AAR 2017: Chinese Christianities Seminar


At the 2017 meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Boston later this month, we will have our third session of the Chinese Christianities Seminar. The theme for our program unit this year is ‘Chinese Christianities and Religious Boundaries’. It will be held on Saturday, November 18 from 1:00pm-3:30pm in Sheraton Boston-Beacon E (Third Level). Christie Chui-Shan Chow (City Seminary of New York) will be chairing the session and the papers that will be presented will be as follows:

Jin Lu, Purdue University Northwest
From Pagan Virtues to the Salvation of Non-Christians: Father Wang Changzhi’s Contribution to Chinese Christianity

My paper proposes to assess the contribution of Wang Changzhi, S.J. (王昌祉,1899-1960), one of the most important Chinese Catholic thinkers before Vatican II, by examining his foundational works published in French: a dissertation on Wang Yangming’s moral philosophy (1936), and the other in theology on Augustine and pagan virtues (1938). By reading them in light of one another while situating them in the global Catholic context in which they were created, I intend to show two aspects of his legacy: first, by systematically delving into the problem of the salvation of non-Christians, Wang participated in the theological movements that culminated in Vatican II, and second, as a pioneer of inculturation, Wang sought, on one hand, to interpret Chinese wisdom traditions in ways that affirm and resonate with Christianity, and on the other, to find the most effective expressions to articulate Christian messages to the Chinese.

Tsz Him Lai, Episcopal Divinity School
A Non-violent Model of Liberation Theology in Hong Kong: A Dialogue with Maoism

This paper aims to argue that the liberation theology of Father Franco Mella, an Italian Catholic missionary, who introduced to Hong Kong a model for Chinese and Hong Kong people to strive for a democratic and just society in the post-umbrella movement era. First, this paper will introduce Mella’s thought in liberation theology, which is rooted in Vatican II, Italian culture, and Maoism. Second, this paper will illustrate how the practice of Fr. Mella is a living example of Mao’s struggle ethic and the preferential option for the poor. It emphasizes how Fr. Mella transformed the violent ethic of revolution into a form of nonviolent resistance though the praxis of a hunger strike. Finally, this paper concludes that Fr Mella’s fight against injustice serves as an exemplar of liberation theology in its political, nonviolent, multicultural forms.

Justin Tse, Northwestern University
The Politics of Exclusivity: The Secular Political Implications of Cantonese Evangelical Rejections of Buddhist Cooperation in Vancouver, BC

Although the conservative strand within the practice of Chinese Christianities emphasizing the exclusive claim of Christianity against all other religious traditions has been well-rehearsed in the scholarship, I want to explore in this paper the secular political implications of such Chinese Christian refusals to cross religious boundaries, such as with their Buddhist neighbors. Using a case study of Cantonese Protestants with ethnographic field work and 50 interviews conducted in 2011, as well as an updated current audiovisual archive of their ongoing activities into the present, I want to show that the material Chinese Christian practice of refusing to cooperate with their Buddhist neighbors from the minute details of sharing parking lots to their opposition of the erection of Buddhist temples has in fact been an avenue by which Cantonese-speaking evangelicals in Vancouver have increased their secular political capital in electoral politics, grassroots activism, and urban planning. My central argument is that such material refusals to cooperate with Buddhists creates the semblance of a Cantonese evangelical identity in what is in fact a fragmented network of Cantonese Protestants in Vancouver, creating a coherent point for secular political mobilization. By ‘secular’ here, then, I refer to how Cantonese Protestants use these refusals not only to create a sense of community in their private worlds, but also to affect processes outside of their churches in electoral politics and a liberal multicultural civil society.

Alexander Chow, University of Edinburgh
Christianity as a Chinese Religion: A Theological Reflection

Since 2014, there has been a growing discussion in mainland China about the Chinafication or Sinification (Zhongguo hua) of Christianity. In many ways, this can be seen as an extension of the common rhetoric that Christianity is a ‘foreign religion’. Christianity needs to adapt to Chinese culture and society and, perhaps, needs to endure a process of domestication like that experienced by Buddhism. Such a claim can be contested on many grounds – whether we speak about Chinese Christianity’s historical legacy, numerical growth, or sociopolitical influence. However, this paper will focus on exploring the theological developments of Chinese Christianity and argue that it exhibits the key characteristic of all forms of Chinese religiosity, generally speaking, the ideal of the unity of Heaven and humanity (Tian ren heyi). Indeed, this paper claims that Christianity in China today must be accepted as a Chinese religion.

Stephanie Wong, Georgetown University

Business Meeting:
Alexander Chow, University of Edinburgh