This year was also the launch of the Chinese Christianities Seminar. Within AAR there were other papers on Chinese Christianities within the Chinese religions group, Society for the Study of Chinese religions, and world Christianity group, but it is nice to have a dedicated space. This year the panel was:
1. Christopher D Sneller, King’s College London
The Role of Union Theological Seminary (New York) in Indigenizing Christianity in Twentieth-Century China
2. Stephanie Wong, Georgetown University
Towards A Responsive Urbanizing Church: Chinese Catholics Crossing the Rural-Urban Boundary
3. Mu-tien Chiou, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Pluralism and Christian Ecumenism: A Theological Reflection on Post-Sunflower Movement Taiwan
4. Di Kang, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago
Historiography and Community Identity: Hong Kong Christians and the Recording of the 2014 Pro-Democracy Protest
5. Justin Tse, University of Washington
A Tale of Three Bishops: Chineseness and the Global City in Vancouver’s Anglican Realignment
I had about ten minutes to give a response, and I tried to highlight several of the major themes in our discussion. An emphasis we have is “border crossing,” and here some papers looked at border crossing within China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and others highlighted movement between different areas (Vancouver’s three Anglican bishops, borrowing between protest movements, historical flows between the US theological academy and diaspora groups). I said that I think the field has really grown in the last ten or twenty years. It used to be that there were still a few foundational figures that were always cited, but that’s not really the case any more. Social sciences are also more critical than in the past, and almost ever paper dealt substantively with theory pulled from soc/anthro or another field. “Chinese Christianity” used to really be “Christianity in the service of China,” and that’s clearly not the case.
Someone asked me again about using “Chinese Christianities.” Why not use “ethnic Chinese,” as in the Ethnic Chinese Biblical Colloquium, which meets at SBL? I actually prefer Chinese Christianities, where Chinese is an adjective, to Ethnic Chinese, where Chinese is the noun. When we talked about this a couple of years ago there were real questions about how we understand China and Chinese. I often cite Henrietta Harrison’s description of China as empire, nation, and civilization. Here there’s not a single, changeless China. Instead Chinese-ness has been spread through the state, through empire, and through culture. China is still a nation, it acts or often has acted as a multicultural empire, and it is also something like a broad-reaching culture with shared aspects of worldview, written language, and history. So, in Taiwan, where I live, a good chunk of the Christians are aborigines and predate the arrival of Han/Chinese peoples. Chinese culture influences everyone here, but Taiwan has been de facto separate from Taiwan for more than a century, after having been part of it for three centuries. “Chinese” is hotly contested here. I have a colleague who really doesn’t like using the word “Han” to describe Taiwanese people, but most Taiwanese casually will still call themselves Chinese or Han. In Taiwan, citizenship is still related to blood ancestry, but there’s also an increasing sense of difference from China, and a broader range of meanings for Chinese. The plural “Christianities” also highlights the real disagreements about what it means to be Christian.
Being in AAR situates us between theology and religious studies. At the same time, I came to this discussion first through Asian studies (Association for Asian Studies long had an informal group that discussed Chinese Christianity) and the Yale-Edinburgh group (which usually has a few papers). There are also theological discussions–Mark Toulouse sent us the invite for a conference on Christianity in China in the 21st Century that included many three self leaders. In Taiwan there’s a Jonathan Chao archives that has hosted some public discussions on Christianity in China and many of the seminaries here have daughter seminaries that run in Taiwan. In Taiwan Chung-Yuan University has a Sino-Christian studies program, and there are similar departments in Hong Kong and Sinagapore. As an academic field, Chinese Christianity is often part of philosophy or history departments in China (in 2004 I attended a conference on missionaries and translation). There is a broader and broader range of academic networks, including schools in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and among interested researchers in North American and Europe. I feel grateful that I got to be part of the tail end of an earlier wave of scholars but am now watching a rising generation that is truly interdisciplinary, interconfessional, and international.