Changing Religious Landscape in Contemporary East Asia

Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
July 11-13, 2017

Lily Szeto

Co-organized by the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University and the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, the conference on “Changing Religious Landscape in Contemporary East Asia” was successfully held on July 11-13, 2017 at Hong Kong Baptist University. The conference attracted more than 70 scholars from all corners of the globe including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, and the United States. Among them, 40 scholars presented their papers covering a wide ranges of topics about the religious phenomena in various part of East Asia. The success and significance of this conference were highly praised among the participants as it served as an academic platform for the meaningful communications among social scientists who study religious phenomena in East Asia. In addition, it set the momentum for the establishment of East Asian Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (EASSSR), an international academic association based on East Asia.

Keynote Presentations

The conference was honored to have three keynote speakers: Dr. Francis Song, Dean of Graduate School and professor of Sociology at Kyung Hee University, Dr. Fenggang Yang, Director of Center on Religion and Chinese Society and professor of Sociology at Purdue University, and Dr. Lily Kong, Provost, and chair professor of Social Sciences at Singapore Management University. In his keynote address, Dr. Song examined the “cultural habits of the heart” of both Confucian and Christian cultures through the studies of Zuo Guangdou, a Ming Chinese Confucian politician, and Thomas More, Henry VIII’s Lord High Chancellor of England. He concluded that the difference of the religious faith and practice of these two intellectuals reflects the level of “transcendental horizons” on which the normative value system of the two religions is based. He further addressed that this difference affects and forms the underlying structure of both eastern and western cultures. In Dr. Yang’s keynote presentation, he proposed the social and cultural concept “Global East.” He stated that although the religion in the Global East presents theoretical and methodological challenges for the social scientific study of religion, it presents great opportunities for the social scientific study of religion in the globalizing world if social scientists can develop a good measures of religiosity in the Global East, carry out cross-referencing and comparative studies of religions in the Global East, and scholarly understand the religion-state relations in the Global East. Based on the case study of Po-Lin Monastery, a Buddhist monastery in Hong Kong, Dr. Kong argued in her presentation that the religious and the secular are in fact hybrid constructs that embrace simultaneously the sacred and profane, the transcendent and the immanent.

“Mapping Chinese Spiritual Capital” Paper Awards

The conference on “Changing Religious Landscape in Contemporary East Asia” is part of the project “Mapping Chinese Spiritual Capital” in the Center on Religion and Chinese Society (CRCS) at Purdue University. It is an initiative supported by the John Templeton Foundation to expand the social scientific study of religion in China. In 2015, CRCS organized a paper competition seeking to nourish scholars to study the conditions of religious groups in China amidst social changes through “thick description.” Numerous papers were received and 29 papers were selected to present in the conference on “Religious Groups in the Rapidly Changing Society: East Asia,” held in Seoul, Korea in 2016. After significant revision, 17 papers were further selected to receive prize awards and were invited to present in the Hong Kong Conference. (List of awarded papers)

A Visit to Tsz Shan Monastery

The conference was concluded by a visit to Tsz Shan Monastery, a Chinese Buddhist Monastery established in 2015 in Tai Po, Hong Kong. The monastery houses an outdoor Guanyin statue, which is 76 meters in height and is the second highest in the world.