Reinvigorating the Dialogue between the Confucian and Catholic Traditions

Project director: Prof. Philip J. Ivanhoe

Confucianism is one of the oldest and most influential spiritual traditions in the world. Its origins stretch back to the 6th century B.C.E. It has followers throughout the world and serves as a deep and abiding force within a number of the world’s largest, richest, most populous and powerful cultures, all located in East Asia. The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world’s largest Christian church with some 1.2 billion members throughout the world. It traces its origins to Jesus Christ who is thought to have founded the church, in the 1st century C.E.

The relationship between Confucianism and Catholicism extends back over 400 years and their futures seem destined to remain intertwined. The dialogue between Catholicism and Confucianism was largely initiated by Matteo Ricci, SJ (1552-1610) who arrived in Macau China in 1582 and remained in the country until his death. Ricci succeeded in becoming highly respected within China and used his influence to spread Catholic teachings. He also met a Korean emissary to China, by the name of Yi Sugwang, to whom he taught the basic tenets of the church and introduced to other forms of Western learning. Yi in turn transmitted these ideas to his countrymen upon his return to Korea. In 1601, Ricci became the first Westerner ever to be invited into the Forbidden City and though he never met the reclusive Wanli Emperor, he did enjoy many years of substantial imperial patronage. This imperial favor extended even beyond his own life to include the exceptional permission of being buried in Beijing.

This project takes as its mission and goal the exploration of a variety of issues relating to these two traditions. Our most immediate goal is to organize two major international conferences, the first to be held at City University of Hong Kong in 2015. We will invite scholars both from these traditions and of these traditions; that is scholars who are committed to one or another (or in some cases both) traditions and others who have no explicit commitment to either but are committed to understanding and exploring the relationships, both historical, contemporary, and potential, between them.