Beijing U: China Educators Launch First Religion Department

China continues to be a study in contrasts for religious freedom. Even as some Christian believers continue to be persecuted for practicing their faith, Beijing University last month launched the nation's first religious studies department and invited nine American evangelical academics to the opening ceremony.

In addition, college and seminary professors from Bethel, Fuller, and Calvin presented papers at religion symposiums held three days after the September 3 ceremony. And this fall the department has, for the first time, Americans as visiting professors: Melville Stewart of Bethel College, Diane Obenchain of Harvard University, and Kurt Selles of Stanford University.

Beijing University has 95 departments and 3,000 professors. Previously, religious studies had been part of the philosophy department and trained loyal cadres for the government's Religious Affairs Bureau.

"What happened here is not in isolation," said philosophy professor Stewart of Bethel College. Lauren Pfister of Hong Kong Baptist University believes the appointments of Americans to the new department is a milestone. "Beijing University is making a move that will become a prototype for China," Pfister said. "There are already plans afoot in Nanjing, Canton, and Hangchow."

Organizations that minister in the country, including Werner Burklin Ministries, also are encouraged. "China is opening more and more to religious activities," says Erik Burklin, director of operations for the ministry of his German evangelist father. Burklin, who visited China last month, notes that his father lectured at a university in Wuhan a year ago. "He shared the gospel while lecturing and never was he asked to stop or change the subject matter."


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