China, social ethics and the European Enlightenment

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract / Description of output

This chapter recognises Professor Stanley’s global perspectives and pathbreaking work on the Enlightenment and missions by offering an account of Chinese influences in the making of the European Enlightenment. Europe’s growing awareness of Chinese moral thought and culture, as conveyed through the translations and commentaries of the Jesuit missionaries, played a significant role in shaping the European Enlightenment. Many early modern thinkers came to admire China as an ancient, orderly, stable and humane society, but with a social ethic that had developed independently of Christian influence. For centuries, Europeans had believed that Christianity formed the only truly sound basis for individual and social morality. But the growing European knowledge about China’s ancient culture suggested there were other possibilities and this helped to open up new religious and ethical perspectives, including an appreciation for other world faiths and for what world religions shared in common. Some European thinkers became convinced that China’s ancient social ethics could provide a model for Europe, a notion that profoundly influenced the emerging European Enlightenment. The chapter explores China and the European Enlightenment with particular attention to recent scholarly interpretations of the mainstream religious Enlightenment – a religious Enlightenment which, as Professor Stanley has shown, would have an important role in shaping the nineteenth-century Christian mission movement.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEcumenism and Independency in World Christianity
Subtitle of host publicationHistorical Studies in Honour of Brian Stanley
EditorsAlexander Chow, Emma Wild-Wood
Place of PublicationLeiden
ISBN (Electronic)9789004437548
ISBN (Print)9789004437531
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2020

Publication series

NameTheology and Mission in World Christianity


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