The Spirit of Space Exploration in China and the West 中西太空探索的精神

Duke Kunshan University Humanities Research Center is pleased to announce a call for proposals for a conference on “The Spirit of Space Exploration in China and the West,” to be held in person and virtually in Kunshan, Jiangsu, China, from June 6-8, 2024.


This conference will explore how ideas, characters, worldviews, and narratives from literary, cultural, and religious traditions engage with contemporary space exploration in China and the West. It will do so by inviting scholarly and creative contributions from a wide variety of disciplines, bringing humanities scholars, scientists and authors from China and the west in dialogue with each other.

The conference theme is located in the cutting-edge interdisciplinary field of astroculture, which aims to understand the cultural history of the space age (Geppert 2012). Though research on astroculture has mainly focused on America and Europe, there is a growing body of research on Russia as well. Much less has been done on China, despite its long history of cultural and scientific inquiry into outer space. Our conference aims to address this gap in our knowledge and to bring it into conversation with scholarship from the West.

Continued state funding for space exploration attests to the fact that the space race is much more than a display of technology or even a symbol of military superiority (Launius 2013). In the West, the quest to conquer the skies speaks of a more deeply rooted desire to rise up and encounter a divine Other in the heavens, and there has been a recent increase in attention paid to these religious aspects of astroculture. We understand well, for example, how Christian-inspired narratives have cast our planet as a fallen place from which to escape, or as a new frontier to be conquered. Such narratives deeply influence the rhetoric of space entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos (Rubenstein 2022). Scholars have also shown how the space race played an essential role in the formation of new religious movements such as Raelianism or Scientology.

Much less attention has been paid, however, to space programs beyond the West and their potential engagement with Asian cultural, religious, or philosophical traditions and contexts. What deeper cosmologies do China or India bring to space exploration? What values or ethical principles might guide Asian encounters with alien life? How should the world develop norms for making sense of the universe that do not propose to sacrifice or leave behind our planet in an environmental emergency? The globalization of space exploration demands the attention of scholars across disciplines and cultures to these and other related questions.

Keynote Speakers

Chen Qiufan

Chen Qiufan (aka Stanley Chan) is one of China’s leading science fiction authors, and a translator, creative producer, and curator. He is a Berggruen Institute Fellow and a Yale University research scholar, and  co-author, with former Google China president Kai-Fu Lee, of AI 2041: Ten Visions for our Future.

Jeffrey Kripal

Jeffrey Kripal holds the J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University. He is the author of many books, including Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion and The Serpent’s Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion. he is known worldwide as a leading theorist of religion, the paranormal, and the impossible.

Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Mary-Jane Rubenstein is a philosopher of science and religion and author, most notably, of Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race. Her work offers a vision of exploring space without reproducing the atrocities of earthly colonialism, and encourages stories that put cosmic caretaking over corporate profiteering.

Su Meng

Su Meng, founder and chief scientist of Origin Space is one of the world’s leading space scientists. Professor Su received his BSc from Peking University and his PhD in astrophysics from Harvard University. He received a Pappalardo fellowship from MIT, an Einstein fellowship from NASA (now part of the NASA Hubble Fellowship Program), and was the co-winner of the 2014 Bruno Rossi prize for high-energy astrophysics for the discovery of the bubble structure of the Milky Way.

Paper Topics

We welcome papers on a range of topics including, but not limited to:

  • The religious, philosophical, or cultural imagination of space scientists and astronauts in China and elsewhere
  • Science fiction imaginations of space futures in China and the West
  • Aliens and/as Asians 
  • Traditional Asian thought and culture, and  implications for planetary civilization and astroculture. 
  • Artistic interventions relating to the themes of the conference


The conference will take place in English.


Please send a proposed paper title, 200-word abstract, and a brief biography to <>  by December 31, 2023. Please indicate whether you aim to attend in person or remotely. Decisions will be made by January 31, 2004. 


We encourage scholars to attend in person if they are able. Kunshan borders Shanghai and Suzhou and is easily accessible by airport and high speed train. All local expenses in China will be covered, but we are unable to fund travel. Please contact the organizers for further information about travel. 


At the end of the conference we will discuss the possibility of publishing revised versions of the conference papers in a special issue of a journal or in an edited book. 


Please contact James Miller <> or Ben Van Overmeire <> if you have any questions.