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Early Chinese Mysticism by Livia Kohn

Did Chinese mysticism vanish after its first appearance in ancient Taoist philosophy, to surface only after a thousand years had passed, when the Chinese had adapted Buddhism to their own culture? 

This first integrated survey of the mystical dimension of Taoism disputes the commonly accepted idea of such a hiatus. Covering the period from the Daode jing to the end of the Tang, Livia Kohn reveals an often misunderstood Chinese mystical tradition that continued through the ages. Influenced by but ultimately independent of Buddhism, it took forms more various than the quietistic withdrawal of Laozi or the sudden enlightenment of the Chan Buddhists. 

On the basis of a new theoretical evaluation of mysticism, this study analyzes the relationship between philosophical and religious Taoism and between Buddhism and the native Chinese tradition. 

Kohn shows how the quietistic and socially oriented Daode jing was combined with the ecstatic and individualistic mysticism of the Zhuangzi, with immortality beliefs and practices, and with Buddhist insight meditation, mind analysis, and doctrines of karma and retribution. She goes on to demonstrate that Chinese mysticism, a complex synthesis by the late Six Dynasties, reached its zenith in the Tang, laying the foundations for later developments in the Song traditions of Inner Alchemy, Chan Buddhism, and Neo-Confucianism.


What We Are Reading Today: Privilege and Punishment by Matthew Clair

Updated 27 November 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Privilege and Punishment by Matthew Clair

The number of Americans arrested, brought to court, and incarcerated has skyrocketed in recent decades. Criminal defendants come from all races and economic walks of life, but they experience punishment in vastly different ways. Privilege and Punishment examines how racial and class inequalities are embedded in the attorney-client relationship, providing a devastating portrait of inequality and injustice within and beyond the criminal courts.

Matthew Clair conducted extensive fieldwork in the Boston court system, attending criminal hearings and interviewing defendants, lawyers, judges, police officers, and probation officers. In this eye-opening book, he uncovers how privilege and inequality play out in criminal court interactions.

When disadvantaged defendants try to learn their legal rights and advocate for themselves, lawyers and judges often silence, coerce, and punish them. Privileged defendants, who are more likely to trust their defense attorneys, delegate authority to their lawyers, defer to judges, and are rewarded for their compliance.

Clair shows how attempts to exercise legal rights often backfire on the poor and on working-class people of color, and how effective legal representation alone is no guarantee of justice.

Superbly written and powerfully argued, Privilege and Punishment draws needed attention to the injustices that are perpetuated by the attorney-client relationship in today’s criminal courts, and describes the reforms needed to correct them.