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Multiple Discourses on Religion and Science in the East Asian Context: Concepts of Science and Evolution in Religious Thought in Modern Japan and China (2/2)

Panel Chair: Seung Chul Kim | Tuesday, August 25, 3:30-5:30 p.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."

Christian Meyer

Negotiating Science, Evolution and Religiosity: The Protestant Chinese thinker Xie Fuya and his ‘Philosophy of Religion’ (1928)

In 1928 the young Chinese Christian philosopher of religion, Xie Fuya (1892-1991) published his book Philosophy of Religion (Zongjiao zhexue), the first Chinese book of this title ever written. His publication can be situated within the harsh anti-religious attacks and debates about science and religion of this time. Xie, who had studied theology, philosophy and history of religions in Chicago and Harvard from 1925-27, develops an apologetic view of so-called “higher religions.” Though he clearly applies an evolutionary model (including theories of animism, totemism, etc.), Xie does not follow the anti-religious element in the evolutionist model. Instead, influenced by liberal Protestant adaptations as well as his own Confucian background, he applies measures of rationality and ethics, complemented by an idea of religiosity as the “essence of religion,” and thereby attempts to qualify Christianity as a “higher religion.” His work was highly influential in Protestant circles and beyond, being reprinted many times until today.

Franz Winter

The Evolution of Mankind in the Interpretation of New Religious Movements in Japan

The so-called “New Religions” (shinshūkyō) are an important aspect of the religious landscape of Modern Japan. As their origin must be interpreted on the background of different socio-religious settings, they differ widely in many aspects of their worldview. This paper is focused on two examples of major and important new religions of Japan which came into being in the second half of the 20th century, namely Kōfuku no kagaku and Mahikari. Both offer a very special view on the history of mankind and its “evolution” with differences regarding the importance of various cultural periods and particularly Japan and its alleged “prehistory”. An interesting aspect in this regard is the importance of references to the term “science” in Kōfuku no kagaku (literally: “The Science of Happiness”) but also in Mahikari. A religio-historical approach will be combined with a systematic introduction to contrast and evaluate this specific use and its place.

Masayoshi Sumika

Evolutionary Thought as a Key: Uchimura Kanzō (1861-1930) and His Dilemma between Christian Belief and Patriotism

This paper examines the influence of social Darwinism, which was an application of evolutionary thought to society and prevailed throughout the world in the late 19th century and the early 20th century, on Uchimura Kanzō’s ideas on religion and state. Uchimura , who was one of the first intellectuals to convert to Protestant Christianity in modern Japan, was born as a son of a Samurai and had an impassioned loyalty to the state. He named his devotion to Jesus and Japan “the two Js,” but the dilemma between belief and patriotism caused him intellectual and actual distress. Through his life, Uchimura searched for a solution to this dilemma, and he took a cue from the social evolutionary views of religion and society. Uchimura’s reception of social Darwinism demonstrates the impact of evolutionary thought on Japanese modernity.


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