AAR 2015: Chinese Christianities Seminar


This year, at the 2015 meeting of the American Academy of Religion, we will have our first session of the Chinese Christianities Seminar. The theme for our program unit this year is ‘Crossing Regional Boundaries’, and we have a great lineup of five papers looking at the dynamics of Chinese Christianities under this theme. It will be held on Sat, Nov 21 at 9:00 AM-11:30 AM in the Hyatt-Marietta (Atlanta Conference Level).

This seminar provides a collaborative forum for scholars of different disciplines to engage in an academic discourse about the field of Chinese Christianities. Christianity is the fastest growing religion in mainland China today, and arguably the religion of choice for a growing number of diasporic Chinese. “Chinese” is an expansive term, including mainland China proper as well as a large, linguistically, and culturally diverse diaspora, and encompassing more than a fifth of the world’s population; the Han Chinese people are sometimes described as the world’s largest ethnic group. Hence, with the increasing critical mass of Chinese Christians, there has likewise been a growing academic interest in various instantiations of Chinese Christianities, as understood across geographies (e.g., mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, North America, etc.) and groupings (e.g., house and state-sanctioned churches, Catholic, Pentecostal, etc.).

Chinese Christianities both transcend and hinder a number of regional, social, religious, etc. boundaries. Over the course of these five years, this seminar will offer a unique opportunity for scholars to engage and to debate the implications of the multiplicity of Chinese Christianities with regards to the boundaries they engage. In this first year of the seminar, we will focus on how the multiplicity of Chinese Christianities have engaged various regional boundaries.


Christopher D Sneller, King’s College London
The Role of Union Theological Seminary (New York) in Indigenizing Christianity in Twentieth-Century China

Union Theological Seminary (NY) played a significant, though scarcely noticed, role in indigenizing Christianity in twentieth-century China. From 1911 to 1949, 196 Union alumni became missionaries in China. This paper however focuses on the seminary’s thirty-nine Chinese graduates who helped “Christianity in China” become “Chinese Christianity.” Men such as Wu Yaozong (吴耀宗), Ding Guangxun (丁光训), and Liu Tingfang (劉廷芳) played leading roles in sinicizing Christianity. They did so first through the Christian colleges in Republican China, and later through the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in the People’s Republic of China. Using insight from sociology, this paper examines how Union empowered its ambitious Chinese graduates with a dense social network, before and after 1949. The New York seminary acted as a Grand Central Station where Chinese Christians established and strengthened relational ties.

Stephanie Wong, Georgetown University
Towards A Responsive Urbanizing Church: Chinese Catholics Crossing the Rural-Urban Boundary

Given that the majority of Chinese Catholics have historically lived in rural villages rather than urban centers, China’s recent urbanization presents heightened challenges and opportunities for the Catholic church in China. In order to understand the church’s engagement with this new urbanism, it is necessary to identify both 1) how China’s sociological pattern of ‘urbanization’ since the Reform of the 1980s has differed from that of other nations, and 2) how migration necessitates new forms of religious society, both among urban workers and those left in the rural villages. I argue the rural-urban boundary in China is important to study – not because urbanization has made Catholic villagers and city-dwellers separate, but rather because it requires them to become responsive to one another. City-based Catholic associations are successfully forming new models of religious society, but rural Catholic communities have yet to respond to the challenges of development in their villages.

Mu-tien Chiou, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Pluralism and Christian Ecumenism: A Theological Reflection on Post-Sunflower Movement Taiwan

In the paper, I argue that the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement in Taiwan ushered in a new era of public theology for the Taiwanese churches, although in general this movement is more “public” than “theological.” Whereas the secular public represented by the students is increasingly espousing civil pluralism as a rejection of the island’s bankrupted bipartisan system, Christian denominational leaders nonetheless regard the tide favorable for the creation of ecumenical momentum.

This interesting phenomenon, I will argue, has much to do with Christians’ increasingly marginalized public role after the state’s democratization. Whereas this freshly democratic society sees its influencing power as sprung from liberated individuals, Christians that were once schismatic along partisan lines now find it necessary to unite for effective public witness, though their strategic assimilation of the civil movement’s modern aspects and dissimilation from its postmodernity do not translate to the ecclesiology as the primary mode of theology.

Di Kang, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago
Historiography and Community Identity: Hong Kong Christians and the Recording of the 2014 Pro-Democracy Protest

Identity is constructed in relationship to an “other,” and proven in narratives of events which present this contrast. One way the people of Hong Kong define themselves is through their struggle for civil liberties. The 2014 Occupy protests were not only socio-political, but also religious. Religious identity is engrained in Hongkongers’ self-understanding as an embodiment of the freedom they enjoy in contrast to those across the border. Through their ideological encounter with the government, Hong Kong’s Christian community negotiates their uniqueness not only through protest, but also through documents which interpret the movement theologically, serving as a collective memory preserving and consolidating the group’s self-identification. This paper, through the methodology of historiography and social identity, intends to study the self-identification of the Hong Kong Christian community as a force behind the protest, and how their identity interacts with the recording of events as part of Hong Kong’s history.

Justin Tse, University of Washington
A Tale of Three Bishops: Chineseness and the Global City in Vancouver’s Anglican Realignment

This paper theorizes the ‘Chineseness’ of Anglicans in Vancouver engaging with the global Anglican realignment as ideological, especially through their competing visions of Vancouver as a global city, an urban economic center of political and cultural influence. Focusing on the split between Vancouver’s local bishop Michael Ingham and two Cantonese-speaking realignment bishops in Vancouver (Silas Ng and Stephen Leung), my central argument is that Anglicans on all sides of the realignment deployed their self-defined ideological constructs of Chineseness in a contest over how to theologize Vancouver as a global city. The three Vancouver episcopal visions under debate concerned whether Vancouver should be conceptualized as a site for interreligious pluralism, spiritual purification, or civil multicultural discourse. Based on key informant interviews in Vancouver, San Francisco, and Hong Kong, this contention advances the study of Chinese Christianity by suggesting that the cross-regional engagements of Chinese Christians may in fact motivated by civic concerns to globalize their own cities.


Jonathan A. Seitz, Taiwan Theological Seminary

Business Meeting:

Alexander Chow, University of Edinburgh

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