I've been away from the blog for far too long: that's what getting behind in both teaching and administrative work will do to you for a while. But it's getting better. The semester is winding down and the grading is almost done. I can start now to turn my attention toward the summer, and this year that entails a class at Renmin University in Beijing.
I'll be teaching a course in their International Summer School, which will run for the month of July. Now I have to put some meat on the bones of the proposal I made for a class entitled: "Confucianism in America" (here is the description from the Renda website: Download E-SH1407)
The basic idea is to think first about translation and cultural transposition: how texts and ideas might move from one historical-cultural context to another. I'll have the students - who, I think, will be mostly Chinese undergrads from Renda mixed in with some international students - read English translations of Lunyu and Mengzi, and get them talking about how meanings might shift with translation. The difficulty here will be linguistic: none, I imagine, will be proficient enough in English to be able to fully grasp the vagaries of translation. But they will likely have ideas about what the texts mean, and that will give them a basis for thinking about how that meaning might interact and change in a contemporary American context. I want to ask them questions like: is Confucianism a universal moral theory, applicable to all human cultural contexts, or is it something uniquely Chinese? Is something like "American Confucianism" possible? Would it be the same as "Chinese Confucianism." How much can "Confucianism" vary from context to context and still be distinctly "Confucian"? What is the irreducible core of "Confucianism"?
I'm going to give them examples of writers who have quite consciously worked to adapt Confucianism to the US, most notably Robert Neville's Boston Confucianism and Rogers Ames's Confucian Role Ethics. And then (shameless self-promotion warning!) I'll use my own book, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Dao. That will draw them into questions like: what would a contemporary Confucian position on abortion be? Same sex marriage? That could create some lively classroom discussion. At least I hope so.
What I am especially looking forward to, however, is learning from my Chinese students. I'm curious to know how they see their world now. What are their expectations about getting a job or getting married? Are they optimisitic about contemporary society and politics? In recent years, I have tended to interact with Chinese people closer to my own age. Generational differences in outlook are significant and I can learn much from listening to the youngsters.