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Multiple Discourses on Religion and Science in the East Asian Context: Science for the Understanding of Religion in Japan and Korea (1/2)

Panel Chair: Christian Meyer | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

It is an undeniable fact that the theme of "religion and science" has up until now centered on Christianity. This is deeply connected to the historical fact that natural science was born within the Christian world. At the same time, another reason that may be mentioned for this phenomenon is the fact that Christianity has tended to see itself as synonymous with "religion." As a result, when "religion and science" are researched in terms of how the discussion has occurred outside of Christianity, there is undoubtedly a need for the natural sciences to rethink the meaning of human self-understanding and worldviews and for a reconstruction of the significance of "religion" as it seeks to encounter such sciences. With the goal of rethinking the meaning of "religion" and "science" along such lines, we have planned a double panel. It will consider, in its own context, how representative religious thinkers in East Asian countries, that is China, Japan and Korea, have received and understood "science," and will discuss how their understanding has helped, directly and indirectly, to shape their understanding of "religion."

Jaeshik Shin

Mapping the Single World from a Pluralistic Perspective: The Relationship between Religion and Science from an East Asian Perspective

There have been some attempts to describe the relationship between religion and science. In consideration of the attempts of Pannenberg and Haught, the writer tries to present this relationship using the metaphor of mapping. Traditionally in East Asia, the world has been regarded as a changing reality. Thus, it could not be properly understood from an analytical or reductionist perspective. Rather, it should be approached from different points of view, which simultaneously represent various aspects of the world. The writer considers religion and science as different mapping strategies in understanding a single world. In the process of pursuing the intelligibility of the world, religion and science have constructed their respective mapping systems with different signs, symbols and terms. As in the yin-yang relationship, they are complementary to each other in comprehending a dynamic world. As provisional work, both perspectives are closely related to historical and social contexts.

Thomas Hastings

Seeing All Things Whole: The Scientific Mysticism and Art of Kagawa Toyohiko (1888-1960)

Kagawa Toyohiko (1888-1960) was a world-renowned Japanese evangelist and social reformer, nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature twice and the Nobel Peace Prize four times. He was a prolific writer of fiction, poetry, and essays and books that integrate the insights of Christian faith, modern philosophy and science, and Asian religious and philosophical traditions. His final book, Cosmic Purpose (1958), challenges the materialism of Darwin and the radical casualism of H.G. Wells. Drawing on theories in physics, astronomy, astrophysics, chemistry, biochemistry, mineralogy, genetics, physiology, and biology, he offers evidence of “initial purpose” – not “final purpose” – in the vast span of evolutionary history from cosmic dust to the emergence and progression of life, mind (consciousness), social construction, and “cosmic consciousness”. Called “the sole cosmological thinker in Japan,” Kagawa has been compared with the Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, and his “religio-aesthetic cosmic synthesis” is still worthy of consideration today.

Mira Sonntag

Protestant Interpretations of ‘Empirical Evidence’ in Modern Japan

Common definitions of “empirical evidence” in philosophy and the natural sciences deny religions the right to claim “evidence” for their doctrines. Nonetheless religious thinkers around the world have continued to do so and propagate “empiricism” as a reliable basis of faith. This paper analyzes Protestant sources from modern Japan to answer the following questions: How do Protestant thinkers “define” i.e. interpret empirical evidence? To what extent do their interpretations refer to definitions in philosophy and the natural sciences and do they attempt to modify them? What are the practical and theoretical benefits Protestant thinkers gained through engaging in the modern discourse on empirical evidence and rationality? The paper also shows that Uchimura Kanzô’s (1861-1930) emphasis on “empirically grounded faith” was by no means as unique as scholars have claimed. In fact, sources reveal a multilayered discourse shared across denominations; all voices uniting to make Christianity attractive to the modern mind.

Seung Chul Kim

Religion and Science in the Buddhist Philosophy of Nishitani Keiji (1900-1990)

Nishitani Kenji (1900-1990) is a Buddhist philosopher who played an important role in Japan's Kyoto School. For Nishitani, "science" has a direct connection to the problem of modern nihilism, and in this sense science encompasses a religious meaning. According to Nishitani, there is a need to rethink the relation of "religion and science" in order to overcome this nihilism. Nishitani is critical of the position that takes the common single line that this relation is mutually contradictory, and he takes the relation of religion and science in terms of what he calls a relation of "double exposure". On the one hand, he criticizes the established tendency of religion to take reality only in terms of "life" and "spirit," and, on the other hand, he criticizes the established tendency of science to analyze reality only in terms of "death" and "matter." Nishitani claims that these conventions of religion and science may be overcome from the Buddhist "position of emptiness." From the "position of emptiness," "life" and "death," and "spirit" and "matter" are taken as a mutually dependent relation, and further that the relation of "the nondiscrimination of divine love" and "the nondiscrimination of scientific law" may be thought of as a relation of paradoxical unity. Through entering this "position of emptiness," "religion" and "science" are led to a religious self-consciousness that overcomes egotism and may also be able to overcome nihilism.

Participants: Jaeshik Shin, Thomas Hastings, Mira Sonntag, Seung Chul Kim


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