Monday, June 01, 2015

Mircea me


I'm midway between my two parting lectures at Fudan. This morning's was in a survey class on religion anchored in Mircea Eliade 伊利亚德's The Sacred and the Profane, taught by the same generous soul who invited me to speak to the Introduction to Religious Studies course last Fall. My task was to discuss critiques of Eliade, which I did with relish. The class was again long - 100 minutes, so two 45-minute lectures with a break in between.

I spent the first half introducing perspectives on Eliade's life, including the concerns about his fascist sympathies and residues in this thought; as when I teach this in the US I turned the finger of blame back on us - whatever the context for Eliade's activities of the 1930s may have ben in Romania, it's a more pressing question for Americans why his ideas were taken up with such gusto in the 1950s and 1960s. Of course "us" here wasn't Americans but I tried, gently, to suggest the students were entitled and perhaps obliged to ask themselves similar questions, to the extent that they found 伊利亚德's ideas compelling. I hope I didn't sound too much like those who think Chinese universities should avoid inimical
foreign ideas - I was after all putting the responsibility and privilege of critical discernment on the students. I did feel I was not that far from the territory of the anti-Rightist campaigns, though, of clearly exhibiting bourgeois forms of equivocation!

The second part was on sacred space, and introduced the criticisms and alternative understandings of space in J. Z. Smith and Sam Gill - familiar territory for me again, building on Gill's article "Territory" which I have used both in the course on Aboriginal religion and, earlier, the one on religious geography of New York. I think it may have gone a little over people's heads, but perhaps I planted some useful seeds. For understanding both China's Dao-rich past and its hyper-modern present and future, idea of space as movement, performance, journey, encounter may be as congenial as the lore of the sacred center or even the politics of mapping and remapping territories of inclusion and exclusion. In the noble tradition of learning as you're teaching, I made those connections, however tentative, for the first time in putting this lecture together.

Tomorrow night I have to talk about the "International Image and Impact of Chinese Spiritual Traditions" - the picture above shows the poster up at Fudan last week. It's a title I was given and every part of which gives me the heebie-jeebies. But I think I've worked out a way to put it to good use... I'll let you know how I fare! The audience will be mostly international graduate students, unlike today's Chinese undergraduates, so more discussion is likely to ensue in any case.

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