China Exchange Program
Professors Zhongxin Wang and John Berthrong are organizing a two-way exchange program between Boston University School of Theology and institutions in China. Faculty members and students will participate.
Most recently, the School of Theology sent participants to the Nishan Forum on World Civilizations Conference in September 2010, on the dialogue between Christianity and Confucianism. While these kinds of discussion has been going on now for more than a decade in many purely academic settings in Chinese universities and research institutes, this initial meeting of Nishan Forum was unique in that it was both directly supported and sponsored by various agencies and departments of the Chinese government, including Shandong Province, as well as a number of academic institutions. Boston University was ably represented by the Rev. Dr. Robert C. Neville and Dr. John Berthrong. Both are known in China as Christian comparative theologians and philosophers of religion as well as members of the Boston Confucian group.
Nishan is the traditional birthplace of Confucius (Kongzi). The picture of the small cave is the place where Kongzi was purported to have been born 2561 years ago. While no one truly believes that this is historically accurate, we do know that Kongzi could well have been born in Nishan (which means Mt. Ni in Chinese) before he moved to Qufu as a very young child. The more than 200 plus participants in the conference visited both Nishan and Qufu as part of the dialogue. The conference began with a memorable and wonderful musically performance of a mostly tradition ensemble of Chinese instruments, augmented in true intercultural fashion by four double bases and four cellos. We all also took part in two birthday celebrations for Master Kong in Qufu. In many respects, as my Chinese academic colleagues pointed out, this conference was as much a diplomatic event as it was a scholarly and theological exchange.
One of the government officials well expressed the rationale for the conference in a short speech after the wonderful opening musical performance. He pointed out that as China matures into a a world power that the Chinese people need to think about their place in the world and how China should act with as much civility as is possible in international relations. Hence there is a need for a sustained and vigorous dialogue between civilizations. Moreover, he pointed out that all the world’s great civilizations have a spiritual and/or religious dimension that serves to found the moral basis of any society. He proposed that just as it is a fact that you cannot understand the history of Europe and the United States without knowing about Christianity, you cannot understand China with knowing the contribution that Confucianism has made to East Asian cultures for thousands of years. In his speech he also recognized and named the fact that Confucianism, along with Buddhism and Daoism, is one of the spiritual paths of the Chinese people. This is the first time that the government has recognized the spiritual dimension of Confucianism and that it needs to be a dialogue partner with Christianity in order for there to be harmony in the complex world of the 21st Century. In the future the Nishan Forum will continue to sponsor more dialogues with Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism—in short, a major part of the Nishan Forum’s ongoing mandate is to promote and encourage interfaith and intercultural dialogues. The Nishan Forum represents another opening on the part the Chinese government and an actual recognition of the potentially positive role that spiritual and religious movements can and should play in seeking peace and harmony in the modern world. One can only hope that the expressed dream of a genuine harmony among the diverse cultures and the nations of the world expressed over and over again at the conference will actually become a reality.