Baylor ISR Co-Sponsors Beijing Summit on 'Chinese Spirituality and Society'

November 24, 2008

Media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, (254) 710-6275
Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) recently partnered with scholars from Peking University, Purdue University, Renmin University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences to organize and sponsor the Beijing Summit on "Chinese Spirituality and Society: A Symposium on the Social Scientific Study of Religion."
The international conference was held Oct. 8-10, on the campus of Peking University, and was funded with support from the John M. Templeton Foundation. The conference featured new research, as well as future prospects for scholarship on religion and spirituality in China.
The Beijing summit was attended by an impressive group of more than 60 scholars, including Tu Weiming, Robert Neville, John Berthrong, Kang Xiaoguang and Joseph Tamney. Baylor was well represented at the conference as Carson Mencken, Byron Johnson, Elisa Zhai and Eric Liu attended the meeting, as did non-resident ISR scholars Philip Jenkins, Gordon Melton and Fenggang Yang. Yungfeng Lu, an assistant professor of sociology at Peking University and former ISR post-doc, played a key role in coordinating the research conference.
The summit marked an intriguing development in the increasingly public conversation of religion in China, as Chinese governmental officials as well as leaders from major universities throughout China attended the conference.
"The conference provided a unique platform for releasing new data on religion and spirituality in China," said Carson Mencken, project director of a $1.7 million ISR grant from the Templeton Foundation to study religion and values in China. The project also funds a number of post-doctoral fellows from China each year. Post-docs from China receive training in research methods and statistics in an effort to fast-track new empirical research they will launch as they return to China.
"The experience at Baylor has been invaluable to me and has already had a significant impact on my research productivity, as well as my long-term research agenda," said Jianbo Raymond Huang, one of ISR's current post-doctoral fellows who will soon be returning to Renmin University, where he is an associate professor of sociology.
"Raymond and other post-docs are completing initial but important studies of religion in China, but more importantly, they will continue to pursue active and ongoing research agendas once they return to China," Mencken said.
"We plan to stay in touch, as well as support our post-docs, because we see our commitment as a long-term investment and partnership," said Dr. Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor and co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion. "We are confident this approach will be vital in building a new community of scholars doing ground-breaking research on religion in China."
Also at the conference, Stark received a major honor: a Letter of Appointment to the title of Honorary Sociology Professor at Peking University. Stark was recognized for his many contributions to the scientific study of religion, as well as his significant following among many scholars in China.