BEIJING, China – The Academy of Religion at the Minzu University of China (MUC, 中央民族大学) held its 5th annual Minzu Dialogue on October 25, 2023 with co-organiser United Bible Societies (UBS), returning to an in-person Dialogue after two years of holding it online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Interpreting the Psalms in Our Everyday Life – Joys, Sorrows, and Hopes” was the theme of this year’s Dialogue which saw esteemed scholars from China and UBS exchanging insights, ideas and perspectives on the book of Psalms.
Chinese scholars from Sichuan University, Shandong University, Fujian Theological Seminary, and Hebei Catholic Order, as well as overseas scholars from UBS, presented papers which covered a wide range of perspectives on the Psalter including translation, theological interpretations, social and historical findings, comparative studies, and cross-cultural interpretations. Postgraduate students from MUC also participated as respondents, adding to the vibrancy of the dialogue.
Professor You Bin, Dean of the Academy of Religion at MUC, expressed gratitude for the collaboration with UBS and the opportunity to renew friendships, highlighting that “this is not only a rare opportunity for academic exchange but also for enriching the discipline Chinese scholars are studying.” He welcomed scholars from other parts of the world, acknowledging the invaluable insights each can bring to the Dialogue, and hoped the focus on the Psalms would inspire further exploration of Bible-related topics.
Dr Bernard Low, Co-Director (Ministry) of UBSCP, thanked MUC for inviting UBS to the Dialogue and commended Professor You Bin and his team for organising it. Anticipating that the Dialogue would be stimulating for the participants, he said that it would not only enrich them personally and professionally but also advance cultural appreciation and strengthen relationships.
The one-day programme comprised four segments, each featuring two scholars presenting their papers, followed by a respondent from MUC’s Academy of Religion. The quality and diversity of the papers presented were commended by all participants.
In his paper, “Dynamics of Spirituality in the Book of Psalms: Celebrating God in Human Life Journey”, Dr Anwar Tjen, Head of the Translation Department at the Indonesian Bible Society, underscored the importance of cultural and historical perspectives in interpreting the Psalms. He encouraged a thorough understanding of the Psalms, praising it as “a source that never dries up” for expressing emotions and deepening faith.
Dr Daud Soesilo, UBS Global Translation Advisor, was delighted to join the MUC Dialogue for the second time. In his paper, “Interpreting Psalm 127: Is it a House, a Household, or the House of the Lord?,” he examined multiple commentaries, various Bible translations and the context of Psalm 127 to help the audience appreciate that “house” in verse 1 could also mean the royal house or House of the Lord. He reminded us how the Psalm underscores the need for divine blessings and favour without which all human efforts and endeavours would be ultimately futile (Ps 127:1-2).
Dr Zhang Xinyu, an assistant professor at Fujian Theological Seminary, made an impactful debut at the symposium, sharing insights from his paper, “הללו־יה (the Hebrew word for ‘Hallelujah’) as an Identity Marker in Psalms 146–150.” His exploration of the liturgical function of Psalms saw robust discussions by the participants on the topic of group identity.
Sister Rong Lina, a Catholic scholar, delivered a paper entitled “The Element of Lament in the Psalter: Remain Faithful Under the Burden of Life.” By contrasting poets who lamented without hope and the Psalmists in the Bible who had hope in God, and also relating the structure of lament psalms to human experience, her presentation resonated deeply with the audience.
Jiang Zhenshuai, an associate professor at Shandong University, lauded the diverse perspectives presented at the Dialogue, while Ji Qianru, a respondent and postgraduate student of MUC, shared her newfound appreciation for the Psalms, noting their effectiveness in expressing human emotions and answering life’s questions.
One UBS participant was delighted to attend a workshop like the Minzu Dialogue in Beijing. He was equally delighted to meet Chinese scholars and students who are engaged in biblical studies research.
Professor You Bin affirmed the high standards of scholarship of each paper. From the discussions and resonance that were generated during the Dialogue, he believed that more collaboration and exchanges in the future “will yield even greater results”.
In his closing remarks, Dr Bernard Low, Co-Director (Ministry) of UBSCP, expressed his gratitude to all presenters who delivered rich and engaging contents during the Dialogue and to the MUC students too who participated as respondents. He also expressed hopes of continued collaboration with MUC to organise future dialogues to promote biblical research and scholarship.
Story: Marcus Xiao
© 2023 UBS China Partnership