Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto & Eastern Religious Traditions

Eastern religious traditions Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto characteristics and differences
A Three Kingdoms period (220 CE-265 CE) bronze mirror with Taoist deities. (Photo: Public Domain)

In Taoism, the elements that are characteristic of Eastern religious traditions include the focus on unity of things in the universe as well as the unity of things in the world. Other elements that are characteristic of Eastern religious traditions include the focus on the unity of time, which basically puts on the idea of merging the past with the present and the future. Taoists also believe in the unity of the spiritual world. There is also emphasis on the values of love, along with moderation. Taoists also consider humility as an element in their beliefs. Many Taoists also believe in multiple deities. Each of these deities has a special functions and roles that shape human perspectives on life, as well as the actual life experiences of people.

In Confucianism, the elements that are characteristic of Eastern religious traditions are its focus on family responsibilities, as well as loyalty and the upholding of humanity. Confucianism emphasizes the value of being humane. In addition, other elements that are characteristic of Eastern religious traditions are the focus on spirits in objects, i.e. animism. Many Confucians also believe in multiple deities.

In Shinto, the elements that are characteristic of Eastern religious traditions include animism, which means that Shintoists believe that objects have spirits. Shinto also emphasizes the values of tradition of the people, as well as family responsibilities. Shintoists also believe that it is important to take care of nature and respect nature. In addition, personal cleanliness and environmental cleanliness are believed to be necessary as part of the beliefs in Shinto. Shintoists also perform faith healing rituals. Many Shintoists also believe in multiple deities.

These elements of Taoism, Confucianism and Shinto are considerations that link them directly to Eastern religious traditions. Of special importance is animism along with the emphasis on family responsibilities. There is also emphasis on the belief in multiple supreme beings or multiple gods.

Difference between Confucianism and Taoism

Confucianism differs from Taoism in terms of the emphasis on unity. Taoism emphasizes unity, such as the unity of the universe and the unity of time. In contrast, Confucianism does not emphasize such unity. Taoists believe that things can be united in form or spirit. There is the belief that all spirits can be united into one. There is also the belief by Taoists that even material things can be united and considered to have come from the same form or belonging to the same material form. On the other hand, Confucians do not have such beliefs. Confucian beliefs have a considerable emphasis on the diversity of things. For instance, Confucians recognize the potential multiplicity of spirits, such as those that they believe to be in material things, as well as the differences among material things.

Another difference is the emphasis on legalism. Confucianism makes considerable reference to legalism, while Taoism does not. Legalism gives emphasis on the literal aspect of rules and regulations. Confucianism emphasizes the importance of strictly following rules and regulations. There is more consideration for the literal aspect of rules and regulations rather than the intended purpose or meaning of the rules and regulations. Confucianism is less flexible in accommodating change, especially within the framework of existing rules and regulations. In contrast, Taoism does not emphasize such strict compliance to rules and regulations. Instead, Taoism is more flexible, and accommodates changes necessary in order to uphold its religious values. In Taoism, believers focus more on the meaning and intended purpose of rules and regulations rather than the literal aspect of such rules and regulations. The values of Taoists emphasize individual and group flexibility in various situations.


  • Casanova, J. (2011). Public religions in the modern world. University of Chicago Press.
  • Gwynne, P. (2011). World religions in practice: A comparative introduction. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Matthews, W. (2012). World religions. Cengage Learning.

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