Interreligious Engagement in China - The first part of the project: Scriptural Reasoning in China

  • Ruokanen, Miikka (Project manager)
  • You, Bin (Project manager)
  • Li, Huawei (Principal investigator)
  • Gao, Zhe (Principal investigator)

Description

This is an activity of the RELDIAL group of the University of Helsinki:



Scriptural Reasoning (SR) is an intensively discussed new method of interreligious dialogue. SR has during the past two decades gained wide acceptance among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and is rapidly gaining attention all over the world. SR as interfaith dialogue between the Abrahamic religions emerged in the US and Britain in the early 1990s and has been further developed mainly by the Universities of Cambridge and Virginia. During the past years, Chinese scholars have shown increasing interest in SR. It is commonly believed that SR could be extended to include the traditional Chinese religions.



The first longer term experiment of SR in China was carried out in Beijing from Dec. 2014 to Sept. 2015 as co-operation of Minzu University of China and University of Helsinki, supported by the Institute of World Religions of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). Prof. You Bin and Prof. Miikka Ruokanen were the leaders of the experiment, and Ass.Prof. Li Huawei worked as the leading researcher of the project. There were two SR groups meeting simultaneously at the Minzu University once a month, for ten times, each time for three hours. The participants of our SR groups were self-declared followers of a faith tradition. We included the six main faiths of China: Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism. The members of the first group were scholars of the six religions, and members of the second group were young students representing the six faith traditions.



The topics of each session were decided by the participants of the SR groups: Why does the universe exist?, The problem of poverty, The problem of suffering and evil, Role of women in religion and society, What is a good society?, What is saintliness?, Our responsibility for environment, What is death?, etc. During the weeks before a meeting, each member of the SR groups chose a passage from the sacred texts of her/his tradition and prepared a short written commentary on that for discussion in the group.



The basic results of investigation were rather similar in the two groups: The participants of the groups thought that SR is a good method of interfaith encounter, because it challenges both to understand one’s own religious tradition more deeply and, at the same time, to understand more clearly the authentic teachings of the other faith traditions. They expressed that this experience clearly increased their ability, not only to tolerate, but find interest in learning wisdom from other scriptural traditions. Most of the members felt that other participants were carefully listening to them and were keen to learn the views of other traditions.



Moreover, the participants felt that SR gives a clear purpose and structure for interreligious dialogue; it is non-elitist, it offers equal opportunity for each member actively to participate in discussion. SR fits equally for scholars and for ordinary believers, women, men, and young persons. The participants maintained that this SR experience has motivated them to think how concretely to foster moral education in their faith communities in order to strengthen civil society. Special interest was shown in cooperation through religious charities for the welfare of the people, for the equality of women and men, and for environmental protection.



Already now it is justified to say that SR seems to fit well to be a method of interfaith dialogue between the main faith traditions of China. We can expand discussion on the canonical texts of the Abrahamic religions to include the sacred texts of the Chinese traditions. The ten-month experiment offers a solid foundation and a very positive prospect for Chinese interfaith engagement.
Short titleRELDIAL
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date01/12/201430/09/2015