Thursday, February 27, 2014


I learned a new Chinese word today, 缘分 (yuanfen). It means something like "fateful coincidence, blessed by Heaven." This explanation is from Fan Lizhu, a Chinese sociologist of religion, who in a 2011 essay included 缘分 among the terms which a religious studies rooted in Chinese rather than Western tradition might build on. But Prof. Fan mentioned it in an e-mail to me today as a term "which is commonly used by Chinese people to describe things such as are happening between us."
What she's referring to is a string of serendipities which started with my looking up an American Sinologist in San Diego last month. He directed me to her, and she connected me to the director of the Religious Studies Program at Fudan University in Shanghai, where she teaches. Then things started to snowball in a 缘分y way. Within a day, I had emails from several Fudan people eager to host me next year; indeed, everyone seemed to assume that it was a fait accompli. 缘分!
Then I asked her if she might be passing through New York in the next months, and learned that she'd be giving a talk a few states away next month. I sent out an email to people at New School who might be interested, and within hours had got enthusiastic expressions of interest from several. With the help of the India China Institute, we are now officially hosting Fan Lizhu and her husband Chen Na (also a sociologist of religion) for a lunchtime roundtable in four weeks. 缘分!

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