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

March 16-18, 2016
3335 Dwinelle Hall
UC Berkeley

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


Wed, March 16, 2016
5:00 – 7:00pm
3335 Dwinelle Hall

Bureaucracy and Salvation: Chinese Ways to Divinization

Vincent Goossaert, Directeur d’études, Sciences religieuses, École Pratique des Hautes Études

The earliest Chinese documents show that dead humans could become (under certain conditions) ancestors, or else suffering, possibly malevolent, and ultimately forgotten ghosts. The late Warring States period saw the more or less concurrent emergence of two new postmortem destinations: one is direct access to transcendence via self-cultivation techniques, the other is promotion into the ranks of the otherworldly bureaucracy. While initially opposed, these two options became over the following centuries intermingled in many ways, as the divine bureaucracy continued to expand, to gain complexity and to incorporate those who had attempted to escape it.
This presentation will argue that the aspiration to become a god (divinization) has ever since played a key role in Chinese religious, intellectual and cultural history. While families work at transforming their dead into ancestors, individuals tend to rather prefer divinization for themselves, and often take steps in that direction while alive. The two main ways to divinization that opened during the late Warring States have basically stayed the same, but while the first (salvation through self-cultivation) remained elitist, the second (gaining initial access in the divine bureaucracy and then working one’s way up) gradually opened to all and sundry, most remarkably as a consequence of the religious changes of early modernity (tenth to thirteenth centuries). Becoming an otherworldly bureaucrat has become in modern time the main way to saving oneself from postmortem suffering and oblivion. This will lead us to reflect upon the intimate connection between two categories not often examined in tandem: bureaucracy and salvation.



Thu, March 17, 2016
9:00am – 6:00pm
3335 Dwinelle Hall

Day 2:
The Reception and Impact of Theology, Religion, and Philosophy in East Asia

Doors Open

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

An Unbalanced Discourse: The Subversive Genealogy of Zongjiao and Shisu

Lionel Jensen, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Notre Dame

Religion (zong教, zongjiao宗教) and secularity (shisu世俗), like sacred and profane, magic and religion, supernatural and the real have long been imagined as a precious balance on which the self and society were poised. In fact, to mention one was to invoke the other. Near the dawn of imperial rule, ca. 150 BCE – 150 CE, the tension of this equipoise was disrupted but not dissolved. Wang Chong’s (王充, 27-100? CE) Lunheng 論衡, a “balanced” disquisition on, among other things, the delusion of popular superstition bears the reference of my title. I employ it in this instance to mark a point of rhetorical habit established well before China’s frenzied struggle with secular modernity, that habit being an unstable “realist” skepticism toward the vernacular vulgarity su (俗) of guishen (鬼神). Such common practices as the cult of the dead, petitional sacrifice to local deities, village heroes, and cosmic forces constituted a local ecology of efficacy (ling 靈) that came down from antiquity only to become “superstition” (mixin 迷信). Another consequence of this early imperial skepticism was the dissolution of the mutual resonance of scripture (jing 經) and apocrypha (wei 緯). Not to dwell on this moment in antiquity, I wish only to point out that a similar unsettledness between the secular and the religious may be found in the debates of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when old and new text traditions battled aggressively for legitimacy just as the accelerated introduction of new ideas from abroad put indigenous textual communities to the test of science and secularity. I propose in this paper to attend to several texts in order to consider several dyadic relations: (1) that between the supernatural and the real or historical as a legacy of Ruism (Lunyu論語 and Xunzi荀子; (2) that of the distinction between religious and civil ritual as made emphatically by Matteo Ricci in his characterization of imperial practices in Dell’entrata della Compagnia di Giesù e Christianità nella Cina; (3) that obtaining between religion and secularism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as evidenced in the writings of Kang Youwei and Tan Sitong; and (4) less a relation than a tension between the thoroughgoing religious context of the Chinese lebenswelt and the interpretative agency of twentieth-century scholars determined to give representative significance to the avatars of Chinese thought in reading “religion” as “philosophy.”

How the Japanese State Found Religion

Trent E. Maxey, Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Civilizations and History, Amherst College

The absence of religion as a cognitive and administrative category prior to the Meiji-era in Japan has been recognized for some time. What has remained contentious are the political implications that followed the invention, discovery, or adoption of religion as a generic category. What did the adoption of shukyo as discursive category in post-Restoration Japan accomplish? How did “religious” traditions and organizations respond to and accommodate the category? What does the regulation of religion tell us about the function and power of the prewar Japanese state? Tracing how the modern Japanese state discovered religion is, at its root, an attempt to gauge the construction and operation of its power. This paper will trace the political genesis of shūkyō in Meiji Japan and explain its relationship to state formation and the limits of state power.


Vincent Goossaert, Directeur d’études, Sciences religieuses, École Pratique des Hautes Études

12:00 noon
Lunch Break
Governing Concepts: The Spread of New Religious Terminology in the Political Everyday

Rebecca Nedostup, Associate Professor of History, Brown University

If the transnational and translingual adoption of the modern concepts of “religion” and “superstition” in East Asia were in their essence political acts, it did not necessarily follow that they translated easily into governmental practice. Part of the wide-ranging reconceptualization of the duties of the Republican-era Chinese county head (xianzhang 縣長) and his urban counterparts included the execution of social surveys. Surveys created as well as analyzed facts on the ground; in the case of religion, for example, customs surveys or temple registration was at times carried out by the very people simultaneously charged with attacking or modernizing religious practice. Yet such sources provide valuable evidence: scholars have recently turned to surveys from the Republican era and public security reports from the early People’s Republic of China to shed light on local temple histories or the activities of redemptive societies. This paper will approach such documents from the angle of epistemological analysis. Though the design of Republican surveys was influenced by the work of sociologists and folklore specialists, they were executed by local officials frequently caught off guard by the shifting parameters of the new religious terminology. The wide variety in the understanding of the meanings of mixin 迷信and zongjiao 宗教that appear in the results constitutes an important step in the intellectual and political histories of these terms. The history and context of government surveys also suggests routes by which the new terminology have been more widely spread, if not wholeheartedly adopted. Finally, they provide a crucial background to the disputes about analytical and survey categories that still persist today among scholars, pollsters, journalists, and bureaucrats.

Humanistic Confucianism: A Global Project

Ya-pei Kuo, University Lecturer, Department of History, University of Groningen

The introduction of the modern concept of “religion” into China at the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century triggered an extended debate over the nature and role of Confucianism. After the failure of Kang Youwei’s movement to promote Confucian Religion in the 1910s, the “non-religion” outlook became a standard position. Intellectuals who stroke to give the sage’s teachings a modern relevance presented them as a system of secular wisdom. “Culture” became the primary category through which the tradition was reinterpreted.
This paper examines the global circulation of the Arnoldian notion of culture and its influence on the representation of Confucianism. Matthew Arnold’s late nineteenth century conception of culture was characterized by its non-spatial construct and a moral voluntarism. Its encounter with Confucianism first occurred in early twentieth-century New England. Irving Babbitt, a social critic and a professor of French Literature at Harvard College, appropriated Arnold’s conception in his rendering of the Chinese sage into a cultural hero of universal humanism. Babbitt’s vision was later brought back to China by his Chinese students and shaped Confucianism’s representation in the following decades. Connecting three moments in the Arnoldian notion’s global circulation, this paper highlights the emergence of a transnational project that constructed culture as the functional replacement of religion in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and argues that Confucianism’s identity as a humanistic tradition was part and parcel of such an intellectual endeavor.

Puritanism and Confucianism: An Anthropological Rereading of Weber’s Religion of China

Xin Liu, Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology, UC Berkeley

Max Weber, a pivotal figure the Chinese social theorists employed in their battle to fight the official Marxism in the 1980s, has now become a regular, if not compulsive, reference for sociology and other related social science fields in today’s China, where a rampant market- economic development, capitalist or socialist, is making its global effect. From the “Spirit of Chinese Capitalism” to “Adam Smith in Beijing,” the nature of such a development continues to be debated along certain old European conception-paths: whether one wishes to travel in the concept-lane of modes of production, capital, and state, or one would rather talk about “affects” or meaningful action, elective affinity, and the spirit of capitalism, is not yet an entirely settled question that continues to puzzle us. In light of China’s attempt to set up the so-called Confucian Institutes around the world, a cultural factor that goes along with its capital accumulation in places such as Africa or Arabic world, this paper returns to the conceptual roots of Weber’s Religion of China, in order to raise the question of the meaning of China’s coming of age in modern development, which is as materialistic as “religious.” “An anthropological rereading” means to emphasize that this is an ethnographic interpretation of an old analytical scheme, which is still alive in the minds of many who are no longer aware of its existence.

Opiate of the Masses with Chinese Characteristics: Recent Chinese Scholarship on Socialism and the Future of Religion

Thomas David DuBois, Senior Research Fellow, Australian National University College of Asia and the Pacific

Conflict over the definition and status of religion in China continued even after 1949, when the People’s Republic consciously diverged from the strict anti-religious policies of the Soviet Union. New policies enacted since the 1980s have resurrected older theoretical contradictions about the fate of religion under socialism. Chinese scholars and political operatives alike continue to approach the question of religion from the dual perspectives of religious and Marxist theory, producing a complex of ideas that Standing Director of the Chinese Society for the Study of Human Rights Zhu Xiaoming (朱晓明) has termed the “Socialist View of Religion with Chinese Characteristics.” (中国特色社会主义宗教观).


Peter K. J. Park, Associate Professor, School of Arts and Humanities, University of Texas at Dallas




Fri, March 18, 2016
9:00am – 11:45am
3335 Dwinelle Hall

Day 3:
The Reception and Impact of Theology, Religion, and Philosophy in East Asia

Doors Open
Scholarly Approaches to Religion and the “Religion Question”

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

Pragmatic Confucians and Exacting Buddhists: Science, Religion, and the Making of “Minority Medicines” in Late Twentieth-Century China

Stacey Van Vleet, Lecturer, Departments of History and East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley

Over the course of the twentieth century, Chinese reformers embraced a culture of science not only in order to compete with Western imperialists, but also as a shared basis for economic development among the diverse peoples to be incorporated into the nation. Scientific theories, technologies, and reasoning replaced an array of local cosmologies, knowledge systems, and ritual forms used in the management of society and the natural world. While the modern distinction between “science” and “religion” served to mark traditional culture in general as backwards, China’s “minority nationalities” became doubly disparaged, as both superstitious and beyond the pale of Han-dominated cultural histories.
In the mid-1970s, however, the emergence of a new academic field dedicated to the “medical history of minority nationalities” (民族医学史) led Chinese scholars to grapple anew with the boundaries between traditional scholarly cultures, as well as between “religion” and “science.” Significantly, this scholarship originated in response to burgeoning Western interest in Tibetan medicine and its relationship to Buddhism. The “rediscovery” of rare Tibetan medical texts and paintings in Lhasa at this time enabled two state-supported medical scholars, the Tibetan physician Jampa Trinlé (Byams pa ‘phrin las, 1928-2011) and the Chinese physician Cai Jingfeng (蔡景峰,b. 1927), to publish a series of important studies that framed Tibetan medicine as part of a treasured Chinese national cultural heritage. In their work, Jampa Trinlé and Cai Jingfeng aimed to evaluate Tibetan medicine according to scientific standards. They focused their attention mainly on Tibetan methods of diagnosis and treatment, particularly pharmacopeia, and sought to jettison practices associated with “magical techniques” and “religious superstitions.” Cai Jingfeng acknowledged a significant relationship between Tibetan medicine and Tibetan Buddhism, but interpreted this relationship largely in terms of “medical ethics” (医德or 医学伦理). This conceptualization of medical ethics in the Tibetan context also led Cai Jingfeng to reexamine the relationship between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Confucian scholarly culture. While Cai Jingfeng opposed Confucian “philosophical ideology” to the “religious superstition” of Buddhism, he ultimately argued for a common tradition of medical ethics (including benevolence, pragmatism, and diligence) between Han and minority medicines.


Michael Nylan, Professor of History, UC Berkeley