Mark R. E. Meulenbeld's
new book looks closely at the relationship between vernacular novels and vernacular rituals in Ming China. Focusing on a particular novel called Canonization of the Gods
), and on a particular set of ritual practices known as Thunder Ritual, Demonic Warfare: Daoism, Territorial Networks, and the History of a Ming Novel
(University of Hawaii Press, 2015) explores the entanglement of literature, religion, and community in China. Thunder rituals were used to capture unruly and uncanonical spirits that enthrall local communities and to transform them into sacred beings aligned with cultural institutions that transcend any single locality or region. These rituals were part of a Daoist liturgical structure that was supported by early Ming emperors, and they helped shape the story and significance of Canonization of the Gods
. Meulenbeld situates this focused case within larger contexts of Ming imperial politics and culture, and explores larger themes that include the history and nature of modern conceptions of the novel and of fiction.