Papers on Religion I

Global
Tuesday
2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Room F

  • Shyling Glaze, “A 17th-Century Caodong Monk: Yongjue Yuanxian and Humanistic Buddhism in Taiwan”
  • Anja Ahčin, “Dragon, Mythical Creature—Sacred Animal or Devastating Monster? The Comparison of the Chinese and the Slavic Dragon”
  • Sophie Ling-chia Wei, “The Many Lives of Shan Hai Jing—Jesuit Translators’ Re-Interpretation of the Classic of Mountains and Seas
  • Katja Wengenmayr, “Towards a Global Philosophy of Religion: Searching and Finding Niches in Political-Religious Discourses in China”
  • Maja Maria Kosec, “Chinese Religion in Cuba: From Guan Gong to San Fancon and Back”

Shyling Glaze, “A 17th-Century Caodong Monk: Yongjue Yuanxian and Humanistic Buddhism in Taiwan”

Yuanxian’s life illustrates an initial Confucian who in his 40s determined to become a devoted Buddhist master and then further transformed into an unyielding upholder of Buddhism and altruist. He demonstrated an ideal of engaging both the Buddhist’s super-mundane and Confucian’s mundane teachings simultaneously for the well-being of the common people.
Yuanxian closely associated himself with communities; condemned the merciless practice of female infanticide and provided indispensable teachings for society through his prolific writings. Battles between the Qing and the Southern Ming troops raged continuously for many years around the Fujian area. This period of warfare caused horrible conditions of mass starvation with reports of the cannibalization of dead bodies and even small children stolen away to be cooked in cauldrons. Two years before his death at the age of 80, Yuanxian selflessly offered humanitarian aid to the war refugees in the Fujian area with food, medicine, and shelter. He and his disciples from the Gushan monastery buried more than two thousand of the deceased refugees and continued to offer humanitarian aid for more than a month despite his poor health and advanced age.
Yuanxian’s humane actions became the foundation of “Humanistic Buddhism” in Taiwan. He transformed the Mahayana Buddhist teaching of compassion into a reality for suffering people and had an influential impact on mundane society. I believe his merciful actions had great impact on later generations especially in the formation of “Humanistic Buddhism” in Taiwan.

Anja Ahčin, “Dragon, Mythical Creature—Sacred Animal or Devastating Monster? The Comparison of the Chinese and the Slavic Dragon”

The powerful divine dragon is deeply rooted in various facets of Chinese culture and society. It is known as a symbol of luck and prosperity and also as a symbol of imperial power. It is the controller of rain, rivers, lakes, seas. However, it is more than that. It is a divinity. In Slavic cultures, dragons are mostly bad omens, signs of a devil, and evil. Before Christianity, the dragon was an ambivalent creature. It was also the protector of livestock. Although the god Veles was showing himself as a dragon, people were not just afraid of him, but they also worshipped him. Nowadays, the dragon is connected with evil in most cases. This image derives from Christianity, which adopted the dragon as a terrible monster from Mesopotamian myth of creation. Chinese traditional thought is based on a holistic world view which does not separate dualistic concepts of matter from an idea, or the creator from the created. Moreover, the dragon represents nature, so with worshiping it Chinese also worship nature. Psychoanalytical, Jungian, approach among others comprehends the dragon as a shadow or our fears that we need to become aware of and integrate them into our personality, as only then we can become an integral, mature personality. With manifestation of the archetype of the dragon I wish to illuminate the latter perspective as well as to show the importance of leaning on the tradition and ancient symbols.

Sophie Ling-chia Wei, “The Many Lives of Shan Hai Jing—Jesuit Translators’ Re-Interpretation of the Classic of Mountains and Seas

Shan Hai Jing 山海經 (The Classic of Mountains and Seas) is a classic which documented extraordinary geographical survey of elusive places, including mountains and rivers, in ancient China. Not only were rare and precious animals and plants listed and described but also the sacrificial rites toward the Mountain spirits were explained in detail. As the Jesuits set their foot in China and proselytized the monotheism in Christianity to convert Chinese people, it will be very valuable to investigate how they translated and transformed Shan Hai Jing in their encounters with this mysterious classic. The three dominating factors, geography, chronicles and myths, in Shan Hai Jing certainly attracted the eyes of the Jesuits. Gabriel de Magalhāes 安文思 (1609–1677) employed the geographical elements in Shan Hai Jing and wrote his Portuguese work, Doze excellencias da China 中國十二絕 (Twelve excellences of China), which was later translated and disseminated back to Europe. Matteo Ricci 利瑪竇 (1552–1610) might also make reference to the descriptions in Shan Hai Jing on his map, Kun yu wanguo quan tu 坤輿萬國全圖 (Great Universal Geographic Map). The next generation of Jesuits, the Jesuit Figurists in the Qing Dynasty, further adjusted their accommodation policy and they were obsessed with finding God’s symbols and mysterious messages embedded in Chinese classics. Especially Prémare and Foucquet,  the two main Figurists, linked the chronicles and myths in Shan Hai Jing with the Bible stories in their hand-written manuscripts and used it as a piece of historical evidence to parallel Chinese myths and history with the chronicles in the Bible. They aim to persuade Chinese readers to believe that the dawn of Chinese civilization has the same origin with the one in the West. Due to the lack of scholarship on the Figurists’ study and association with Shan Hai Jing, a further examination will be conducted in this paper and the Figurists’ accommodation policy could be re-assessed. A close-up examination of the passages these Figurists picked deliberately in Shan Hai Jing for their translation and re-interpretation reveals their inclination to align with the interests of Chinese readers and their priority on Chinese history and myths. Their concurrent efforts of interpreting the mythical elements in Zhuangzi 莊子 (Book of the Master Zhuang), Huainanzi 淮南子 (Book of the Master of Huainan), and Liezi 列子 (Book of the Master Lie) will also be analyzed in this paper. Shan Hai Jing thus has many lives, with its many facets transformed in the hands of the Jesuits, to fit their purpose of proselytization.

Katja Wengenmayr, “Towards a Global Philosophy of Religion: Searching and Finding Niches in Political-Religious Discourses in China”

After religious studies were re-established at Chinese Universities in 1979, Chinese scholars also focus on the revival of religions in the Post-Mao era. Some Western observers claim that religious studies have always been under the tutelage of the CCP. The Party mainly encourages the scholars to decrease the hegemony of Western knowledge and to study the valuable contributions of religions in China. This leaves the impression of scholars as passive receivers of political instructions. In my paper, I argue that this narrow description does not fit with the reality. In order to draw a more complex picture of the relation between religious studies, political and public sphere, I will analyse the activities of two religious studies scholars: He Guanghu 何光沪 (1950, Renmin University) and Wang Zhicheng 王志成 (1966, Zhejiang University).
Both scholars are active outside the religious studies sphere. He Guanghu engages with Christian and liberal intellectuals to express agenda on the further development of China and tries to establish himself as political adviser. Wang Zhicheng established his own Yoga institute and offers courses on yoga philosophy and practice. He Guanghu and Wang Zhicheng developed their own systematic approach on a global philosophy of religions to engage with official discourses on modernity and reinterpret the role of religion in China. They aim to show the global relevance of religion in modern societies and the global interconnectivity of religions in contrast to the propagated sinicisation of religions in religious studies and more currently in state discourses.

Maja Maria Kosec, “Chinese Religion in Cuba: From Guan Gong to San Fancon and Back”

The question of religious practices inside the Chinese diaspora in Cuba is becoming increasingly debated inside the field of Chinese studies in Latin America, with scholars such as Jose Baltar Rodriguez arguing the only case of Chinese religious syncretism in Cuba has been the Confucian ancestor Guan Gong, which became a new Sino-Cuban diety San Fancon. Frank Scherer later argued San Fancon was merely a result of decontextualised Confucianism within the project of re-ethnicization of the Chinese diaspora in Cuba. However, these works have not adequately addressed the issue of the understanding San Fancon from the perspective of Santeria, the religion it is actually forming a part of today. My paper addresses the issue of whether San Fancon, within Santeria, is even perceived as a worshiped Confucian ancestor. Specifically, I will be looking at the materials about Guan Gong produced in Cuba before the 1990’s and contemporary Cuban testimonies in order to show that the differences are noticeable. I will discuss the narrations of historical background of Guan Gong and its syncretisation process inside most sinological sources, and juxtapose them against the interpretations produced by the followers of Santeria, in order to reveal the previously neglected importance of the impact of social status of Chinese immigrants on this process. In conclusion, this article, by closely examining the actual believes and practices in Cuba, sheds new light on the neglected aspects of how San Fancon within the framework of Chinese studies is widely different from the San Fancon in Santeria.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room F
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Global