In the first century of the Common Era, two new belief systems entered long-established cultures with radically different outlooks and values: missionaries started to spread the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in Rome and the Buddha in China. Rome and China were not only ancient cultures, but also cultures whose elites felt no need to receive the new beliefs. Yet a few centuries later the two new faiths had become so well-established that their names were virtually synonymous with the polities they had entered as strangers. Although there have been numerous studies addressing this phenomenon in each field, the difficulty of mastering the languages and literature of these two great cultures has prevented any sustained effort to compare the two influential religious traditions at their initial period of development.
This book brings together specialists in the history and religion of Rome and China with a twofold aim. First, it aims to show in some detail the similarities and differences each religion encountered in the process of merging into a new cultural environment. Second, by juxtaposing the familiar with the foreign, it also aims to capture aspects of this process that could otherwise be overlooked. This approach is based on the general proposition that, when a new religious belief begins to make contact with a society that has already had long honored beliefs, certain areas of contention will inevitably ensue and changes on both sides have to take place. There will be a dynamic interchange between the old and the new, not only on the narrowly defined level of "belief," but also on the entire cultural body that nurtures these beliefs. Thus, this book aims to reassess the nature of each of these religions, not as unique cultural phenomena but as part of the whole cultural dynamics of human societies.