Student Report: Religion and Politics – An Interdisciplinary Conversation

This Interdisciplinary Conversation was part of “Religion and Politics,” presented by the Humanities Research Center and the Division of Arts and Humanities, in collaboration with the Undergraduate Studies program.

Reported by Mateja Bokan, Class of 2026

The Religion and Politics lecture and discussion were the first opportunity for DKU students in Barcelona to experience the offerings of the University and the Humanities Research Center. Divided into two parts, the guest lecture and a live discussion, students were able to apply, reevaluate, and extend their knowledge on secularization using Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan as an example of how politics and religion work together in our society.

The guest lecturer, Robert Yelle, is a Professor and Chair of Religious Studies at Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich. An active member of the American Academy of Religion, Yelle is presently Editor of the AAR/Oxford University Press book series Religion, Culture, and History. In his work, he shows connections between politics and religion through theological readings and analysis of the modern secular world, while also exploring their constantly changing relationship in contemporary society.

The lecture began with Professor Yelle explaining that Hobbs had a far more radical view than expected as seen through his book Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil. Within this specific piece that concerns the structure of society and legitimate government, Professor Yelle focused on the illustrated cover page depicting most of the radicality that was overlooked before. Professor argued that political secularism begins to be noticeable in the 2nd half of the 17th century; even though this was not Hobbes’s understanding at the time, Hobbes believed that religion and politics cannot be separated; hence an argument was made that leviathan was a reference to the Egyptian pharaoh, portraying revolutions disguised as revelations.

Professor then went on to explain that even though Hobbes was not necessarily a pagan himself, his ideas of speaking up against the church from a paganistic point of view had to be incorporated into his writing with great care, as he had been condemned for his ideas in the past. The professor argued that in this specific illustration, Hobbes relied on symbolism to present his thoughts. Symbols of secular power on the left and church on the right side, unified by Leviathan holding the sword of secular power all can be read as a sign that secular and religious powers must be coordinated together to rule. This is further supported by symbolism of “a sovereign that is away from us”, that is heads turned away from the Pharaoh, even though they are a part of him, symbolizing that Leviathan, armed with bodies of people, is a proper epithet of a king and leader of a mighty army.

Looking into the book itself, Professor Yelle pays close attention to the way in which Hobbes described Leviathan. The professor focused on plurals as honorifics – a linguistic system in which plurals are used to signify greater respect, still present in languages such as German and Saudi Arabic – and how Hobbes accepted this concept when he was addressing Leviathan, ultimately treating him as a King or a God and further supporting Leviathan as a Pharaoh. Professor argued that through this we can see that Hobbes’s ideology was against the supernatural, Gods were mortal people worshipped through statues, and that Hobbes was using totemism as means of justifying the connection between church and politics.

In the second part of the lecture, Professor Yelle explains Hobbes’ thought and why it was revolutionary for the time. Professor argued that through the cover illustration, Hobbes wanted to show that there is no difference between political and religious followers, that they all need one leader. Yet the parallelism shown in the pictures relating to the church (right four panels) radically show double vision of reflection and refraction, showing that it is the clergy that makes people confused by making them “see double”. Hobbs points out that religious images are mirrored, represent phantasms, and are therefore unreal (people confuse reflected images for reality under the church’s preaching). With that, professor concludes that despite the popularity of Locke’s version of separation, Hobbes’s model represents a more accurate description of the modern state, which has a monopoly over coercive power.

Following the lecture, the professor answered a few questions. One of the questions inquired whether Hobbes was a pagan or an atheist, as the former has a religious connotation while the latter does not. He explained that atheism is very unspecified as many people have falsely been flagged as something that they were not in reality. Hobbes may have been a classical pagan, but this is subject to debate; Hobbes was not necessarily going for unification or separation, but was talking about religion on the ground of politics.

Later in the day, DKU students in Barcelona had the opportunity to engage in a discussion regarding material presented in the lecture, but also in attendance was DKU’s Professor Rasoul Namazi who provided additional insight into the topic using his knowledge of Islamic and Western political thought. The students were able to present their own interpretation of the impact Religion has on the contemporary world, but also to discuss in smaller groups how Hobbes’s ideas are present in the world and how they reflect in social movements worldwide.

Professor Yelle concluded the discussion by expressing keen interest in coming to Duke Kunshan University once China starts welcoming visitors again, and the students thanked him for the arguments he had presented to them.

Student Report: Robert Yelle – Thomas Hobbes’s Radical Path to Secularization

This special lecture was part of “Religion and Politics” presented by the Humanities Research Center and the Division of Arts and Humanities, in collaboration with the Undergraduate Studies program.

Reported by Cody Schmidt, Class of 2025

Professor Robert Yelle, chair of religious studies at Ludwig-Maximillian University in Munich, Germany joined Duke Kunshan professors Rasoul Namazi and James Miller on September 26 to present a lecture based on his writing “Hobbes the Egyptian: The Return to Pharaoh, or the Ancient Roots of Secular Politics.” A question-and-answer session was held after the presentation. The lecture was the first of a two-part series hosted by Yelle, Namazi, and Miller titled Religion and Politics, with its follow-up being held later that afternoon.

In his lecture, he examined Hobbes’s ideas of secularization and the story of Pharaoh from the Bible. Yelle began with the frontispiece for Leviathan. The “Mortal God,” a ruler physically made of his subjects and holding a bishop’s staff in one hand and a sword in the other, is depicted as standing over his country, wielding the powers of church and state. Yelle argues that this “Mortal God” is a representation of the book’s namesake, the Leviathan, a sea monster that aided in Pharaoh’s oppression of the Hebrews.

“The Leviathan was armed with the many bodies of the citizens, their heads here appearing [in the frontispiece] as scales. [This] had become an appropriate epithet for a king or a leader of an army… Hobbes meant to invoke Pharoah and, in fact, if you just look at the Hebrew Bible, there are various places where a clear identification is made between Pharoah and the sea monster.”

During Hobbes’s time of the English Civil War, this religious image of the oppressive Leviathan and Pharaoh would be used to justify the revolutionary acts occurring, using the Exodus as parallel imagery for their war. Hobbes provides a critique and reversal of this justification, which Yelle explains was to reject such religious political revolution and embrace the philosophy of social contract theory with a ruling sovereign power.

“There’s a lot of use of the [Exodus] from Egypt motif in the 17th century in various sermons. It’s also used by royalists who reject the common complaint by puritans and Presbyterians that the monarch of England is behaving like Pharaoh as a tyrant… so this is all context for Hobbes’s choice of the title of Leviathan.”

Yelle further claimed that Hobbes himself was irreligious and wished to demythologize the Bible. Due to the highly religious environment and risk of persecution, Hobbes could not be explicit in his non-theism. He instead opted to include implicit messages in his writing and engage with ideas of Euhemerism, often through his contemporaries.

“His opinion on religion was anti-supernatural… Hobbes seems to have been reading the Bible, including the Exodus, as a form of veiled, or symbolic, or allegorical political history.”

Yelle ended his event by claiming China as a perfect example of a Hobbesian state, promising to return to DKU to further discuss this topic.

Student Report: Ascension 登楼叹 Q&A Session & Interview

Q&A session with Maggie Li
Reported by Zishuo Wu, Class of 2024

Tonight’s first screening in this academic year, Ascension (Kingdon, 2021) is an Oscar-nominated American documentary depicting class inequality in China. After screening the splendid realistic observational documentary, the producer of Ascension, Maggie Li, was invited to the Q&A session.

Maggie began this session by introducing her contribution to the documentary. “There exist two kinds of producers,” said Maggie, “the first kind invests money and contributes nothing else; the other kind works on every part of the production.” As a producer of the second kind, Maggie made sure everything in the movie was working — communicating with organizations, companies, and individuals about their appearance in the documentary, and proofreading the translation and edition made to the film. The production took four years in total, with almost everything done by only a team of three people, making the success of the documentary most unbelievable. She also shared that she was majoring in nano-science, though ended up working in filming industries.

Below is the Q&A session with Maggie Li:  Continue reading “Student Report: Ascension 登楼叹 Q&A Session & Interview”

Citizenship Lab Announces: “The role of citizens in lawmaking in China”

Humanities Research Center’s Citizenship Lab proudly funds Professor Annemieke van den Dool’s research project, The Role of Citizens in Lawmaking. 

Title: The role of citizens in lawmaking in China
Project members: Professor Annemieke van den Dool, Ph.D. (Public Policy) and UG student (TBD)

Project Summary:
Since the early 2000s, lawmakers in China have started to engage citizens in policy formulation through increased transparency, digitalization, and a formal public consultation procedure. The Legislation Law (2000) states that “Legislation should embody the people’s will … and guarantee that the people participate in legislative activities through various channels.” However, the question is to what extent the interests of citizens are indeed considered during lawmaking by the National People’s Congress.

To address this question, through qualitative content analysis of legislative records and case studies, this project analyses the extent to which NPC delegates draw attention to citizens and citizen concerns during lawmaking processes.

van den Dool, Annemieke
Annemieke van den Dool

Annemieke van den Dool is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Policy at Duke Kunshan University.

Citizenship Lab is Seeking a Research Assistant

HRC Citizenship Lab is seeking a Research Assistant for the Casa Río: Biocultural citizenship and soy extractivism from Argentina to China research project.

Research Assistant Job Description

Student Job Title: Research Assistant for The Citizenship Lab at the Humanities Research Center
Number of Students to Hire: 1 (open to students from any track)
Stipend: 40 RMB/hour
Workload: Project based, and up to 10hrs/week
Starting date: Immediately

Applications due by Oct 21, 2022, or until filled. Please submit CV and cover letter to Continue reading “Citizenship Lab is Seeking a Research Assistant”

Student Report: _ao_ao_ing (老妖精) Working Wonders on DKU Campus

Reported by Yongkun (Vicky) Wu, Class of 2026

Established in 2018, _ao_ao_ing (老妖精) is a Shanghai-based performance ensemble that is continuously morphing and finding its shape. With six core members from different disciplines and backgrounds, the ensemble uses contemporary experimental theatre as their main medium, but their creation also includes participatory performances, city walks, workshops, online interactive programs, and happenings, which revolve around strong action. _ao_ao_ing makes performances that juggles the line between theatre and everyday life and create real happenings that cannot be replicated. Continue reading “Student Report: _ao_ao_ing (老妖精) Working Wonders on DKU Campus”

A Quiet Farewell to DKU and Beauty Salon from the Artists in Residence

What’s up people? We have quietly bid farewell to DKU and Beauty Salon has finished its second installment at DKU, full of surprise and laughter. In the three days of its operation, we gathered at the living room in the name of art. Together we shared our stories, for example, choices of our favorite toilet on campus; we explored the definitions of art; we celebrated the birthday for a girl we just met; we knitted sweaters, played electric guitar, then we left the AB lobby and went to the square in front … Through this process we have understood that such a space for creativity and conviviality is not to be found elsewhere on campus; we have also seen the infinite potential this glass room now called “Beauty Salon” has brought and can bring, moving forward. We are asking: how can you continue to inhabit this artistic project and creative space after the so-called artists have left? Will “Beauty Salon” become an autonomous space continuously created and cared for by everyone, which will become an integral part of the DKU campus? Continue reading “A Quiet Farewell to DKU and Beauty Salon from the Artists in Residence”

Student Report: Superdeep #11: “Leo Strauss and Islamic Political Thought” (Rasoul Namazi)

Reported by Zishuo Wu, Class of 2024.

Professor Rasoul Namazi

Superdeep #11: “Leo Strauss and Islamic Political Thought” (Rasoul Namazi) September 22, 2022, 6pm.

The host of tonight’s Superdeep session, Prof. Nathan Hauthaler started this Superdeep session with a warm welcome and introduction towards Prof. Namazi, an intelligent and broadly knowledgeable Iranian educated in France. Prof. Namazi delivered this session based on his recently published book: Leo Strauss and Islamic Political Thought. He started his talk with a brief biography of the German-American philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973). Prof. Namazi highlighted Strauss’ experience in training many students during his scholarship career, especially at the University of Chicago (1949-1969). Continue reading “Student Report: Superdeep #11: “Leo Strauss and Islamic Political Thought” (Rasoul Namazi)”

Anthropocene XR Lab Calls for Projects: Student Hackathon

Open to all DKU students interested in XR (VR/AR) and environmental designs!

In teams of 2-3, submit your project proposals to get:

  • Funding: up to ¥ 5,000 per project
  • Equipment support: VR headset, AR glasses, etc.
  • Mentorship; indicate a DKU faculty mentor/seek mentorship from XR lab co-directors

Key Dates:

10 Oct 2022: Deadline for proposal submission
17 Oct 2022: Notification of acceptance
Nov-Dec 2022: Hackathon period Continue reading “Anthropocene XR Lab Calls for Projects: Student Hackathon”

Congratulations to Prof Hyun Jeong Ha and Student Researcher Jiin Kim for receiving Citizenship Lab’s Faculty-Student Research Collaboration Grant!

Humanities Research Center’s Citizenship Lab proudly announces recipients of the Faculty-Student Research Collaboration Grant: Professor Hyun Jeong Ha, Ph.D. (Sociology) and Jiin Kim (Undergraduate student researcher)

About the Research Project

Title: Dreaming of “Heavenly Citizenship”: Religious Conversion to Shincheonji (新天地) Among Korean Youths
Project members: Professor Hyun Jeong Ha, Ph.D. (Sociology) and Jiin Kim (Undergraduate student researcher)

Project Summary:
In February 2020, the average number of new COVID-19 cases in South Korea rapidly increased from less than one to hundreds per day. This fast increase at the very start of the spread of the virus in South Korea shocked the entire country. Korean media argued that this large-scale infection came from a new religious group called Shincheonji (新天地; New Heaven, New Earth). Since then, this group has been a target of major public blame and stigmatization, while its leader was imprisoned for over six months for not cooperating with the central government’s COVID-19 control policies. Continue reading “Congratulations to Prof Hyun Jeong Ha and Student Researcher Jiin Kim for receiving Citizenship Lab’s Faculty-Student Research Collaboration Grant!”