SHANGHAI, China – How should the exchange and appreciation of world civilisations look like in a post-pandemic era? What does the Bible say about civilisations and how has the Bible contributed to building better cities and societies around the world? These were some of the questions discussed at the two-half-day 10th International Seminar with the theme Bible and Dialogue of the Civilisations, held in Shanghai in hybrid format due to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.
Organised by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS) and its partners including the Protestant Churches in China, with the support of United Bible Societies (UBS) and British Bible Society (BFBS), the seminar featured nine distinguished academicians, scholars and researchers from China and overseas.
Keynote speakers at the seminar included Zheng Xiaoyun, Director of the Institute of World Religions at the China Academy of Social Sciences, and Richard Magnus, retired Chief District Judge and Chancellor of the Anglican Diocese of Singapore.
Presidents, selected teachers and students of Huadong Theological Seminary, Jiangsu Theological Seminary and Shandong Theological Seminary, and representatives from the United Bible Societies and British Bible Society were also in attendance online.
Mr. Gan Chunhui, Vice President of SASS, noted at the opening ceremony that this was the 10th year of the seminar and partnership, and was glad that the pandemic did not deter SASS and its partners from continuing to meet. He highlighted the shared goal of strengthening interaction and mutual understanding across different cultural, religious and academic backgrounds.
UBS China Partnership (UBS CP) Honorary Consultant, Bishop John Chew remarked that it was “by grace that we are talking about a dialogue of the world civilisations as this is a huge progress from what Samuel Huntington purported on the clash of civilisations”. He hoped that through the seminar, collective wisdom could be learned, alluding to the Book of Proverbs in the Bible, and that the Great Commandments of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark 12:29-33 would be given heed.
Rev Xu Xiaohong, Chairman of the National Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China, congratulated SASS and said that the seminar is a good platform for promoting dialogues on the sinicization of the Christian faith. He was also heartened to see theological students tuning in online to the seminar.
Canon Rev Dr Joshva John, Head of International Bible Advocacy of British Bible Society, brought warm greetings on behalf of the BFBS at the opening ceremony. He said BFBS has had “deep respect towards China and the great work of Amity Printing Company”. In addition, BFBS has “always been supportive of the international seminar and hopes to continue to do so in the future”.
At the start of the keynote sessions, Mr. Kua Wee Seng, UBS CP Director, who served as the moderator, acknowledged and thanked Prof Yan Kejia (right), Director of Institute of Religious Studies at SASS. He recounted that after a “visit to the UK and meetings with BFBS in April 2011, Prof Yan and his team at SASS Institute of Religious Studies began to organise and they launched the first Seminar six months later. And Prof Yan and his team have worked very hard over the past ten years to organise the annual seminars.”
Kicking off the dialogue, keynote speaker Zheng Xiaoyun laid out the principles in the exchange and appreciation of world civilisations in the post-pandemic era by looking at history, current realities and the future. As the world is facing more uncertainties, she highlighted the growing importance of mutual respect, tolerance, integrity and seeing the beauty in diversities when nations and people interact in a diversified “cultural garden”. Only when countries appreciate each other’s cultural diversities will they be able to forge a harmonious and prosperous future together.
Taking that picture onto another plane, Richard Magnus entered into the dialogue by painting a Biblical vision of civilisation – one that is built upon two “intuitive social virtues – the fellowship of love in a society and the covenant society”. In covenantal love, there is commitment and sacrifice and “whatever may be given up on either side is more than repaid by what is received within the union”. He further added that “covenantal love strengthens a society and love provides coherence to the four essential questions of human origin, meaning, purpose and destiny”.
Are there points of convergence between the Biblical vision and Chinese vision of an ideal civilisation? Dr. James Harding, Southwest Center Director of St Miletus College (UK) compared and contrasted the Chinese idea of a perfect city according to an ancient Chinese text The Artificer’s Record (考工记) and the future city that is delineated in the Book of Revelation. Both cities are symbols of destiny for humankind, where there is a sense of permanence, peace and completeness. He proposed that a Chinese Christian city is a place of security and safety, with “unhindered encounter and access to God” who offers forgiveness and healing to all.
Prof You Bin, Director of Institute of Religious Studies of Minzu (Ethnic) University, brought another dimension to the discussion in his paper on Biblical Tradition and Ecological Spirituality. Drawing from parts of the Encyclical letter Laudato Si’ issued by Pope Francis in 2015, Prof You interpreted the Christian doctrines of creation, Holy Trinity, incarnation and eschatology through ecological lens. He also considered the ways in which ecological spirituality can be contextualised and “rooted in Chinese philosophical and cultural traditions”, and thereby “contributing to a sustainable development of the world”.
Theologian Dr. Robert Banks (right), former Director and Dean of the Macquarie Christian Studies Institute at the Macquarie University (Sydney), who was one of the invited speakers, made the closing remarks. He appreciated how the seminar speakers brought to the table areas of interest like ideals of civilisations and sinicizing Christianity. Even though the seminar this year could not be held face-to-face and visits and tours could not be conducted, he noted that two presentations – including one on the MarThoma Syrian Church in India by Rev Mathew Punnoose, General Secretary of Malaysia which gave us a rare insight to the church – helped compensate for it. He ended his remarks by quoting from Revelation 22.2-5 and 23-25, a picture of the “global and cosmic society presently being constructed by God that will be fully revealed in the future”.
Story: Cynthia Oh
2021 © United Bible Societies China Partnership