The New Horizons of “Sino-Christian Studies”

Since its establishment, more than two decades ago, the ISCS has been promoting the development of the movement of Sino-Christian Studies. In the last few years, I was often invited to various universities and research centers in Mainland China and in the West to explain the origins, development, and prospects of Sino-Christian Studies. People always asked: How can Sino-Christian Studies respond to the current situations in Mainland China?

What underlies this question is the conviction that the cultural atmosphere of China today is totally different from the 1990s. As we all know, in terms of cultural and academic development, the 1990s inherited the spirit of introducing Western scholarship and bridging China and the West from the 1980s. It was in the 1980s that a number of individual Chinese scholars, out of personal research interests, started translating and introducing into China ancient and modern Western religious classics, thus beginning the first wave of Christian studies in Mainland China. In that epoch, Western studies and Christian studies interacted with and supplemented each other, together constituting an attractive major current of academic studies in Mainland China. But there are ups and downs in academic studies. As a school of academic studies, Christian studies has now established itself firmly in the Chinese academia, but today it may not appear as fashionable as thirty years ago. Outside of academia, China has achieved impressive economic developments after having pursued reform and opening-up for over four decades. China has become the second largest economy, the largest trading nation, and the largest industrial country in the world since 2017. China has also been extending its international influence, playing an ever greater role in the global economy through its strategic and trans-national platform of “One Belt, One Road” since 2013. At the same time, the Chinese government has begun to emphasize the importance of developing its “soft power” through culture and moral values. For instance, in 2012, national concepts like “Four Self-Confidences” and “Twelve Core Socialist Values” have been advocated in Mainland China, in response to many social problems arising from the superfast rate of economic development.1

So, to get back to the original question from the end of the first paragraph, after some thoughtful contemplation, the following is my response in outline form:

1. Sino-Christian Studies owes its origins to the spontaneous initiatives of Chinese scholars, and its development and construction to the needs of Chinese academics who accepted it. Its achievements and reception in Chinese academia are well recognized. The ISCS will continue to do its best to share the results of its academic work with the Chinese church, the global church, and Chinese society, encouraging reciprocal interaction and edification among them.

2. In the future, it can be expected that China will work together and in pace with all of the nations in the world in ever more intensive and extensive ways. In view of this, while insisting on the national concepts of “Four Self-Confidences” and “Twelve Core Socialist Values,” China will need to consider the similarities and differences of these values with the value systems of other countries and regions, so that a positive way of dialogue and integration will be possible. To reach across the boundaries between ancient and modern times, as well as between the West and the East, we all need to learn from and learn with each other. In this respect, the ISCS can indeed play a significant role in rendering into Chinese the enormous cultural heritage of Christianity, which extends over two millennia and across the world, making it more accessible to the Chinese scholars and the general public. In that way, we help to lay important theoretical foundations for a mutual dialogue between China and the West.

3. To borrow a term from Prof. LIU Zaifu, a contemporary Chinese literary theorist, what the process of dialogue and integration requires is a “creative transformation”: neither “resorting to foreign paradigms”—whether the West or elsewhere, far away from here—nor “retreating to old paradigms”—whether MAO Zedong or our ancient forefathers, far away from now—but “creating our own paradigm,” one rooted in the social forms that serve the existential development of contemporary Chinese people, one that affirms and adopts universal values without identifying them with a given set of Western values, one that actively explores cultural resources from China’s classical tradition without limiting itself to a given set of Chinese models, and, therefore, one that allows contemporary China to find its own way in the face of the new challenges of the 21st century.

4. The creative transformation of Sino-Christian Studies may be realized in the following two ways:

 a. In the direction of multidisciplinary studies: Sino-Christian Studies may encourage more scholars from different academic disciplines (such as literature, history, philosophy, religious studies, politics, law, sociology, and anthropology) to come together and, from their respective disciplinary methodologies and perspectives, conduct investigations and studies on various sub-disciplines of Christian studies (such as theology, biblical studies, church history, inter-religious dialogue, liturgy, and spirituality), in order to enlarge the space of dialogue between Christian thought, on the one hand, and Chinese humanities and social studies, on the other.

 b. In the direction of interdisciplinary studies: Sino-Christian Studies may co-operate with many other academic disciplines to take part in discussions of a number of public issues, revealing and analyzing the underlying structural problems of contemporary society in terms of economy, society, culture, and political life, thus offering informed responses to the challenges of today’s society in such areas as poverty, corporate ethics, the global economy and finance, and environmental destruction.

Today, China proudly presents itself as a “responsible superpower” to the world. I recall that Prof. Jürgen Moltmann, a world-renowned theologian and an academic partner of the ISCS since its establishment in 1995, once suggested at a conference (jointly organized by the ISCS and Renmin University of China in Beijing in October 2014) that “a great nation should be so attractive that people from all over the world are willing to come and gather here, for there are jobs, a habitable society, a safe living environment, and freedom and democracy here.” I am convinced that the academic works of Sino-Christian Studies and the Chinese nation share the same visions and strive for the same goals.


* Translated by LO Kwun Lam and proofread by George Dunn.

1. The “Four Self-Confidences” are “cultural self-confidence,” “road self-confidence,” “theoretical self-confidence,” and “institutional self-confidence.” The “Twelve Core Socialist Values” are the national values of “prosperity,” “democracy,” “civility,” and “harmony”, the social values of “freedom,” “equality,” “justice,” and the “rule of law”, and the individual values of “patriotism,” “dedication,” “integrity,” and “friendship.”