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Religions of the Silk Road

Religions of the Silk Road by Richard C. Foltz

Religions of the Silk Road by Richard C. Foltz

Can you give some examples of cultural exchange along the route? What kind of archaeological evidence is there to support this?

From ancient times, the Chinese seem to have acquired technologies such as wheeled transportation, forms of metallurgy, and so on from Western traders. The archaeological evidence, in this case, is that certain technologies appear at a given point in Chinese history at a highly developed stage, suggesting they were introduced from elsewhere rather than developed over time locally. Conversely, such technologies as paper production and gunpowder were transmitted later from China to the West. To cite another example, the influence of Chinese artistic traditions on those of Iran during the Mongol period is quite dramatic. In terms of belief systems, one notable example in Central Asia is the ancient Iranian New Year festival at the spring equinox, called No Ruz, which many Central Asian Muslims today consider to be an "Islamic" festival.

The Silk Road is often depicted as an incredible crossroads of ideas, religion, and art. Does the Silk Road conform to our modern concept of a pluralist, multicultural society?

Well, Silk Road towns were certainly multicultural. Whether it makes sense to project our modern values regarding that term onto pre-modern Asia, I couldn't say. No doubt pre-modern Asians saw things very differently from the way we do in many respects.

Asia Society interview conducted by Michelle Caswell.