AAR 2019: Chinese Christianities Seminar

At the 2019 meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Diego later in November, we will have our fifth year running of the Chinese Christianities Seminar. This year, we are glad to have two sessions around a theme which explores the broader conceptualization of the Chinese Christianities field, itself. The first session on Saturday evening will question whether it is beneficial to explore beyond a myopic study of Chinese Christianities, whereas the second session on Sunday afternoon will question of exceptionalism in Chinese Christianities. Both promise to offer a lively discussion for the Chinese Christianities field. This can be found in the online program, but I have also posted program details and abstracts here:

Beyond Chinese Christianities (Saturday, 5:30-7:00pm)

Hilton Bayfront-Indigo H (Second Level) Convention Center-16A (Mezzanine Level)
Presiding: Alexander Chow, University of Edinburgh

Erica Siu Mui Lee, University of Toronto
Jingjiao Inscription of “Three-One Wondrous Being/Body” on the Xian Stele: Theological Implications and Ecumenical Significance

Through a theological analysis of the phrase “三⼀妙身” (sanyi miaoshen) “Three-One Wondrous Being/Body” (my translation) inscribed on Da Qing Jingjiao Liuxing Zhongguo Bei, or the Xian Stele (大秦景教流行中國碑), my paper contributes to the Catholic-Assyrian ecumenical conversations for understanding ancient Chinese Christianity not as an aberration, but within ancient apostolic Christianity East and West. This goal is achieved in three steps.

First, my paper analyzes the theological implications of various but complementary expressions of the Trinity mystery within the Jingjiao tradition. Then, I articulate the convergence and divergence between the theological approaches of the Jingjiao proposition and the Catholic position. Finally, I demonstrate how a new understanding of the phrase “Three-One Wondrous Being/Body” on the Xian Stele has ecumenical significance between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East for understanding ancient Chinese Christianity.

Yucheng Bai, Duke University
In Search of Sublimity: Wu Yaozong’s Overseas Religious Education and His Collaboration with Communism

Wu Yaozong is known in the history of Chinese Christianity as a leader and visionary for the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, a religious and political campaign overseen by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to instill the party line on religious practices in Chinese churches. As a Christian, Wu’s collaboration with the officially atheistic CCP has been highly controversial and bewildering to many. While Wu’s adoption of the Social Gospel and his political radicalization during the second Sino-Japanese War both played a role in his decision to collaborate with the CCP, this paper highlights a previously understudied factor: Wu’s education in philosophy of religion received in Union Theological Seminary (UTS). There Wu was taught that the core of Christian faith is the experience of the sublime. He then found in the revolutionary party a source that could inspire such a sensation.

Melissa Inouye, University of Auckland
In the World, But of China? In China, But of the World? Charismatic Universalism in True Jesus Church Communities

Much work on Christianity in China has identified charismatic religious practice as the site where “native religion” and “world Christianity” intersect. However, the rise of the charismatic True Jesus Church in China was fueled by miraculous biblical tropes, global restorationist movements, and miracle stories spread by local and transnational word-of-mouth. In other words, charismatic beliefs and practices are so universal, they tell us little about either native religion or world Christianity. But what else do they do? This paper proposes a new question for relating local movements to the global scale of world Christianity: How does charismatic religiosity help to produce the collective energy and distinctive worldviews necessary to generate, maintain, and scale-up community? The history of the True Jesus Church provides a framework for understanding the mutually dependent yet mutually corrosive relationship between charisma and organization in Christian institutions with both strong local networks and a strong universalistic ethos.

Responding: Francis Ching-Wah Yip, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Exceptionalism in Chinese Christianities (Sunday, 3:30-5:00pm)

Hilton Bayfront-Indigo 202A (Second Level)
Presiding: Christie Chui-Shan Chow, City Seminary of New York

Gideon Elazar, Ariel University, Bar Ilan University
Back to Jerusalem: The Chinese-Christian Road to Globalization and Indigenization

The Back to Jerusalem Movement is a Chinese Christian missionary movement dedicated to spreading the gospel throughout Asia and the Middle East. It is based on a symbolic geographical narrative of Christianity’s movement westwards, from the Holy Land to Europe, then to the New World and eventually to China. Accordingly, it is the task of the Chinese Church to spread the gospel further west, through Asia and all the way “back to Jerusalem”. In this paper I offer an analysis of the movement ideology as a Christian mimicking of the states’ attempts to create a Chinese led new world order. The movement is also explained as part of a larger attempt to indigenize Christianity and redefine the nature of Chinese-Christian identity through the creation of a new grand narrative of Chinese history and the revival of a long lost monotheistic tradition.

Stephanie Wong, Valparaiso University
Opposing Integralism: Chinese Catholicism and the Circumscription of “Religion” in the Beiyang Era

This paper explores Catholic political activity from 1914-1917 in Beiyang Era China, when Catholics campaigned against the establishment of Confucianism as the state religion or privileged moral tradition in the Chinese Constitution. Firstly, I document the Catholic’s political lobby work in Catholic newspapers and in a joint inter-religious coalition against the Confucian constitutional amendments. Secondly, I contextualize the Catholic liberalist position within the global Integralist/Modernist debate of the time, arguing that the Catholic liberals’ effort to circumscribe religion reflected not only a reluctance to give any ground to the Confucians but also a resistance to Rome’s integralist insistence on the Church’s supremacy over all sectors of society.

Justin Tse, Singapore Management University
Sheets of Scattered Sand: Cantonese Protestants on the Pacific Rim and the Shadow of Sun Yatsen

In this paper, I attempt to meditate on the term ‘a sheet of scattered sand’ among Cantonese-speaking Protestants in the Pacific Rim. The moniker, which a number of them employed in my qualitative research in 2011 and 2012 and onward through the aftermath of the 2014 Hong Kong Umbrella Movement, is drawn from the revered Chinese Christian founder of the Chinese nation, Sun Yatsen. What I attempt to show in this paper is that the use of the phrase conveys both a sense of frustration with the mobilization of Cantonese-speaking Protestants, as well as a desire to form a pedagogical apparatus to teach them how to be political in their local civil societies, with only oblique support for the development of the concept of a Chinese ‘nation.’ In this way, I theorize the ‘Chinese’ in ‘Chinese Christian’ among Cantonese Protestants through this dual movement of a sheet of scattered sand — as fragments longing for pedagogical unity — and hope that it can become a concept that is engaged across geographies of Chinese Christianities.

Responding: Jonathan Tan, Case Western Reserve University