Invited by the Journal of Research for Christianity in China and Center for the Study of Religion and Chinese Society, Shanghai University (CSRCS), Professor Zhang Zhigang from Peking University delivered an online lecture themed “The Localization Issue of Christianity: From a World Christianity History Perspective” on September 22.
As a professor of philosophy and religious studies, Zhang opened this talk by pointing out that ”localization“ was a common concept in religious history studies, especially in the history of world Christianity. He walked the audience through three important phases in the history of Christianity: “Establishment: Grecizing of Christian Scriptures and Theology”, “Reformation: The Nationalization in Luther’s Scripture Translation”, and “Recent Trends: Contextualization and Localization in Liberation Theology”.
Zhang stated that the implication of “localization” was complicated and interwoven with the social backgrounds “both horizontally and vertically”, requiring researchers of different historical, cultural, and national backgrounds to search deeply. Such research, he argued, might help to validate the concept of “religion sinicization” and establish whether or not “sinicizing Christianity” agrees with the patterns of religions’ survival and development revealed in the history of world religions.
He described that over the past five years or so, “religion sinicization” had become a focus topic in academia both within China and outside. Yet some scholars remained suspicious of it, which Zhang believes is because they deem this terminology to be of “too strong a Chinese character” and lacking in “general academic significance”, therefore preferring the term “localization”, which had been widely adopted in the study of the history of world religion, especially the history of Christianity. In Zhang’s opinion, however, such hesitation and preference of one term over another looked like a “failure to properly understand the concepts”.
The professor pointed out that, if we search into the rising trend of liberation theology, Gutiérrez and Bonino’s “contextual reflections of theology” and “localized theology” were by no means empty talk, but grounded in Latin America’s reality of poverty, and challenging the political theology of the West.
This discussion aimed to not only explore “the localization of Christianity”, but also to investigate how it might inspire the argumentation of “sinicization of religion”, especially “sinicization of Christianity”, said Zhang. He stressed that, if researchers could overcome the tendency of indiscriminately imitating the “localization” research tradition and search carefully into the three typical localization phases of Christianity as mentioned above, it could facilitate the argumentation of the two following “fundamental propositions that are logically progressive”:
Firstly, the primary premise or fundamental basis of the survival, spreading, and development of the world’s major religions were that they were able to “do as the Romans do”. While sticking to their scriptures, fundamental beliefs and core doctrines and rituals, they managed to adapt to the specific environment of different regions, cultures, peoples, nations and societies, and became localized, nationalized and contextualized in different ways.
Secondly, in order to study religious phenomenon – whether “historic” or “current” – researches must first understand and follow the general patterns of how all religions exist and develop. If applied specifically to the Chinese culture, Chinese nation and Chinese society, the common localization, nationalization, contextualization and modernization of major religious traditions that had been validated by world religion history studies would doubtlessly correspond to the process of these religions becoming rooted and surviving in China and the Chinese nation. Obviously, in his point of view, this meant that “sinicization of religion” agreed with the general patterns of religious development revealed in the world religious history.
Professor Zhang Zhigang, a doctoral advisor of philosophy and religious studies at Peking University, dean of the Department of Religious Studies of Peking University. His research interests include theoretical studies of religion, philosophy of religion, comparative religion and philosophy between China and the West and Chinese religions and policies, etc. He is the author of What Is Religious Studies?, A Study of Philosophy of Religion: Contemporary Views, Key Issues, and Methodological Critique, Companion to Religious Studies, Sinocization of Religions: A Theoretical Study.
- Translated by Grace Song