Translating Global Ideas through Confucian Paradigms: Intellectual Exchange across Religious Paradigms and State Boundaries in China

AHA Session 70
Friday, January 5, 2018: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Calvert Room (Omni Shoreham, East Lobby)
Minghui Hu, University of California, Santa Cruz
The Audience

Session Abstract

This panel explores how Chinese thinkers—scholars, politicians, and religious practitioners—translated and appropriated concepts and discourses across state, religious, and paradigmatic boundaries using Confucian and indigenous methodologies and categories of thought. We probe the effects of these processes of cross-cultural exchange and how they have shaped identities and the intellectual frameworks underpinning society and the state in China. With temporal scopes ranging from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries, these papers collectively revise historical understandings of the global circulation of identities and ideas in China by emphasizing the dynamism of local intellectual frameworks when engaging novel or foreign problematics and the creative meanings and imaginaries produced through these interactions. The results of these translations and establishing of equivalences, as indicated by our panelists, have not only served to define the identities and ethical-religious practices of pre-modern communities, but also the contours of modern concepts such as the religious-secular divide and the nature of the nation-state itself.

Manning Chan analyzes a seventeenth century Catholic-Confucian scholar’s intervention in the Chinese Rites Controversy and his use of the concept of xiao/filial piety to assert the commensurability of Catholic theology and Chinese socio-ethical practices. This intervention helped fuse Catholic and Chinese identities for the remainder of the imperial period. Yiming Shen discusses the Islamic jingxue school in the Ming and Qing, demonstrating its usage of classical Chinese philosophical terms to translate Islamic scriptures, thus producing a unique Chinese Muslim identity. Joshua Sooter’s paper concerns the philosophical translation of the modern concept of religion into late Qing China as mediated through the methodologies, concerns, and historiographies of Confucian evidentiary scholarship. Finally, Yue Du scrutinizes the nationalist cult of Sun Yat-sen as a foreign-inspired civil religion of the nation-state that, influenced by images of George Washington and Vladimir Lenin, produced a pater patriae discourse around Sun that was integrated with the longer-standing social expectation of filial obedience to ruling powers.

This panel will seek to foster open discussion among its members and the audience on the benefits of, and methods for conducting, research approaches that are sensitive to histories of ideas crossing state borders and perceived sociocultural, religious, and ethnic boundaries. Accordingly, the papers will not merely be read, but rather briefly summarized by the presenters with special emphasis on the theoretical structures and methodologies employed. This panel will not merely speak to and with scholars of China, but to those interested in using methodologies with global lenses to illuminate regional and national histories. Specifically, we will explore how processes of exchange and identity formation are linked to global forces and actors and how these processes have shown continuities and differed over time. As a site of intense global and cross-national trade, imperialist activity, religious and intellectual contact, and extreme social and political change over the last four centuries, this panel will highlight the history of China from a global perspective to address the broader theoretical and methodological concerns of this conference.

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