Academy of Finland funded this three-year research project "Christianity in the Asian Religious Context," 2001-2003; prof. Miikka Ruokanen worked as the project leader.
The project was an activity of the Department of Systematic Theology of University of Helsinki, but it had cooperation with the Faculty of Theology of Åbo Akademi University, and the Department of Political History of University of Turku, as well as with a number of leading international experts on the religions of Asia.
THE CORE IDEA OF THE PROJECT: Asia is the birth place of most of the great religions of the world; at the same time, it remains religiously the most diverse continent on earth. The "Christianity in the Asian Religious Context" research project during three years analyzed the relationship between culture and religion in Asia, on the one hand, and the relationship between different religions in Asia, on the other hand. We paid special attention to the rapidly changing situation in China, but research on India and Lebanon (as an example of an Islamic-Christian encounter) were also included. The results of the research project show that values related with religion - both traditional and new ones - play an essential role in the formation of Asian cultures under the ever increasing pressure of pluralistic global developments and the penetration of market economy in those societies. We were able to draw an accurate map of the mutual encounters, influences, and changes between Asian cultures and religions, especially Christianity.
THE MAIN RESULTS OF THE PROJECT: The research project "Christianity in the Asian Religious Context" demonstrated convincingly that, in all kinds of varying situations, human culture is based on some convictions about the value and meaning of human life and of the existence of creation. These values include visions of the goals which human individuals and communities should strive for. These cultural basic values, as well as foundational moral principles, have a relationship with basic religious convictions and beliefs - this is especially true in the context of Asia. It we wish to communicate meaningfully with Asian people and institutions, we need to understand their deepest values and beliefs.
The research shows that a purely materialistic world view seems to be an insufficient foundation for a culturally relevant value and moral system in the Asian context. For example, materialism and atheism have been the official ideology of the country for more than half a century in China, but now the nation is experiencing a transformation of culture emphasizing a “moral reconstruction of China.” Many Chinese are looking for a “spiritual culture” which could, in a pluralistic way, combine old and new values, drawing from Chinese traditional values of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, and at the same time, combining them with Christian views and with some of the basic values of Western culture. But at the same time, the Chinese Christians are striving for an authentically “Chinese form of Christianity” which is not just a copy of the Western interpretation of that faith but a faith and value system deeply rooted in Chinese culture, its core values and habits, its way of thinking and living - traditional and modern.
The research project also produced detailed knowledge on the encounter of Christian and traditional Indian religious beliefs and values. Moreover, the conditions and possibilities of a meaningful and effective dialogue between Christianity and Islam were analyzed using Lebanon as a model case. In this study, the views of Muslim scholars on interreligious dialogue were thoroughly analyzed for the first time. Using China, India, and Lebanon as examples, the project produced relevant methodological knowledge on how to develop interreligious dialogue anywhere in the world. It also offered insights into developing theology of religions (Christian evaluation of other religions).
The researchers of this project collected their material in their respective fields, visiting experts and research institutions in the countries of their investigation. Our researchers also took part in several international conferences, giving papers and meeting leading researchers of the field. The project leader is a permanent guest professor Renmin University of China (Beijing), Fudan University (Shanghai), and Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, and he works closely with the leading Chinese scholars of religion.
THE PUBLICATIONS OF THE PROJECT: The research project "Christianity in the Asian Religious Context" made a contribution to the eventual accomplishment of several important monographs: Heidi Hirvonen, Christian-Muslim Dialogue: Perspectives of Four Lebanese Thinkers; Paulos Huang, Confronting Confucian Understandings of the Christian Doctrine of Salvation: A Systematic Theological Analysis of the Basic Problems in the Confucian-Christian Dialogue; Jyri Komulainen, An Emerging Cosmotheandric Religion? Raimon Panikkar’s Pluralistic Theology of Religion (all published by Brill). In addition, 15 research articles were published during the project, both in Finnish and in international journals. During the project, Paulos Huang became docent in the Department of Comparative Religion, and Jyri Komulainen docent in the Department of Systematic Theology. Moreover, the first standard textbook on non-Western theologies in Finnish was produced by this project: Teologian ilmansuuntia: Näkökulmia uskontulkintoihin Aasiassa, Afrikassa ja Latinalaisessa Amerikassa, ed. by Tiina Ahonen and Jyri Komulainen. This textbook is actively used in teaching in the Faculty of Theology.
The research project organized an international conference on “Christianity and Chinese Culture” in August 2003 in Lapland. The conference was a historical one: The leading scholars of religion from the best universities of China and the leading theologians of the Protestant Church of China attended the same conference for the first time in the history of modern China. In addition, experts from Hong Kong, United States, Russia, and North Europe joined the conference as active commentators on the papers of the Chinese scholars. The conference draw the attention of the Finnish media (YLE-TV1, MTV3, Helsingin Sanomat, Ilta-Sanomat, Suomen Kuvalehti etc.). All the conference papers were published as a book in Chinese in Beijing and in English in the U.S. (基督宗教与中国文化/Christianity and Chinese Culture, Beijing: China Social Sciences Press & Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, ed. M.Ruokanen and P.Huang). The book has become a classic standard book of reference in its own field.