Interdisciplinary Sino-Christian Theology since 2010

The feature article for this issue is written by Professor XIE Zhibin, Director of the ISCS Tongji Center, on the theory and practice of interdisciplinary Sino-Christian Theology. Sino-Christian Theology from an interdisciplinary perspective is a topic that the Institute has been engaged with since 2010. In that year, as the Institute entered into its 15th anniversary. We were considering the way forward and became keenly aware of the fact that the “interdisciplinary” way had all along been the only possible way for the Institute, as the universities in China, unlike those in the West, do not have a theological department or a long-standing department of religious studies.


The Institute, from the very beginning, had to find a niche to survive within the departments of humanities.1 This was how, by necessity rather than by design, the Institute was operating on an “interdisciplinary” mode for its first 15 years. As we were pondering on the way forward, we realized that we had to turn our mind from “being interdisciplinary by necessity”, to “being interdisciplinary by design”.2 We wanted to conduct Sino-Christian theology with transformative creativity,3 and such creativity could only be engendered if we stayed on being interdisciplinary, and pursued our goal through being “interdisciplinary”. However, at that time, there was little experience in the academia in Mainland, Hong Kong, or Taiwan to do theology in an interdisciplinary way, and we therefore tried to learn from the West and to make use of their resources. We tried out this strategy at the ISCS Tongji Center with the full support from the Hong Kong headquarter.


Since 2011, ISCS had established contact with the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton, the Research Center for International and Interdisciplinary Theology at University of Heidelberg and the Global Network for Public Theology. These renowned institutions had long been recognized internationally for their interdisciplinary research in theology. We struck a good rapport with them from day one. For our Western partners, for what they admired us was a platform of a university network established. For us, exchanges and co-operations with the West in interdisciplinary research was exactly what Sino-Christian theology needed to take shape. From then on, a series of events related to interdisciplinary research have taken place:


‧ In July 2012, ISCS, Tongji University and East China Normal University jointly held the “5th Roundtable Symposium of Sino-Christian Studies” in Shanghai with theme on “Research on Sino-Christian Studies: A perspective of Interdisciplinary Studies.”


‧ The Logos & Pneuma: Chinese Journal of Theology, No.41, published in July 2014, was on the theme: “Sino-Christian Theology, Twenty Years On”, and it clearly defined “the Nature of Sino-Christian Theology” in an inter-disciplinary framework.


‧ In October 2015, ISCS and Tongji University jointly held a conference in Shanghai with the theme on “Religion and Social Justice”.


‧ In July 2016, a symposium was held on Hong Kong Tao Fong Shan with the theme on “The Relationship between Religion and Politics in China: a Study on Interdisciplinary integration with Christianity as an Example”.


‧ During September to December 2017, visiting scholars at ISCS undertook a study and held the International Symposium on “Dignity, Morality and Rights:


Christian Theology, Interdisciplinary Studies, and Cross-cultural Dialogue.” (refer to the present issue of the Special Report section)


The above academic events had produced transformative and creative results: some papers delivered in the 5th Roundtable Symposium of Sino-Christian Studies held in 2012, after further screening, were published in Logos & Pneuma: Chinese Journal of Theology vol. 38 (Spring 2013; Theme: The Development of Sino-Christian Theology amidst Dialogues and Reflections); between 2015 and 2017, a number of papers delivered at international workshops were compiled under the efforts of ISCS and well known scholars in US and UK, and the selected papers were published either as feature articles in periodicals or in the book series. It is expected that in the coming two years, the interdisciplinary Sino-Christian theology will be further in sync with Western academia, thus fulfilling the objective of Sino-Christian theology, which is to promote the dialogue and integration of the Chinese and Western scholarships.



1. Message from the Director, ISCS Newsletter, Fall, 2011, “Although the hottest peiod of cultural and religious studies has passed, Sino-Christian theology/studies is still developing because of its interdisciplinary nature and solid foundation in the humanities. Starting from philosophy, history and literature, it is now progressing to the realms of biblical studies, sociology of religion, public theology, and so on to produce interdisciplinary cooperation and result.”

2. Message from the Director, ISCS Newsletter, Spring, 2012, “Yes” and “No” of Sino-Christian Theology: “The emphasis of creative transformation is not ‘turning to other form’, not to the west or somewhere distant. Nor is it turning ‘back to the old form’, to the ancestors, to Mao Zedong, or to somewhere thousand years ago. It is ‘creating its own form’, a social form based on the existential condition of modern Chinese, confirming and absorbing the universal values but not to some preset western paradigm. It must retrieve the ancient resources of China but deny any preset Chinese model. ‘Creative transformation’ means to explore its own way for modern China.”

3. Message from the Director, ISCS Newsletter, Spring, 2013, “Interdisciplinary, Universal and Contextual Sino-Christian Theology”: Christian studies have a very precise and professional division of labour. For example, there were trends in theological studies (studying the thoughts and trends of different Christian traditions), biblical studies (textual interpretation and cross-textual hermeneutics), cultural studies (post-colonial, feminist and ecological interpretation), empirical studies of anthropology and sociology or religion (study of different regions, nationalities and communities), historical studies (on different denominations, figures, events, issues in the history of missions), religious dialogues (with Chinese religions), public theology (comparison between European and Anglo-American schools). We can see that Sino-Christian theology is becoming professional and taking an interdisciplinary route. Read the message from the Director, ISCS Newsletter, Autumn, 2013,“Listen to What One Says and Watch What One Does”: “We do not have a particular system of thought we want to import into China. In contrast, we emphasize an interdisciplinary integration of Chinese and western scholarship in the spirit of mutual respect to achieve a kind of ‘creative transformation’, so as to foster a brand new knowledge system acknowledged by Chinese academia, further enriching its diversity and offering responses to the challenge of the country’s modernization.”