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Ancestor Worship: 1200 to 1900: East and Southeast Asia

Bill Kte'pi

Throughout the world, various religious and spiritual practices have included some form of veneration of the dead. In the Christian West, this has focused principally on the veneration of saints, who are intercessors with God. In many other parts of the world, including several Asian cultures, it has meant the worship of deceased ancestors. In both cases, there are often misunderstandings; cultures encountering Christianity for the first time were often flustered by missionaries’ insistence that saints were not objects of worship, for instance, despite directing prayers to them. Similarly, the term ancestor worship sometimes misleads Westerners into thinking that these ancestors have ascended to some level of divinity in the afterlife. Veneration may be a clearer term: the practice of ancestor worship is as much about etiquette as about spiritual belief, and about respecting and honoring one's ancestors in their afterlives. In China, ancestor worship dates to prehistory, but its ...

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