Translating Religion and Theology in Europe and Asia: East to West

March 22-24, 2017
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

The Berkeley Public Theology  Program, supporting the study of theology in a globalizing world


Wed, March 22, 2017
5:00 – 7:00pm
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

The Study of Contacts Between Cultures: The Case of Sino-European Encounters in the Seventeenth Century.

Nicolas Standaert, Professor of Sinology, University of Leuven

This presentation takes theories of communications and philosophy of alterity as a starting point to study the methodology of the history of contact between cultures. It first discusses three different frameworks that have been employed in the study of the cultural contacts between China and Europe in the seventeenth century; the transmission, reception, and invention frameworks. Next, the presentation proposes a fourth framework, the interaction and communication framework, which develops the previous frameworks by stressing the reciprocity in the interaction between transmitter and receiver and centers around the notion of “in-betweenness.”


Thu, March 23, 2017
8:45am – 6:00pm
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

Day 2

Doors Open

Mark Csikszentmihalyi, Professor and Eliaser Chair of International Studies, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley

Heavenly Misunderstandings

Paul Rule, Research Associate, China Studies Research Centre, La Trobe University

The Chinese Rites Controversy preoccupied many missionaries, theologians and scholars in China and Europe not only from the early seventeenth century to the papal condemnations of Confucian and ancestor rituals in the early eighteenth century, but was revived in the Terms Controversy of the nineteenth century and its echoes continue to the present day. National rivalries, papal politics and theological differences played major roles but the central bone of contention was language: terminology, translation of Chinese key words and concepts, premature use of European theological allocutions. This paper will examine some key notions that figure in the dispute: “religion” itself, God concepts (Tian, Tianzhu, Shangdi), ritual terms such as “worship,” “sacrifice,” “idolatry,” “atheism,” “materialism;” as well as the conflict between religious experience and its verbalization. It will also question the conditions and/or possibility of genuine cross /cultural and cross/linguistic understanding. On the East/West dimension of the misunderstandings the dismissal of the concept of “natural religion” due to Western theological disputes opened the way to depiction of Chinese religion as Deist and Chinese ethics as philosophical or rationalistic.

In Search of Truth: Ethics and Rituality in Chinese Religions

Tiziana Lippiello, Professor of Classical Chinese and History of Chinese Philosophy and and Religions, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice

Are there universal human concerns shared by different philosophies and religions, such as humanism, tolerance, well-being, care, or global justice? What are the motivations for good actions and how can we judge a good action? Matteo Ricci said that the right motive for doing good is to do what one ought to do: “The higher a man’s motives, the more perfect will be his good deeds.” But according to the Chinese, the only motive should be “moral cultivation” (xiude 修德), not the effectiveness of the action. E. Zürcher has highlighted the insurmountable contradiction between the philosophical and religious ideas of Christianity and those of the Chinese tradition: the essential ideas of Christianity could not be accepted tout court as these could not be integrated into the worldview of the Chinese. I shall introduce a few reflections on some classical notions characterizing Chinese spirituality and our perception of these concepts: why should people do good deeds? Should they behave in the name of an absolute truth and in search of rewards in the present or in the future life?

From Translation to Appropriation: The Paradox of Jesuits’ Translation of Chinese Natural Philosophy in the Age of Enlightenment

Wu Huiyi吳惠儀, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Needham Research Institute, Cambridge; Associate Researcher, Centre d’études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, Paris

It is well known that Chinese philosophy influenced major European thinkers of the Enlightenment in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe through the enterprise of Jesuit translation. But how was this influence exerted, and what role did the Jesuits’ agency play in it? In this paper, I propose some reflections on the paradox that underlies the Jesuits’ translations: certain aspects of Chinese philosophy enthusiastically received by Enlightenment freethinkers were primarily presented in a negative light in the missionary literature, condemned as heathen errors. I tentatively map out the trajectories of major missionary texts from the 1620s to ca. 1740, and identify the period around 1700 as a point when the terms of the debate crystallized. I also discuss how information about European controversies over Chinese philosophy trickled back to the China mission, often through opinionated book reviews in scholarly journals, and how missionaries struggled to react at a long distance to these debates by producing new translations, which in turn were appropriated again by readers in ways unexpected by Jesuits in China. I argue that instead of a straightforward influence, the prominence of Chinese philosophy in Enlightenment Europe should be regarded as a more complex process of appropriation: the Jesuits’ translations were made to serve ends that went utterly against their intentions. Readers’ interpretative liberty and the material difficulty of long-distance communication are both integral parts of the story that need to be more fully assessed.


Between Text and Commentaries: Europeans Reading Chinese Classics in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

Nicolas Standaert, Professor of Sinology, University of Leuven

This contribution will attempt to give a general overview of the ways European missionaries read Chinese classical texts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By focusing on the relationship between “text” and “commentaries,” it will show how this reading evolved and how it was determined by both the Chinese and European commentarial traditions. It will thus illustrate various ways of translating Chinese texts to the West. There will be four parts: 1. The debates in the early China mission (1603-1620s): Matteo Ricci and Niccolò Longobardo; 2. The first translation project (1660-1680s): Confucius Sinarum Philosophus: Prospero Intorcetta, Philippe Couplet et al.; 3. The use of Classics in the Chinese rites controversy (1680s-1704): Francesco Filippucci and François Noël; 4. The study of the Chinese classics by the French Jesuits (1710s-1720s): Beijing (Gaubil, Parrenin, Regis, de Mailla, de Tartre), Canton (Bouvet, de Prémare, Foucquet).

From Hermeneutics of Suspicion to Hermeneutics of Trust: Noël’s Reading of Neo-Confucianism as Natural Theology

Thierry Meynard, Professor of Philosophy, Sun Yat-sen University

Through the cultural encounter with China at the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century, the traditional notion of natural theology was applied beyond ancient Greece and Egypt to ancient China. Matteo Ricci argued in his works that the ancient Chinese, through natural reason, had gained a true knowledge of God. For Ricci, the notion of natural theology was deeply connected to the idea of a prisca theologia, where human reason was believed to be close to the pristine faith of the beginnings of humanity. Only the ancient Chinese had a true knowledge of God, which was later corrupted by the introduction of heresies. Quite surprisingly, when the central institution of the Church condemned the claim of the existence of a natural theology in ancient China, the Flemish Jesuit François Noël went in another direction. In his Philosophia Sinica (1711), he came to extend Chinese natural theology from ancient Confucianism to Neo-Confucianism. In order to understand better this surprising move, we shall analyze how some Jesuits held a hermeneutics of suspicion and others a hermeneutics of trust. By expanding the domain of natural theology from ancient thoughts to a living thought (here, Neo-Confucianism), Noël showed that even in modern times, without the help of any revelation or the mediation of the Church, human reason is able to obtain a true knowledge of God.

Lines, Sounds, and Textual Colonies: Invention and Translation of Chinese Religion

Lionel Jensen, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Faculty Fellow of the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame

The global translation of bodies, goods, sounds, and texts from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries brought “philosophy” and “religion” from the provinces and capitals of China to auditoriums, churches, meeting halls, and academic societies in Europe and the American colonies. The sea lanes and chart lines of this transmission were already mapped in significant detail making ports of call points of reception and interpretation. Traveling these lines of transmission bearing selected texts honored among merchants, missionaries, and scholars, the jing or classics arrived on distant shores far west of China. From these works and particularly their translations into Latin, English, and French among others, what was once arcane or strange was inscribed upon the surface of curious minds. The story of the trans-lingual practice occasioned by this inscription is presented here in an account of the “philosophical” and “religious” traditions of Buddhism, Daoism, and Ruism and their assimilation into the greater translation of the self-image of the modern age.

Daoist Dialectics: The Epistolary Exchanges of Thomas Merton and John H. Wu

Anthony E. Clark, Edward B. Lindaman Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of Chinese History, Whitworth University

In 1961, two popular intellectuals and spiritual masters — one from Ningbo, China, and another from Kentucky—inaugurated an epistolary exchange that transformed into a rich dialectic between East and West. Professor John H. Wu (Wu Jingxiong 吳經熊, 1899-1986) and Father Thomas Louis Merton, O.C.S.O. (1915-1968) largely centered their interchange upon the topic of the Dao 道, or “Way,” as it was articulated in the Daoist tradition in China’s Zhou (1045-221 BC) and Han (206 BC- 220 AD) eras. With due respect to the abiding intellects and religious insight of these two interlocutors, this presentation considers the possible disparities between what Wu and Merton understood to be the “Dao” of China’s early philosophical period and the “Dao” actually discussed in the texts of the Daoist progenitors, Laozi 老子 (figurative person) and Zhuangzi 莊子 (also Zhuang Zhou 莊周 ca. 369-ca. 286 BC). When Wu compares the “Dao” of Laozi and Zhuangzi to the “Logos of God” (Wu to Merton, 20 March 1961), is this “Dao” the same “Dao” envisaged in the opening line of the Daodejing 《道德經》, in which it is described as, “Dao ke Dao feichang Dao; ming ke ming feichang ming  道可道非常道。名可名非常名”? The primary concern of this presentation, then, is to ask whether Wu and Merton’s “Way” is indeed, when placed under scholarly scrutiny, similar to the “Way” of Laozi and Zhuangzi, and furthermore, is the Way of Laozi and Zhuangzi, in the end, comparable to the Logos expressed in the canonical texts of Christianity? (中国特色社会主义宗教观).



Fri, March 24, 2017
8:45am – 6:00pm
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

Day 3

Doors Open
David Hume Definitely Knew (Something) About Buddhism: Bayle, Atheism and the Jesuit Fathers at la Flèche

Alison Gopnik, Professor of Psychology and Affiliate Professor of Philosophy, UC Berkeley

Philosophers and Buddhist scholars have noted the affinities between David Hume’s (1711-1776) empiricism and the Buddhist philosophical tradition. I have shown previously that it was possible for Hume to have had contact with Buddhist philosophical views. The link to Buddhism comes through the Jesuit scholars at the Royal College of La Flèche, where Hume wrote the Treatise on Human Nature. Charles Francois Dolu (1651-1740) was a Jesuit missionary who lived at the Royal College from 1723–1740, overlapping with Hume’s stay. He had extensive knowledge both of other religions and cultures and of scientific ideas. Dolu had had first-hand experience with Theravada Buddhism as part of the second French embassy to Siam in 1687–1688. In 1727, Dolu also had talked with Ippolito Desideri (1684-1733), a Jesuit missionary who visited Tibet and made an extensive study of Tibetan Buddhism from 1716–1721. More recently, the Hume scholar Dario Perinetti, both discovered a catalog of the books in La Flèche in the eighteenth century, and discovered that hundreds of these books were still in place at the Library at La Flèche, since converted to the Prytanée Military Academy. Checking through those books reveals at least six accounts of Buddhist religion and philosophical views, primarily, but not exclusively in Jesuit travel relations. In addition, the catalog and the current library include the third edition of Bayle’s Dictionary, containing the entry on Spinoza. Hume explicitly describes this entry as an influence on the Treatise. That entry includes a footnote with a lengthy description of “Philosophes Orientaux” which describes Buddhism, and also is cross-referenced to accounts of the very voyage to Siam in which Dolu participated, accounts that were also among the books in the library.

Enlightenment Against China: Cornelius de Pauw’s Natural History of the Chinese

Peter Park, Associate Professor of Historical Studies, University of Texas at Dallas

Cornelius de Pauw (1739-1799) was a French Enlightenment writer, active in the second half of the eighteenth century. Born in Amsterdam, he resided at St. Victor’s Monastery and Cathedral in Xanten (near Cleves) most of his life. He was a canon at St. Victor’s and curator of the library. Having read widely in historical literature and modern travel literature, he wrote and published three separate Recherches philosophiques of prominent ancient peoples or races (viz., Native Americans, Egyptians, Chinese, and Greeks). Compared to his role models, the Baron de Montesquieu and the Comte de Buffon, he was a minor philosophe, though, like Voltaire, he was welcome at the Prussian king Frederick II’s court. I want to build a case to argue that de Pauw’s Recherches philosophiques sur les Egyptiens et les Chinois (1773) did the most to shatter and upturn the image of China, which Jesuit missionaries and prominent Enlightenment thinkers (Leibniz, Quesnay, and Voltaire) had created or propagated. De Pauw’s publication did more than simply destroy a prevailing image of China; it also redrew the boundaries of European civilization so as to set in opposition the party of the Jesuits, China, and religion from the party of the Enlightenment, Europe, and science.

The Jesuit Heresiological Discourse as Enlightenment Project in Early Modern China

Zhang Qiong張琼, Associate Professor of History, Wake Forest University

Refutations of Buddhism, Daoism, and various Chinese popular cults formed a vital balance to the gestures of cultural accommodation attempted by the Jesuits in late Ming and early Qing China. Yet this heresiological discourse remains largely invisible in the prevalent historiography that features prominently the accommodating Jesuit bent on forging synthesis between the East and West. This paper seeks to address this neglect by centrally engaging this discourse, arguing that the Jesuits and their Chinese converts, in their consistent stress on reason and (Aristotelian) science as a basis of their criticisms of Chinese religion, articulated a hybrid notion of heterodoxy that anticipated in significant ways post-Enlightenment conceptions of superstition. Thus the paper offers a case study in support of the emerging revisionist scholarship that interprets the European Enlightenment as a multi-stage historical process originating at least partially outside Europe in sites of cross-cultural encounters during the Age of Discovery.


Appropriating Chinese Religion during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Era

Gregory Blue, Associate Professor of History, University of Victoria

Amidst the political upheavals of the French Revolution, deistic and anti-clerical circles formulated new approaches to religion that, over the following century, would have repercussions of various kinds. Ready to hand for writers in that tradition was the trove of earlier literatures regarding China, including publications that had emerged from the Jesuit China mission, others that had (often controversially) built upon or responded to such Jesuit writings, and still others that stemmed from Western diplomatic embassies. Two of the most influential works that pioneered new historical approaches to religion were Les Ruines, ou méditations sur les révolutions des empires (1791) by the Comte de Volney and L’origine de tous les cultes, ou la religion universelle (1795) by Charles-François Dupuis, both of which featured notable discussions of China. Among the “new religions” that sprouted during the revolutionary era, the sect that styled itself Théophilanthropie embraced elements of Confucianism in its outlook and liturgy. This presentation will explore the different ways Volney, Dupuis and the Théophilanthropes used materials concerning China, the range of their sources, and the manners in which their distinctive interpretations of Chinese culture affected their broader understandings of religion.

From Prisca Scientia to Sagesse Orientale: The Birth of Modern Sinology

Alexander Statman, PhD Candidate, History, Stanford University

At the end of the Enlightenment, European engagement with the intellectual culture of China underwent a fundamental transformation. For the philosophes of the eighteenth century, China had seemed a land of Confucian reason, while for the philosophers of the nineteenth century, it was just the opposite, defined by Daoist superstition. This view achieved its mature form in the contemporaneous thought of Europe’s leading sinologist, Jean-Pierre Abel-Rémusat (1788-1832), and its leading philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). Both believed that it was not Confucius who represented the essence of Chinese thought, but his rival, Laozi. They agreed that Daoism was just one manifestation of an ancient doctrine that had been known to all the peoples of the pre-Classical world. But they disagreed about its value; Abel-Rémusat called it wisdom, while Hegel called it magic. Both scholars looked to China not as a source of familiar models for the West, but as a source of exotic alternatives to it. For the philosopher, this was the problem with Chinese thought; for the sinologist, it was just the point.

Universality, Cultural Difference, and the Construction of Philosophy as Western

Franklin Perkins, Professor of Philosophy, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

It is now generally taken for granted that religion is a human phenomenon found across the world, such that it makes sense to ask of any peoples, what is their religion? In contrast, at least among professionals, philosophy is generally thought to be a unique product of Western civilization. That has not always been the case. In this paper, I focus on how the conception of philosophy was altered as it was constructed to be uniquely Western. The paper focuses on the tension between the claim of philosophers to reach universal truths that transcend cultural particularities and the fact of cultural diversity. Most of the paper considers views before this shift, taking Descartes, Leibniz, and Lord Herbert of Cherbury as examples. I argue for three interconnected points. The first is that they conceive their projects in terms of the universality of reason as common across cultures, thus assuming that philosophy is a human project. The second is that this universality is crucial for their goals within Europe, particularly in establishing the autonomy of philosophy or natural theology from faith and revelation. The third is that they see their claims as simultaneously within philosophy and theology/religion. This position breaks down with greater awareness of cultural diversity, and I argue that the dominant response to this problem was the introduction of explicit racism into philosophy, which allowed philosophers to maintain a claim to universal truth while setting aside the experiences and theories of the vast majority of human beings. The paper briefly considers this move as it appears in the work of Kant and Hegel, and concludes with how this issue remains a problem for the discipline of philosophy. While the paper focuses on the impact of contact with peoples outside of Europe for philosophy, it touches on the impact on religion and the eventual split between philosophy and religion.

Final Discussion