Symposium this Saturday looks at the state of religion in China

The 2008 Olympic Games brought international attention to China’s human rights practices and, at the same time, intensified repression against Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims, non-registered churches and Falun Dafa practitioners, say organizers of this Saturday’s Religion and Rights in China symposium. This is at a time when China is experiencing what has been called the greatest religious revival in human history.

The Religion and Rights in China symposium will examine issues of religious control and persecution as well as the contributions of religions as civil society organizations building human rights in China. Academic and activist presentations will be paired in panels on Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Falun Dafa, and in discussion sessions.

Pitman Potter (right), a law professor at the University of British Columbia, will deliver the keynote speech by video. He will examine China’s law and policy on religious freedoms in the context of international human rights standards and also in reference to the National Human Rights Action Plan as well as the dissident document known as Charter 08.

“Regulation of religion by the party/state in China can usefully be viewed in the context of changing development conditions and challenges for regime legitimacy. Following the tragedy of the Tiananmen massacre of 1989, the party/state has attempted to build political legitimacy based on a development bargain that promises material well being in exchange for political subservience,” says Potter. “As part of this process, the regime has offered limited religious freedoms and applied requirements of legal and regulatory process to the mechanisms for controlling religious behaviour.”

China’s rulers, however, still face the challenge of maintaining legitimacy for their policies of control – particularly as ever wider segments of society come to be left out from the material prosperity promised through market development policies.

The state’s effort to legalize its control of religious behaviour raises significant questions of compliance with international human rights standards and also faces ongoing challenges domestically in gaining legitimacy, says Potter.

There will also be a screening of part one of the two-part documentary China’s Leap of Faith, made for VisionTV in 2008. Part one, The Gods Come Home, probes the Chinese government’s scramble to contain the re-awakening of Buddhism, Taoism and traditional folk faiths across China. A discussion with the film’s co-director Paul Webster (left), will follow the screening. Webster writes for publications in Canada, the US and Europe and has directed documentary films for the CBC, the BBC, Germany’s SWR and VisionTV.

The symposium, organized by York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR) Research Associate Michael Stainton, will also feature panel discussions on the variety of Christian experience, the Falun Dafa experience, religion and ethnicity, religion and human rights, and a Religions Building Human Rights round table.

The Religion and Rights in China symposium will start at 9am at Knox College, 59 St. George St., University of Toronto.

This international event is organized by YCAR, the Centre for Asian-Canadian Theology & Ministry at Knox College and the Hudson Taylor Centre for Chinese Ministries at Tyndale Seminary. It is funded by the E.H. Johnson Memorial Fund, the St. Stephen’s-Broadway Foundation, the Kiervin Family Foundation and York University’s East Asian Studies Program, Religious Studies Program and the Jack and Mae Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security.

To register, e-mail by noon on Friday, May 29. The cost of attending the symposium, including lunch, is $20 or $10 for students.

For more information, visit the YCAR Web site.