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Chinese universities alarmed by rise of proselytization on campus (2)

(Global Times)

08:25, July 09, 2013

Cultural cloak

What scholars find most worrying is that a measure of proselytization is being sponsored by some overseas institutions and in the name of religious or cultural studies.

Between 2005 and 2009, the John Templeton Foundation in the US sponsored the "Science and Religion in Dialogue" lecture series at five Chinese universities, including Peking University, Tsinghua University and Fudan University.

According to its website, the John Templeton Foundation, founded in 1987, "serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality." Its founder, the late John Templeton, a devout Presbyterian and philanthropist, was committed to acquiring new spiritual information.

Some in the West are skeptical about and question the foundation's religious agenda. Some say that it is acting evangelically under false pretenses.

According to books published in Chinese about the lecture series, most of the speakers invited held a friendly attitude towards Christianity, to say the least. Several of the lecturers came from Calvin College, in Michigan, US, founded in the "reformed tradition of historic Christianity."

For instance, Professor Del Ratzsch from Calvin College, who spoke in Wuhan University in 2005, supports intelligent design, a highly controversial form of creationism. Courts in the US ruled in a number of cases against the teaching of intelligent design in schools.

Other lecturers such as Deborah Haarsma, also from Calvin College, interpret science from a Christian perspective and argue that science and religion are in harmony.

Books that promote intelligent design or the economics of religion were also translated and published by university presses. In 2004, Tsinghua University Press translated and published Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, by William Dembski, an American philosopher and theologian who is another a proponent of intelligent design.

Between 2003 and 2005, Peking University Press also published a series of translated works about Christian culture. But some of the books included in the series are theological in nature, such as Introducing the New Testament and Introducing the Old Testament by theologian John Drane.

According to regulations in China, theological and religious publications can only be published by religious institutions. Public education institutions technically are not allowed to publish such books, but some, most translated works, slip in under the radar under the name of culture or philosophy, said Zuo.

Overseas institutions or foundations are also supporting research projects in Chinese and foreign universities about religion in China, many professors say.

The John Templeton Foundation for instance has given close to $2 million to Purdue University for a "Chinese Spirituality and Society Program" between August 2009 and August 2013, according to its website.

The project aims to promote the social scientific study of religion in China. It supports "research about spiritual capital in China" and provides training to Chinese scholars.

Yang from Renmin University spoke of his wariness that some overseas foundations have programs that are not entirely academic but aim at gathering information about for instance underground churches in China.

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether a professor is simply teaching religion or really proselytizing, especially when religion is discussed in the context of Western civilization.

Xi and her team looked at dissertations from religious studies students, finding many of them were theological.

"The premise of religious studies is acknowledging the existence of many different religions, not subscribing to one religion and trying to argue for the existence of any particular deity," explained Zuo.
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