Exploring Chinese Religions and the Baha'i Faith

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Posted by Jonah on December 07, 1999 at 17:57:51:

Dear friends,

The Wilmette Institute is still accepting registrations for the next course in its World Religions for Dialogue and Deepening series: Chinese Religions. The course will run from Dec. 15-Feb. 28, and registrations will be accepted as late as December 31. For more information see http://wilmetteinstitute.org/religions.html and more specifically http://wilmetteinstitute.org/wwwboard/messages/13.html. This course will be offered at three levels, from the introductory (for those students with busy schedules and/or no academic background) to the advanced (for those students seeking a graduate-level study). But rather than simply announcing the course, we'd like to introduce our faculty and allow them to describe in brief their background, their interests, and what they'll bring to the course.

First, let me note that this course is particularly designed for Baha'is planning to travel to China or interact with Chinese people, which as all Baha'is will recognize is a uniquely important area of study and teaching at this time. To this end, we have hired some of the top scholars in Chinese Religions and Baha'i Studies to work as faculty or consultants for the course; over half of our faculty for this course is either Chinese or is living and working in China at this moment.

Dr. Phyllis Lian Ghim Chew has authored a number of articles on Chinese philosophy, religions, and the Baha'i Faith, including the only detailed book published on the subject: _Chinese Religion and the Bahai Faith_ (Oxford: George Ronald, 1993), which will be one of the textbooks of the course. Dr. Chew is currently a sociolinguist at the Nanyang Technological University and teaches language methodology, a field in which she has also published extensively. She is quite active in social projects and organizations, and has been president of both the University Women's Association of Singapore and of the leading women's advocacy group in Singapore, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE).

Mr. Dann May, currently a professor at Oklahoma City University, has taught a number of courses on Chinese Religions and Eastern Philosophies at this university, at University of North Texas, and at the Wilmette Institute's residential "Spiritual Foundations for a Global Civilization" program. There are a number of aspects of Chinese Religions and the Baha'i Faith which Mr. May has reflected on in his own work and teaching and would like to further explore with our students in this course. For example, he writes:

"Unlike Western philosophy and religion, which tend to concentrate on metaphysical and epistemological questions, the Chinese tradition has concentrated on questions related to ethics and social and political matters. Thus, the Chinese have been more concerned with issues related to social justice, governace, harmonious relationships, ethical conduct, and the attainment of true happiness. For those interested in learning how to live an ethical life characterized by the attainment of virtues and rewarded with accomplishment, for those seeking to balance the demands of the workplace, the responsibilities of family and society, and the yearning for a spontaneous and free approach to life, and for those seeking to understand how to reconcile diveregent religious and philosophical traditions, the study of Chinese philosophy and religion will be a most rewarding one."

As the acclaimed scholar of world religions, Huston Smith, writes,

"In India and the West religions are exclusive, if not competitive
--it makes no sense to think of someone as being simultaneously a
Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew, or even a Buddhist or a Hindu
simultaneously. China arranged things differently. Traditionally,
every Chinese was Confucian in ethics and public life, Taoist in
private life and hygiene, and Buddhist at the time of death, with a
healthy dash of shamanistic folk religion thrown in along the way."
(Smith, The World's Religions, p. 189)

Mr. May is enthusiastic to explore the way in which these two approaches--the "Eastern" and the "Western--can be reconciled and brought to fruition through the Baha'i Faith's unique emphasis on the unity of religions and the complementarity of philosophies and religions which such unity can lead to.

Mr. Albert Cheung, who pursues active interests on Baha'i Studies and Chinese thought, is the author of an ongoing study relating the two. His lengthy paper "Common Teachings in Chinese Culture and the Baha'i Faith" will also be one of the texts used in the course. Mr. Cheung notes that "Chinese culture and the Baha'i Faith...need the utmost cooperation and mutual understanding. There are obvious difference among them from historical development and perspectives. However, their common teachings speak to the unity of their spiritual foundation." Among other things, Mr. Cheung will explore similarities in the teachings of The Great Unity, moral education and extended family values, the investigation of truth, the common foundation of religions, and moderation in all things. The Baha'i Faith can, he argues, "provide the universal framework for the Chinese and all other ethnic groups to participate fully in the global community."

We are also privileged to have a number of other specialists in Chinese thought and culture, as well as in Baha'i studies, volunteering as consultants for the course. These include Dr. Robert Stockman, Jene Bellows, and Jonah Winters, all of whom have published in and/or taught aspects of Chinese Religions and the Baha'i Faith.

Please visit http://wilmetteinstitute.org for more information, or write to info@wilmetteinstitute.org with any questions. We look forward to having you with us in the course!

Jonah Winters, mentor and registrar

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