Brook Ziporyn on China’s Precious Spiritual Heritage

6:30–9:00 pm


Brook A. Ziporyn (Professor of Chinese Religion, Philosophy and Comparative Thought at the University of Chicago Divinity School) is a scholar of ancient and medieval Chinese religion and philosophy, and an expositor and translator of some of the most complex philosophical texts and concepts of the Chinese religious traditions. Ziporyn delivered a talk on April 28 at the Center in Beijing entitled “Religion Without God: China’s Precious Spiritual Heritage.” After the English-language lecture and Q&A session, Ziporyn continued the discussion with attendees in Chinese.

Chinese religious culture is notable in world history for its deep and persistent opposition to monotheism, understood in the sense of the essence of the monotheist idea as it has dominated most Western Thought in one form or another since it was proposed by Plato, quoting Socrates, quoting Anaxagoras, in the Phaedo: the idea that there is a single consciously purposive rational mind that creates the world or otherwise accounts for the world being as it is, and that therefore “conscious purpose” is a privileged category of both ontology and ethics. Each of the dominant traditions in pre-modern China is however “God-less” in the sense of lacking just this conception, and these traditions thus provide us with our deepest resource for understanding and developing a conception of the world and of human flourishing which does not privilege “singularity of conscious purpose” above all else. In this talk, Professor Ziporyn will take a look at the forms of religiousness developed in these traditions, as a way of recovering some of the ethical and epistemological alternatives obscured by the idea of God in monotheistic cultures.

Professor Ziporyn received his BA in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago, and his PhD from the University of Michigan. Prior to joining the University of Chicago Divinity School faculty, he has taught Chinese philosophy and religion at the University of Michigan (Department of East Asian Literature and Cultures), Northwestern University (Department of Religion and Department of Philosophy), Harvard University (Department of East Asian Literature and Civilization) and the National University of Singapore (Department of Philosophy).

Ziporyn is the author of six published books: Evil And/Or/As the Good: Omnicentric Holism, Intersubjectivity and Value Paradox in Tiantai Buddhist Thought (Harvard, 2000), The Penumbra Unbound: The Neo-Taoist Philosophy of Guo Xiang (SUNY Press, 2003), Being and Ambiguity: Philosophical Experiments With Tiantai Buddhism (Open Court, 2004); Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings with Selections from Traditional Commentaries (Hackett, 2009); Ironies of Oneness and Difference: Coherence in Early Chinese Thought; Prolegomena to the Study of Li(SUNY Press, 2012); and Beyond Oneness and Difference: Li and Coherence in Chinese Buddhist Thought and its Antecedents (SUNY Press, 2013). He is currently working on a cross-cultural inquiry into the themes of death, time, and perception, tentatively entitled Against Being Here Now, as well as a book-length exposition of atheism as a form of religious and mystical experience in the intellectual histories of Europe, India, and China.

(Photos by Yuxuan Li)