Concept of the List of World Canon


To provide guidance for contemporary readers seeking to obtain a relatively broad and balanced preliminary understanding of the world's major civilizational traditions through reading a limited number of their most influential and representative texts.



Include only genres in the Humanities, where there are still compelling reasons to read original texts, the values of which are not likely to be  mostly superceded by knowledge accumulation in the last century.


Specifically, four categories are identified:

1) Religious / Foundational Classics

2) History

3) Philosophy

4) Literature.


Include only the most substantial (in terms of historical cumulative population affected) civilizational traditions.


Specifically, seven major civilizational traditions are identified:

1) Chinese

2) Indian

3) Greco-Roman

4) European 

5) Buddhist

6) Islamic

7) Christian.


Please note that these traditions are defined both geographically and religiously. When considering the overall balance of the list, texts that can be tagged to a world religious tradition would not be counted in the relevant geographical tradition again.


There is no upper limit (i.e. how early the texts were written or compiled) as long as the work eventually came to be written down as texts.


There is a lower limit for this list, which Includes only texts written before 1900. The logic here is that canonization of texts require time - for texts written after 1900, with less than 3 generations elapsed since, the canonization process is still only in its early stage.

Selection Criteria


Prioritize texts that have continuous substantial real (i.e. not imaginary) influence in the history of the tradition(s) up till the present day. This criteria by implication excludes texts that are "lost" in the tradition(s) but  "recovered" later archaeologically or otherwise. Also, as a result, when there is a choice between an earlier or later text (e.g. Herodotus' vs. Thucydides', or Ferdowsi vs. Rumi), usually the earlier text is preferred, as the earlier text is likely to have a substantial real influence on the later text but usually not vice versa. 


Texts included should reflect a broad horizon of the corresponding tradition(s). Thus the need to avoid selecting texts in one tradition that are in the same genre at roughly the same time period (only exception allowed in this List -- possibly a prejudice -- is Plato and Aristotle). This criteria implies that the list has some integrity as a total unit, and is not merely a rank-order list of the world's most influential texts. Another aspect of application of this criteria is that when a text has later significant commentaries, usually the later commentaries will be selected (e.g. Cheng Xuanying's Sub-commentaries is perferred to Zuangzi or Guoxiang's Commentaries, where the latter two texts by definition included in a complete text of the former).  


This list aspired to be balanced across genres and traditions. Besides the length of the texts are also considered in the selection process.


Other Considerations


In some traditions, multiple languages are involved. In such traditions, efforts have been made to ensure at least the secondary language is represented. Examples of this include the inclusion of a Latin-language work in the Greco-Roman tradition (Virgil's Aeneid specifically), or the inclusion of a Persian-language work (Ferdowsi's Shanameh) in the Islamic tradition.

Content of History Works

As readers of such a list of Canonical texts inevitably would need some background about the history of traditions involved, for the History work selected, efforts have been made to ensure the history of the root of the tradition is covered. Texts such as Xuanzang's Records of Western Regions or Eusebius' Church History are selected with this specific purpose in mind, besides the fact that they are influential texts in their own rights.



Without further ado, let's dive into the list itself!  

List of 36 World Canonical Texts