Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010 14:32

China's paradoxical religious revival

Is China really experiencing a religious revival?

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Also available in streaming on Youtube

Thursday, 09 December 2010 19:35

Is China's civil society truly on the rise?

If the emergence of a civil society in China is inevitable, the condition and the form of its development can be questioned as a space for public debate still to be defined.

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Friday, 03 December 2010 00:00

謝幕之後

上海世博已近落幕。自開幕以來,經過六個月的時間,七千萬名遊客來來去去,但盛況過後,到底留下些什麼?

 

Tuesday, 16 November 2010 15:18

Knowledge networks: diversity in the face of adversity

Benoit Vermander discusses the complexity of the the various networks and actors when it comes to global climate change negotiations and environmental issues. How can these difficulties be turned into opportunities? How can cities take the leading role on climate change?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010 12:39

After the Show

The Shanghai World Expo is coming to an end… Six months and around seventy million visitors after its launch, what will remain of this mammoth happening?

The most enduring legacy will be the reshaping of Shanghai, the dense metro networks, innovative urban planning and international outlook. Truly, this has been a coming of age event, and its effects will be long term.

Besides this, the event has been mostly a “Fair”, a kind of festival. Chinese people have been coming from afar to get glimpses of world diversity or just to enjoy themselves. For sure, there have been many group visits fostered by work units and other institutions, but it was somehow moving to witness the zeal of individual visitors, quite a number of them elderly people who were seeing in this event a once in a lifetime opportunity. I met with an elderly couple of photographers coming from Chengdu who stayed in Shanghai for a good part of the summer and visited no less that 150 pavilions…. As a reluctant visitor who painfully reached the threshold of 3 pavilions visited and found the experience already rather exhausting, I could not help to feel deeply impressed. Many Chinese coming from far away provinces were rising up at 5am so as to be among the first ones in the queue and were coming home late at night, only to then download pictures and comments on their blogs. Actually, I realized that telling your blog’s readers where you had been and what you had done was a major incentive in realizing such feast of sheer will and energy…

On the other hand, it seems that the foreign audience was much more modest than originally expected. And, for an event focused around green and sustainable cities, the final contribution to the future of city life seems to me remarkably modest. My overall impression has been the one of a show – a rather good show actually – that was played to the benefit and for the contentment of a Chinese audience happy for the “free gift” that such event was representing. The happening was well in line with what the Olympic Game had already been, and as successful in terms of image and organization.

Do world fairs still have a future? There will be other such events after Shanghai 2010, but the genre needs to be renewed. Shanghai has shown the concept’s everlasting attraction as well as the severe limits that such happenings are now meeting with. In any case, the city has now secured a leading role on both the Chinese and world scenes for many more decades to come.

Photo: BV

Paul Farrelly also went to the Shanghai World Expo: he tells us why he didn't go to the Chinese pavilion and why you should go to the South Korean one instead of the Australian one...

Thursday, 30 September 2010 17:33

多元宗教、多元價值

亞洲的宗教面貌繁雜多樣,在這二、三十年來出現了一些變化趨勢,構成某些挑戰。面對這些挑戰,如果基督徒希望成為「和平守護者」,或許有些可採取的做法。事實上,亞洲的宗教對話已是任何宗教都無可回避的任務。

信仰復興運動已成一股優勢的宗教潮流,尤見於亞洲的伊斯蘭教。伊斯蘭教的復興包含多種現象:

一,在後殖民觀感和普及宗教教育的背景上,強調宗教跟種族的榮耀;

二,暴力攻擊,且往往有國際網絡支持;

三,意圖施行伊斯蘭律法跟建立伊斯蘭國家的政治策略,這對世俗國家構成威脅,歷史上並導致了穆斯林社會中其他宗教信眾被消滅或同化;

四,自2001年開始,穆斯林少數經常遭受的敵意與偏見。

另一些因素也影響亞洲宗教間的衝突或合作。像是威權政府操弄宗教或甚至宗教對話、復興的政治或宗教勢力企圖建立「國教」、物質主義和消費主義切斷宗教間互動與對話的根基。

同時,基督新教在各地蓬勃成長,而且常有基進教義跟推動改變信仰的性質,激化了原有的緊張關係。改變信仰還時常代表成立新宗教,而宗派主義升高,又使得社會的融合降低。該怎麼辦?

各宗教信徒不該放棄一同生活和祈禱的理想。畢竟不難想像,天主會比較樂見人們共同祈禱而非互相殺戮。宗教領袖應鼓勵人們自己找尋連結起彼此祈禱的方法。天主教已確立宗教自由原則,亞洲的宗教如今也最好能透過政治辯論,在以下議題上達成共識:定義世俗國家;強化區域團結,包含強調亞洲精神根源的權利法案;促進性別平等。而在此過程中,一定要忠於歷史,即使有歧異,也得正面承認。

亞洲的語言、文化和宗教多樣性是應被評價、欣賞與理解的瑰寶。建立和平跟宗教對話都繫於不斷重塑文化、教義與世界觀的詮釋過程。價值教育應優先針對婦女和年輕人,因為他們較有可能在未來培育較寬鬆而富於同情的社會文化。價值教育也應從誠實、相互尊重和快樂等德性做起,因為跨宗教的合作其實繫於基本價值觀的培養。

借用音樂的隱喻:我們對音樂有不同品味,但被召來合奏,那會怎麼樣?到頭來,我們都不能確定天主喜愛和創作的樂曲是哪種。也許祂不是用C大調或降b小調,而是不和諧及不符節奏的技法,以至於我們不能立即欣賞領會。我們可假定天主是位有創造力的作曲家,而有創造力的音樂往往挑戰人們的聆賞習慣。


繪圖/笨篤   翻譯/周盈成

本文亦見於2010年10月號《人籟論辨月刊》

 

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Monday, 13 September 2010 00:00

Europe-China Cooperation in the Digital Era by R. Prodi

On September 10, Romano Prodi, former president of the European Commission and former Italian Prime minister, was the guest of the Xu-Ricci Dialogue Institute at Fudan University, Shanghai. Together with Professor Melloni, director of the John XXII Foundation for Religious Science in Bologna, he was introducing to a Chinese audience the flagship project of the Foundation: a database regrouping the editions of all Ecumenical Church Councils, in all languages and writing systems in which they had been acted

What follows is a slightly abridged English version of the speech he pronounced in Italian on this occasion:

Friday, 16 July 2010 11:22

La liberté religieuse aujourd’hui

Le 7 décembre 1965, par 2 208 voix contre 70, le Concile adoptait la déclaration Dignitatis Humanae sur la liberté religieuse. Le texte devait beaucoup à un théologien américain, John Courtney Murray. La méthode d’approche privilégiée par ce dernier représentait une innovation dans la pensée et la culture de l’Eglise : il s’appuyait fortement sur la tradition constitutionnelle américaine - distinction entre État et Église, dans leurs objectifs, leurs méthodes et leurs structures : théorie du gouvernement limité ; affirmation de la compatibilité de cette tradition constitutionnelle et de la philosophie politique d’inspiration chrétienne.

La déclaration conciliaire s’inscrit dans l’histoire, reconnaissant le désir croissant des individus d’agir en fonction de leurs options, de leurs responsabilités et de leur conscience. L’homme moderne souhaite « que soit juridiquement délimité l’exercice de l’autorité des pouvoirs publics.... Cette exigence de liberté dans la société humaine regarde principalement ce qui est l’apanage de l’esprit humain, et au premier chef, ce qui concerne le libre exercice de la religion dans la société».

La vérité de la religion chrétienne, poursuivent les Pères conciliaires, ne s’impose que par la force de la vérité même qui « pénètre l’esprit avec autant de douceur que de puissance. » Option déterminée par la reconnaissance que la liberté religieuse est un droit : « Le droit à la liberté religieuse a son fondement dans la dignité même de la personne humaine. » Droit naturel, la liberté religieuse a vocation à s’inscrire en un droit civil, par des lois justes et tous autres moyens appropriés. « Le pouvoir civil dépasse ses limites s’il s’arroge le droit de diriger ou d’empêcher les actes religieux (…) Il n’est pas permis au pouvoir public... d’imposer aux citoyens la profession ou le rejet de quelque religion que ce soit, ou d’empêcher quelqu’un d’entrer dans une communauté religieuse ou de la quitter... À fortiori est-ce agir contre la volonté de Dieu... que d’employer... la force pour détruire la religion ou lui faire obstacle. »

La liberté religieuse de l’individu se développe en une liberté raccordée aux groupes religieux dès lors que les exigences de l’ordre public ne sont pas violées. D’une certaine façon, le Concile reconnaît déjà les limites à la liberté religieuse que pourraient nécessiter la lutte contre les dérives sectaires : « Dans les pratiques religieuses, on doit toujours s’abstenir de toute forme d’agissements ayant un relent de coercition, de persuasions malhonnêtes. »

D’une importance particulière est la partie de la déclaration qui médite sur la liberté religieuse à la lumière de la révélation : « La révélation découvre dans toute son ampleur la dignité de la personne humaine, elle montre en quel respect le Christ a tenu la liberté de l’homme dans l’accomplissement de son devoir de croire à la Parole de Dieu. » Liberté humaine qui se manifeste d’abord dans la liberté de l’acte de foi : « Le Christ notre Maître et Seigneur, doux et humble de cœur, a, dans la patience, attiré et invité les disciples. Certes, il a appuyé sa prédication et il l’a confirmée par des miracles, mais c’était pour susciter et fortifier la foi de ses auditeurs, non pour exercer sur eux une contrainte... Reconnaissant que de l’ivraie avait été semée avec le froment, il ordonna lui-même de les laisser croître l’une et l’autre jusqu’à la moisson, qui aura lieu à la fin des temps. » Exemple suivi par les Apôtres, attentifs aux faibles et pourtant capables de s’opposer avec force aux contraintes injustes édictées par les pouvoirs publics. Dans le cours de l’histoire, poursuit le texte, l’Église, respectueuse de la liberté de l’homme, revendique la même liberté pour elle-même. En même temps, elle demande aux fidèles d’agir envers ceux du dehors avec amour, prudence et patience.

La conclusion du texte déplorant que tant de pays ne respectent pas la liberté religieuse, s’inscrit dans un contexte historique précis. Nul doute que la situation des pays de l’Est ait été essentielle dans la façon dont l’Eglise a ainsi fondamentalement remaniée sa position quant à la liberté religieuse. L’une des faiblesses du texte est d’ailleurs de ne pas offrir une relecture de ses pratiques et positions au cours des siècles. La tâche était sans doute impossible à l’époque, mais elle a été poursuivie jusqu’aux déclarations de repentance de Jean-Paul II. Document novateur, le texte a sans nul doute nourri la réflexion à la source des textes juridiques ultérieurs (nationaux et internationaux) qui se mesurent avec la liberté de conscience, la laïcité, les limites du prosélytisme… Il a notamment fortement influencé la rédaction de l’Acte Final de la Conférence d’Helsinki (1975).

c_phiv_cemetery_pere_lachaise2Pour partie, le texte garde une actualité immédiate. De la nécessité de ses rappels et de ses combats témoigne par exemple l’encadrement sévère des groupes religieux en Chine au travers de pratiques en contradiction flagrante avec les principes de droit naturel et civil énoncés dans la déclaration. Les persécutions survenues au Soudan ou encore l’interdiction de conversion signifiée aux fidèles en droit islamique montrent assez que le clair et simple rappel des droits liés à la reconnaissance de la liberté de conscience demeure un impératif. En même temps, depuis 1965, les situations se sont considérablement modifiées et complexifiées : l’évolution des termes du débat sur la laïcité, le réveil de l’Islam, le développement des « nouvelles spiritualités et religions » (ou des groupes proprement sectaires), la sophistication croissante des manipulations idéologiques, une modernité plus « individualiste » encore dans ses aspirations qu’à l’époque de la rédaction du texte… tous ces développements devraient sans doute amener à déplacer des accents, revoir des formulations, introduire des développements nouveaux… Surtout, le texte a peut-être manqué d’une dimension proprement politique : pas de réflexion sur l’Etat moderne, lequel ne se veut ni chrétien «ni « païen », alors que c’est cette forme politique qui est spécifiquement en charge d’assurer et encadrer l’exercice de la liberté de conscience. Les normes régissant la participation de l’Eglise dans le débat politique de l’Etat moderne ne sont pas spécifiées, et elles poseront question au cours des décennies suivantes à l’occasion des débats sur l’école, la morale privée, le travail dominical… En bref, poser comme un principe indépassable la « dignité humaine », c’est énoncer une affirmation non seulement théologique et anthropologiques mais aussi proprement politique, et le domaine du politique est celui des médiations. L’ambiguïté et la diversité des situations politiques concrètes illustreront de façon récurrente à la fois la grande force et les points obscurs de Dignitatis humanae.

Reste l’intuition fondamentale, dont la force traverse et dépasse le texte : la liberté de l’homme participe de la liberté de Dieu. Pareil message est inséparable de l’ensemble de la bonne nouvelle proclamée par l’Evangile. Il fonde la place de l’Eglise dans le monde - l’Eglise tout à la fois servante et libre -, comme le combat poursuivi pour que la liberté de croyance reconnue à tous soit au fondement d’un dialogue vrai au travers duquel l’humanité poursuit sa quête.

(Photos by C.P.)

 

Monday, 28 June 2010 00:00

China gets global

There is good news on the global front: China is more and more living up to its international responsibilities. The gradual reevaluation of the Renminbi, voting at the UN to sanction Iran and even moving cautiously on North Korea, all of this shows that China is increasingly calibrating its policies by taking into account their global impact.

China’s prompt recovery after the financial crisis had made some observers fear that China’s new assertiveness would translate into unilateral policies. The Copenhagen psychodrama heightened such concerns. Fortunately, these concerns currently prove to be exaggerated: China’s recovery is fragile, and the country knows that its sustainability depends on the health of the global economy. Friction with the US and France has been put aside. Chinese diplomats and policymakers are conscious of the danger that would represent an isolation of China, and are making their own the old American wish of seeing China behaving like a “responsible stakeholder.”

The recent move towards salary rises for Chinese workers also goes in this direction. Joined with the (still very gradual) reevaluation of the Renminbi it provides for a leveled international economic playground and the emergence of new economic players. Besides, as the World Bank has recently noted, Chinese enterprises still have huge margins of productivity to realise, which can more than compensate for the expense created by rises in labor cost. A fairer social system should go along with a more efficient economy – and a country linked to its partners through common interests that are progressively better defined and assessed.

As is the case with other countries, China’s policies depend very much on circumstances and conjuncture. Unwelcome shifts in style and orientation are still possible, especially in what looks like a new period of economic uncertainty. Still, recent developments prove that the gradual insertion of China into global governance called for during the last decade by Chinese and foreign scholars is bearing some fruits. These fruits might not be yet ripe, but signs of hope must be noted and valued: the new international order is not all about competition. Reason and cooperation can still help us to break though rivalries, misunderstandings and irrational behaviors.

Painting by B.V.

 

 

Monday, 21 June 2010 16:40

Spiritual experience and interreligious dialogue

Religions are not only made of rituals, creeds and cultural expressions. They provide different paths for one’s spiritual experience and growth. For sure, spiritual experience can happen and develop outside religions but religions provide written traditions, guides and beliefs that lead one along the way. Religions are not only spiritual experiences, and spiritual experiences are not only religious in nature. But there is a strong connection between the two.

Different religions provide different kinds of religious experiences. The way the Absolute is conceived, the cultural context where these religions grew or still the styles of prayers and liturgy proper to different religious traditions shape the spiritual experiences that a given religion allows. But this does not mean that one religion would allow for only one type of spiritual path, nor that there is no communication possible among these paths. Actually, spiritual experiences are also determined by the psychological characteristics of the pilgrim, or maybe, even more basically, by human nature itself. Said otherwise, spiritual experiences are anthropologically determined.

In fact, studying spiritual experiences in their variety makes us able to investigate both things at the same time: (a) the nature of Man as an animal capable of praying, meditating, and investigating what he cannot see or touch; (b) and also, maybe, the nature of the Absolute itself, since dialogue among different spiritual traditions might reveal common insights. For using a crude comparison, the nature of Man and the nature of the Absolute are the hardware on which can play the various “software” of the spiritual paths. Spiritual experience, when lived and reflected upon, has much to tell us about the ‘hardware” of human and divine nature.

Seen in this light, religious dialogue, when anchored into dialogue among spiritualities, is also a way to explore our common human condition. It is an investigation, a way of growing into one’s spiritual identity, and not only a way of building more harmony and peace among religions. When seeing interreligious dialogue as the cross-fertilization of various spiritual experiences, a few interesting insights might occur to us. For instance, spiritual traditions put a special stress on some basic virtues that are anchored into our everyday experience and that prove to be fundamental for starting the spiritual path: the most important of these qualities is to be deeply attentive to Life within us, to the Other and to the world. This is the way to develop “pure attention”, which, in many traditions, has often been defined as the essence of prayer. “Attention” goes along a growing awareness of the richness of the our world and of the inner mystery of the things and beings that surround us.

All spiritual traditions also develop a paradoxical language that mixes metaphor of “summit’ and “abyss”, of fire and water, of awe and deep confidence. They try to subvert our ordinary categories and experiences so as to open us to the novelty of the Absolute. They make us see the spiritual path as a pilgrimage that we are called to undertake.

A third characteristic of spiritual cross-encounter is that all spiritual traditions develop ways of transcending the limits of the Self, so as to abolish the distance between “subject” and “object.” They want us not to concentrate on ourselves but rather to open us to a transforming reality. Becoming more familiar with the object of our quest and being progressively and deeply transformed by it is one and the same operation. In this respect, spirituality is a form of experimental knowledge. It aims at experiencing and revealing the inner world within the external one by making us dare to be transformed by the reality we investigate. Spiritual writings can thus be seen as “maps”, as itineraries. Among them, mystical writings are of a special quality, as they are personal testimonies on life-long experiences that have led their authors to the very limit of their humaneness. Mystics can be seen as “explorers” on the boundaries between human and divine nature.

Finally, there is a post-modern twist in the way inter-spiritual encounters are lived today: many people do not live only an experience of inter-religious dialogue but also of intra-religous dialogue; they can internally refer to various traditions (for instance aboriginal religions and Christianity), due to the fluidity of cultural contexts. This can enrich their own spiritual experience and the one of all Humankind. Spiritual pilgrims do not live their experience for themselves alone but for the community of which they are part - and ultimately for the whole of Humankind searching for its nature and destiny.

Photo by B.V.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010 00:00

讓生活更簡單

現在可能沒有比過簡單生活更困難的事了,我們生活在錯綜複雜、不斷演進的社會與科技體系內,預設自己應能理解、順應這個環境,並遵從裡面各色各樣加諸己身的要求。當然,新科技與其衍生的社會網絡可謂易於使用、甚至頗富「樂趣」。我們能在其中如魚得水,確實大多依靠對新事物的喜好與創新帶來的刺激;然而創新的「樂趣」常常變質為新的束縛、不斷累計的開銷與更趨繁雜的事物。複雜管理成為生活的主要特色,恐怕也會消弭了可供自由創意思考的時間。

 

Thursday, 06 May 2010 13:48

Simplicity

[dropcap cap="T"]here might be nothing more difficult today than living a simple life… We live in complex, intricate and perpetually evolving social and technological systems, and we are supposed to understand them, to adapt to them and to conform to the various requirements that they impress upon us. For sure, new technological systems and the social networks they generate are supposed to be user-friendly, even 'fun.' Indeed, our capacity to adapt to them largely comes from our taste for all things new, from the thrill associated with innovation. However, the 'fun' of innovation often degenerates into new constraints, accrued expenses and increased complexity. The management of complexity has become an essential feature of our life, probably diminishing the time available for free and creative thinking.
As just noted, accrued financial constraints go with increased technological complexity. Simplicity of life becomes a dream, a mirage, and we do know that the burden of our needs and expenses alienates us from our nature and from the most basic pleasures of existence. The new entertainments that technology generates make us much less available for the simple joys of walking, listening to streams and to birds, spending time with friends or just doing nothing…[/dropcap]

The point here is not to entertain the nostalgia the past, to come back to a mode of life that, for most of us, has become unattainable. But “simplicity” can and must remain a kind of regulatory principle. When we are confronted with technological, cultural or economic choices, we are entitled to ask ourselves “will such a purchase, such a decision introduce more or less complexity into my existence?”… and to act accordingly. Simplicity might be less a state of things than a driving force. We can still be aiming at simplicity, thus trying to unify our life according to a few guiding principles.

Aiming at simplicity means that we do not want to be dispossessed of our life and our choices, and that we wish to remain the masters of our existence. Simplicity is to be found first and foremost in our head and our heart. Each time we see clearly that such or such a need is not vital for us, that we are still able to reform our life, to let it go, to resist the tyranny of the objects in our life, we are becoming more 'simple', more unified in heart and mind. Ultimately, 'simplicity' and 'freedom' are the two faces of the same coin. Making these values the cornerstone of our existence might require some sacrifices, but they are certainly worthwhile.


[blockquote]

Ultimately, 'simplicity' and 'freedom' are the two faces of the same coin.

[/blockquote]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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