Areas of research


IGC participates in and facilitates discussions and research on a number of topics, which can be broadly subsumed under two broad areas: the role of religion in the emergence of a global civilization; and China’s contribution to the emergence of a global civilization. 



The role of religion in the emergence of a global civilization


A participatory framework for engaging in public discourse on the role of religion in society


Interest in religion is increasing in many quarters of Chinese society. Growing numbers of people of different walks of life are exploring and joining religious practices and communities. Scholars are investigating religious phenomena and discussing theories to understand the dynamics of religious change, while government officials are trying to learn how to unleash the positive forces of religion in the context of China’s social system. But discussions and research on religion are hampered by divisive polemics both within and outside religious communities, and by concepts and theories that are inadequate both to the realities of Chinese society and to the profound structural transformations of religion within global society. This project aims to create a space within which participants of different backgrounds can engage in an exploration of the key issues related to the role of religion in society, rethink commonly held assumptions and theories, and elaborate a new conceptual framework for religion’s contribution to building a healthy, progressive and united society.


This project began in June 2012, when IGC organized an informal meeting, inviting a group of scholars from various regions of China to reconsider the concept of religion from the perspectives of Bahá’í concepts and of Chinese culture and history. Participants of this meeting came from a wide range of academic backgrounds, including Anthropology, Religious Studies, Education, Law, Linguistics, Arts, Gender Studies, Drama, and Hermeneutics. At the end of the meeting, each participant was asked to write a few short paragraphs about religion, based on the understanding that they had reached during the meeting. The written materials thus collected contained a rich array of perspectives, which were then incorporated and synthesized into an article of about one thousand words. This formed our first draft of a statement on the nature and role of religion, called Re-examining the Concept of Religion: Some Initial Considerations. For the next two years, IGC held a series of workshops in various cities to discuss the ideas contained in the first draft, engaging scholars from many other disciplines, such as Classical Chinese Thought, Marxist Theory, Economics, International Relations, Ancient Greek history, Art history, English Language and Literature, etc. Participants came from a variety of backgrounds including atheism, Bahá’í, Confucianism, Christianity, Buddhism, Daoism and Islam. These discussions stimulated and inspired participants to articulate many ideas about how to improve the first draft. IGC collected, studied and incorporated these ideas into the draft statement. By the end of November 2o14, it had evolved into the document Rethinking the Nature of Religion and its Relationship to Society.


Since then, IGC has held several informal workshops around this document with participants of various backgrounds and cities, with the aim of increasing participants’ capacity to engage in public discourse on religion and society.


Beginning in 2016, IGC will adopt a similar method to reflect, discuss and research on conceptions of human nature, oneness, justice, knowledge and empowerment, and how they bear on the relationship between religion and society.


Religion, community building and social development


“Community building” has become an issue of increasing concern for governments, businesses, public agencies, volunteers, community organizations and families, as they consider issues of income disparity, housing, environment, transportation, civic participation, education and neighbourly relations. But in these discussions, few have asked about the relationship between these domains and the spiritual dimension of life, as well as the “ultimate purpose” of community building. What role should religion play in community building? Is it simply as a cultural relic, a thing of the past to enjoy in moments of leisure? Is it simply a refuge from the stress of modern life, or a place to pray for success in our secular pursuits? What are the types of spiritual qualities and social relationships that religion should be nurturing among the people in a community? How can it help to develop the moral capacities and spirit of service of children and youth in the neighbourhood? How can religion overcome millennia of patriarchy to affirm the full equality of the sexes and the equal value of women’s contributions to the family, to the education of children, to community life and to the economy? How can it provide a loving and nurturing space, enabling people to engage in meaningful conversations with their neighbours, leading to greater trust, cooperation and unity? How can religion inspire and empower residents to take initiative for acts and plans of service for the spiritual, social, and intellectual development of their community? How can it nurture the expression of spiritual qualities such as love, humility, detachment, justice and a learning attitude in consultative decision-making processes, breaking away from divisive habits of individuals and groups vying to impose their views? What would a community look like if the spiritual qualities at the core of religious teachings were applied in the areas listed above?


Engagement in community-building and contributing to the spiritual and material development of society, is a core dimension of Bahá’í teachings and practice. Bahá’í communities and Bahá’í-inspired organizations have acquired a rich experience and developed increasingly mature approaches in these areas. In 2007, the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences hosted a conference on Bahá’í approaches to science, religion and socio-economic development; since then, this theme has been the subject of many conferences and studies by Chinese scholars who have explored the relevant Bahá’í teachings and the experience of Bahá’í communities. IGC is currently facilitating continued research in this area, with the aim of deepening its conceptual and empirical content and exploring its potential applications in China. 


Religion and global governance 

As the relationships between the different nations of the world become ever more interdependent and complex, increasingly elaborate international treaties, laws, organizations and institutions have laid the foundations of what has become a global system of governance. And yet, the effectiveness of this system is increasingly put into doubt, with questions being raised about the equity, authority, representativity and accountability of its components. Transnational religious communities and organizations play a growing role in the international system, as sources of values and and as organizing networks; but there are many doubts as to whether religion’s role is positive or negative. The Bahá’í faith is well-known for its advocacy of building a lasting and just world peace underpinned by international law and authoritative institutions of global governance; and it has elaborated its vision through its active contribution to the work of the United Nations.


At a conference held in Macau in 2006 and co-sponsored by the China Academy of Social Sciences, one of the main themes of presentations was on “Bahá’í concepts of a new world order”. Since then, this theme has interested scholars who have notably conducted in-depth studies on the Bahá’í International Community at the UN and on Bahá’í conceptions of collective order and security. IGC is currently facilitating further research on these themes, with the aim of exploring how Bahá’í conceptions and approaches can help to build bridges between Chinese values, emerging international norms, laws and institutions, and the long-term vision of “the world is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” 


China’s contribution to the emergence of a global civilization


Abdu’l Bahá, writing of China in 1911 as the “country of the future”, stated that “The Baha’i teacher of the Chinese people must first be imbued with their spirit; know their sacred literature; study their national customs and speak to them from their own standpoint, and their own terminologies.” The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, wrote in 1923 that “that vast and mighty land", ...”the land of China...has its own world and civilization, whose people constitute one-fourth of the population of the globe, which ranks foremost among all nations in the material, cultural and spiritual resources and potentialities, and whose future is assuredly bright..."


Chinese civilisation will undoubtedly become an integral component of an emerging global civilisation, benefiting not only a single nation but all of humanity. Increasing interactions between the Chinese and the other cultural and religious traditions of the world will lead to new insights, values and cultural forms. IGC is interested in contributing to this process by researching those aspects of Chinese thought that can contribute to a global civilisation, the relationships between the Baha’i teachings and Chinese thought, and the methods by which inter-cultural, inter-religious and inter-civilisational understanding and integration can be facilitated through approaches to translation and hermeneutics.


Translation and hermeneutics in inter-civilizational relations


At the root of each religious revelation, civilization and system of knowledge is a unique language and form of communication, giving birth to distinctive worlds of understanding and of action. Both the Chinese canonical classics and scriptures, which are at the core of the world’s most ancient living civilisation, and the Baha’i writings, which are the inspiration of the youngest world religion, contain an immense depth of wisdom and thought. When the sacred writings of a religion or civilization interact with a new historical or cultural context, or interact with each other, the spark of new insights and understanding may emerge, contributing to the advance of civilization.


At a basic level, this process begins through the task of translation. The translation of Bahá’í sacred writings into the Chinese language is an undertaking that began a century ago, and has expanded in scope and intensity in the past decade. The issues and challenges involved in this work can be compared to the processes of the translation of the scriptures of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam into Chinese, ever since the Han dynasty. In 2012, IGC sponsored a conference at Guangzhou University on the translation of religious texts; the first such conference to be held in China, it included both scholars and practitioners from all of the above-mentioned religious traditions, combining insights from the disciplines of both translation studies and religious studies. Two subsequent conferences, held at Qingdao University in 2013 and at Qinghua University in 2015, laid the foundations of an emerging multidisciplinary and interfaith field of research and practice.


The question of translation goes beyond the conversion of texts from one language to another, and touches on deeper issues of how we give meaning to texts and symbols, and how these meanings inform our orientation and action in the world. IGC has participated in a series of discussions and symposia on interdisciplinary approaches to hermeneutics at Beijing University. In the future, we hope that the insights gained from these discussions will lead to approaches to interpreting the wisdom of past civilizations and religious traditions from the long-term historical perspective of an emerging global civilization.


Datong and the Most Great Peace:


A comparative study of spiritual cosmopolitanism and its application in Chinese and Bahá’í thought


The unity of humanity is a core ideal in both Chinese and Bahá’í thought, as expressed by the Chinese notion of Datong and the Bahá’í vision of the “Most Great Peace”. Today, the world has experienced economic integration but is still struggling to find the spirit of unity that is the foundation of the true prosperity of families, communities, nations and the world. While the concept of Datong has been enriched by thinkers and inspired social governance over three millennia in China, Bahá’í concepts of unity and oneness are part of a clear vision of the processes that are currently transforming the world, and are being studied and put into practice in thousands of communities on all continents. The convergence of Chinese and Bahá’í ideals led to the Bahá’í faith being known as Datong jiao in early 20-century China; and has intrigued and inspired scholars ever since. This line of inquiry currently consists of the research and relevant publications of a number of scholars, as well as a series of conferences on Datong thought. The project aims to facilitate systematic and comparative research on the concept of Datong and its application; to build a network of scholars and others who are interested in researching Datong thought; and to bring the concept and application of Datong thought into discussions on the goals and processes of China’s and the world’s development.


The history and sociology of the Bahá’í faith in China


Given the resonances between Chinese and Baha’i thought and ideals, the Chinese people will undoubtedly play a growing role in the future development of the Baha’i world. In fact, the history of the Bahá’í faith in China goes back over one hundred years. Recent research has uncovered the connections between intellectuals of the New Culture movement and the Bahá’í faith, and the influence of notable early Chinese Bahá’ís such as Cao Yunxiang, Yan Yaqing, and Liao Chongzhen. Other scholars have begun investigating the spread and development of the Bahá’í faith in contemporary China. This project aims to build on these foundations to conduct a systematic study of the Bahá’í faith in China in its historical and sociological dimensions, to explore the influence and adaptation of the Bahá’í faith in Chinese society and culture, and to bring to light Chinese contributions to the worldwide Bahá’í community.