Study of the confucian tradition is dominated by historical and philosophical approaches. Religion and spirituality have been neglected with a consistency that would be admirable if it had been used to better ends—one need only remember James Legge's comment on the amount of religious material contained in the Records of Ritual (c. 4th–1st century b.c.), and then reflect on how little work has been done on this material since he published what remains the only English translation of the Records since the late 19th century. Because the accepted frame for the portrait of the Master and his disciples has long been defined in intellectual, or at most ethical, terms, anything that fell outside that frame has been left to gather dust in outer darkness. Confucius, his teachings, and his followers were characterized as agnostic; and once their religious beliefs had been defined as undefined, they could in good conscience be left unresearched.

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