Unusual Encounters: Chinese, Muslims, Christians

AHA Session 96
Friday, January 3, 2014: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Marriott Balcony A (Marriott Wardman Park)
John Voll, Georgetown University
John Voll, Georgetown University

Session Abstract

Muslim-Christian interactions often take place in societies where Islam or Christianity is the major religious beliefs of people. However, as these two religions spread far beyond such societies, Islam or Christianity in China have fascinated many researchers and generated excellent works that investigate their disparate influence on the Chinese people. Based on these works, this panel seeks to explore a new topic: the intertwined and synthesized impacts of these two monotheistic religions in the traditional Confucian world. The panel brings together scholars who are at different stages of their careers and with different areas of expertise to jointly examine the unusual and multi-directional encounters among the Chinese, Muslims, and Christians in different parts of the world.

The three papers included in this panel will be presented in chronological order. The first paper studies the interplay of Islam and Christianity on the lives of ordinary people in a small town of southeast China over a long duration of time, from the fourteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century. The local people acquired a seemingly paradoxical identity, the Hui Christian, with the rise and fall of Islam and Christianity in this place. An inquiry into this phenomenon reveals an overlooked intersection of Islam and Christianity in China. Pursuing further on this intersection, the second paper reconstructs the networks and mediums through which western missionary groups spread their messages among Hui Muslims in China in the first half of the twentieth century. It demonstrates the importance of examining religion as a site of global, cultural, and intellectual interaction. Once being converted, some Chinese Christians took their mission very seriously and went beyond the Chinese land to the birth place of Christianity and Islam. The third paper looks into the “Back to Jerusalem” movement in the second half of the twentieth century which aimed at spreading the newly received Christian message to Muslims in the Islamic heartland. All three papers focus on the impact of Islam and Christianity on the lives of ordinary peoples. At times they were receivers of religious teachings; at other times they took the initiative to spread the messages. The encounters among them exemplify the dialectic process of the circulation of religious ideas and the mutual influences on both ends of the process.

The three papers integrate various genres of sources, such as local gazetteers, family genealogy books, journals and pamphlets published by various religious groups, travel memoirs, private correspondence, and oral history. They also cover a wide range of historical periods and geographical distance, from the fourteenth century to the present day, and from different parts of China to Jerusalem and Mecca. In so doing, they can bring together the heretofore separate scholarly domains of studying individual monotheistic religions in China and move beyond the focus of their distinct impact on the Chinese. It is hoped that this panel can spark a lively discussion on how to best approach the study of Muslim-Christian interactions in non-Islamic and non-Christian societies.

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