AAR 2016: Chinese Christianities Seminar


At the 2016 meeting of the American Academy of Religion in November, we will have our second session of the Chinese Christianities Seminar. The theme for our program unit this year is ‘Crossing Social Boundaries’ and we have a great set of papers. It will be held on Sat, Nov 19 from 4:00pm-6:30pm in Grand Hyatt-Bowie C (2nd Level). I will be chairing the session and the papers that will be presented will be as follows:

Michel Chambon, Boston University
Chinese Christians Negotiating Religious Value of Space in China Today

This paper shows how Christianity in China today is paying attention to space in order to negotiate the positioning of its faith within the broader religious landscape and even to reframe the shared-meaning of space. Based on 14-months of fieldwork, I point out three different aspects of this transformation. First, I present a small township entirely rebuilt in the early 1990s to show how the broader community negotiates the proper place of different religious traditions and how Christians challenge some traditional religious views. Second, I present the main city of the county to introduce the buildings that Christians have recently established there to mark the entire urban space as much as they can and to absorb all aspects of social life. Finally, I present how Christians, far from simply rejecting the traditional meaning of space, try to absorb and convert it in order to let a Christian understanding emerged.

Christopher D Sneller, Houston Baptist University
Reassessing John Sung’s Experience at Union Theological Seminary (NY)

John Sung (宋尚節 Song Shangjie, 1901-1944) stands as one of the best known Chinese evangelists in 20th century China. From the 1920s to 1940s he itinerated throughout China and Southeast Asia, preaching fiery Biblical messages of repentance. His ministry biography begins with a dramatic conversion while studying at Union Theological Seminary (NY). Sung’s spiritual awakening coincided with a paranoid schizophrenic attack, for which he was admitted to the Bloomingdale asylum. Based on recent archival findings, this paper will offer a new account of his Sung’s time in New York. I will examine how one Chinese Christian crisscrossed boundaries—geographically, theologically, and socially—and what happened when he did so. Sung’s experience at Union embodied the clash of modernist and fundamentalist theologies in the Sino-Foreign Protestant Establishment. It provides an ideal case-study to explore and debate the implications of a multiplicity of Chinese Christianities.

Man Hei Yip, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
A Cantonese-Speaking Church: Otherness, Resistance, and Missiological Re-Imagination

This paper argues that affirming the use of Cantonese for the life of discipleship is crucial. Besides, making Cantonese accessible will help the people negotiate their identities to resist against linguistic power structure in the U.S society. Drawing on the case of a Cantonese-speaking church in Boston, this paper indicates that the shapes of Chinese Christianities have to be analyzed in relationship with the larger society. A Cantonese-speaking church with its persistent voice is an example that openly confronts the prevailing discourse of melting pot at the expense of the uniqueness of others. Through meaningful interactions with different groups of communities from both within and without, a Cantonese-speaking church will help us envision a society that sees otherness as a gift.

Xinzi Rao, University of Heidelberg
A Transcultural Exploration of Chinese Christians in Germany: Problematizing Terminology

This paper focuses on the transcultural dynamics involved in Chinese Christian fellowships in Germany. First, a critical review of literatures suggests the lack of attention on Chinese Christians in European countries. On the one hand, religion usually posits outside the orbit of studies on Chinese migration. On the other hand, the studies on migrant’s religious practices mostly presume that migrants bring their religion from home. Overseas Chinese Christians may break these two prejudices.

Second, through the application of participant observation, semi-structured interviews and mental mapping, I aim at revealing the church performances, indicating these Chinese Christian fellowships are not a single-issue group. These Christians are clinging on a Chinese identity, regarding the fellowship as a floating space where they can celebrate Chinese festivals and communicate in Chinese. Meanwhile, the fellowships boast German and global networks of Chinese Christians fellowships. The multiple events and performances suggest the entanglement of cultural flows.

I argue that terms such as Chinese (Chinese-ness), Christianity, and fellowship shall be problematized. Being a Chinese Christian in Germany does not necessarily imply an abandonment of Chinese identity (which is understood culturally instead of politically), or the assimilation to German or Western identity (which commonly regarded as associated with Christianity). A fellowship in this regard is a closed community in which privacy is respected and boundaries are drawn.


Justin Tse, University of Washington

Business Meeting:

Jonathan A. Seitz, Taiwan Theological Seminary