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Chinese Religions and Ecology (Barnhill)

Course Title Chinese Religions and Ecology
Religion 206
   
Instructor(s)

David Barnhill
Professor of Religious Studies
Guilford College

   
Discipline

Religion

   
Subject(s)

Asian Religions; Ecology; Cultural Studies

   
Pedagogical Level

Undergraduate

   
Date

Spring 2000

   
Presentation

Guilford College

   
Overview

Course Description
This course is an advanced introduction to two Chinese religions: Taoism and Neo-Confucianism. We will be specifically concerned with their views regarding cosmology, the philosophy of nature, and the ideal relationship to nature. We will also examine the implications of these views for contemporary ecological thought. This course is listed as an introductory course because I assume that students have no knowledge of Chinese religious thought or ecological philosophy. It is listed as an advanced course because the subject and the workload is challenging and not normally suitable for first year students.

This course serves several functions in our curriculum.

  1. The course serves as an introduction to Chinese religions, and thus counts toward the Religious Studies major.

  2. The course examines Chinese views of nature, considers their implications for contemporary environmental philosophy, and encourages students to deepen and refine their own views of nature. As such, it counts toward the Environmental Studies Major and concentration.

  3. The course enables students to understand Chinese views of nature. As such, it can count toward an International Studies major with an East Asia focus.

  4. Students think analytically, critically, and constructively about major Chinese ideas and values by looking at sophisticated written texts. Students also use the Chinese perspective and ecological issues to engage in self-reflection and build their own views of self, nature, society, and the sacred. Thus it satisfies the Humanities Area of study requirement in our general education curriculum.

  5. The course enables students to understand Chinese views and values that have shaped the lives of people in those areas, and it involves students in comparisons between China and the West. As such, it can satisfy the Intercultural requirement.

  6. The course explores Chinese views of environmental responsibility through the use of analytical frameworks. In light of those views, it critiques contemporary ideologies about the natural world and considers possible positive alternatives for our culture. Thus it can satisfy the Social Justice/Environmental Responsibility requirement.


Note on Course

This course can be used to satisfy either the Intercultural or the Social Justice/Environmental Responsibility requirement, not both. It can satisfy the humanities area of study requirement and either the Intercultural or the Social Justice/Environmental Responsibility requirement.

This course is a writing course. Students will write papers in an intensive way, with peer editing and revision for each major paper, with reference to a handbook on good writing. There also will be alternative forms of writing (e.g., extended definitions and precis). It is also a discussion course. Instead of lectures, students read texts before coming to class so we spend our time in active discussion of the material.


Course Objectives

  1. Content
    To introduce Chinese views of nature. The goal is not to survey the full spectrum of the Chinese views but to examine in some depth three of the greatest Chinese thinkers in order to understand something of the complexity and subtlety of religious thought in China.

  2. Issues
    To clarify and discuss certain issues in ecological thought that are central to contemporary discussion of nature and our relationship to it.

  3. Skills
  1. To study these subjects in a way that develops the quality of your thinking, especially the ability to think analytically, critically, and constructively.
  2. To develop a student’s ability to write with clarity, correctness, incisiveness, and vigor through the composition and revision of different types of papers.
  3. To develop student ability to speak, listen, and question in an effective manner through the use of class discussions, small discussion groups, and peer editing groups.
  4. To develop skills in cooperative learning through group discussions and peer editing.

Note
We will analyze and discuss the nature and process of these skills.

 

Guilford’s Five Principles

  1. Innovative, Student-Centered Learning
    This course is a discussion based course rather than a lecture course. Students read material before coming to class and critically discuss the views and issues involved. Discussions will be held both as a full-class sessions and in small-group formats. In addition, students will also act as peer editors. Approximately 20% the grade concerns student participation in class discussion. The ultimate focus of the class is not the reception of knowledge but the development of student’s thinking and of their own views.

  2. Creative and Critical Thinking
    The entire course is focused on active, critical thinking, with students analyzing assumptions and implications and critically evaluate Chinese views of nature and environmental ethics.

  3. Cultural and Global Perspectives
    The course is intercultural in its examination of an Asian religion. We will consider comparisons between Chinese and Western thought concerning nature and environmental ethics.

  4. Values
    The course emphasizes the question of value, particularly the value placed on nature and environmental ethics.

  5. Practical Application
    The course does not directly involve practical application in the sense of students doing work outside of the classroom. However, the course is directly concerned with the nature and development of ecological values that affect our lives individually and socially. The fundamental issue of the class is not theory-building but answering the question: How should we as individuals and as a culture live in relationship to the natural world?
   
Format

The course is divided into four parts:

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Taoism and Ecological Thought
Part 3: Neo-Confucianism and Ecological Thought
Part 4: Concluding Reflections on the Relevance of Neo-Confucianism Today

   
Prerequisites

None listed

   
Requirements

The Social Justice/Environmental Responsibility Requirement
This course satisfies Guilford’s requirement that all students take a course dealing with either social justice or environmental responsibility (or both). This course focuses primarily on environmental responsibility, but the views analyzed are relevant to social issues as well. “Justice” is a problematic concept in the Chinese context, for it is a Western construction that does not work well with traditional Chinese ideas. For the Chinese, we are not, as the Western tradition would say, separate individuals with personal freedom and also moral obligations to be just to others. We are much more like members of a family-a family that includes the natural world-in which we are defined by our “interresponsibility” to each other. This view follows from Chinese views of the self, society, and nature. Thus all through the course the issue of responsibility is central, with a focus of how Chinese views of interrelationships have direct relevance to notions of environmental (and social) responsibility.

In discussing environmental and social issues, the focus of this course is on religious ideologies, primarily traditional Chinese ideologies about nature, the self, and responsibility, but with a comparative interest in Western ideologies. The tendency in the course (as in most scholarly literature on the subject) is to recognize that Chinese traditional values are implicitly critical of contemporary social institutions, structures, and power relations. Contemporary society is directly antithetical to Chinese ideals of the sage and ideas about nature and society. However, we also examine how and why these ideals and ideas have failed to keep China from degrading its own environment, and students consider how Western thinkers would critique Chinese views.

While this critical aspect is important, the central emphasis of this course is to examine ideologies that empower people, enhance life, sustain the environment, and explore and evaluate possible methods of actively pursuing change at the personal, social, and/or institutional levels. The course is continually asking the question: if we (as individuals and as a culture) conceived of nature this way and had these values, what effects would that have on our relationship with the environment? In most cases (but not all), the effect of adapting Chinese views would enhance life and sustain the environment. Ironically, it would both disempower and empower people, because for Chinese religions our notion of personal, willful power is at the core of our degradation of the environment. In fact it is actually not a form of power at all, for we are trapped by our desires, fears, and will. Freedom and power comes from will-less spontaneity that accords with the flow of nature and the loss of self that bonds us with the natural world. We examine the traditional Chinese religious methods for cultivating this different mode of experiencing nature. We will also discuss what form such methods would take if we as individuals or a society were to try to adapt them to our contemporary culture.

Course Assignments

Critical Readings Notebook
10%
Tests
Paper on One Chapter of the Tao Te Ching
10%
Paper on Taoism and Ecology
5%
Paper on Neo-Confucianism and Ecology
25%
Final Exam
25%
Discussion
10%
Co-curricular Events
15%
  1. Critical Readings Notebook
    Responses to articles: study questions, “eight tasks,” and precis.

  2. Tests
    Short answer identification and mini-essay definition tests on Taoism and Neo-Confucianism.

  3. Paper on One Chapter of the Tao Te Ching
    A 3 page paper.

  4. Paper on Taoism and Ecology
    A 7–9 page paper on a selected issue that critically applies Taoism to ecological issues.

  5. Paper on Neo-Confucianism and Ecology
    An 7–9 page paper on a selected issue that critically applies Neo-Confucianism to ecological issues.

  6. Final Exam
    Group oral final exam concerning the validity and relevance of Chinese thought to ecological issues.

  7. Discussion
    Preparation for and participation in class discussion.

  8. Co-curricular Events
    Students are required to attend a few co-curricular events related to East Asia and the environment. These will be announced during the semester.


Note on Percentages of Projects in Grading

All percentages are approximate and based on contribution to the final grade.

Note on Assignment Due Dates
Because papers will be peer edited, you must hand in the papers at the beginning of class on the due date. If the first paper is turned in after the beginning of class, it will be marked down one mark (e. g., B- to C+) per day. A late final paper will be marked down one full letter grade per day. Do not miss class in order to work on your paper. In order to pass the course, all assignments must be handed in.

   
Evaluation

Attendance and Participation
Both because of the difficult nature of the material and the importance of class discussion, regular attendance is crucial to all concerned. Students will be allowed two absences due to circumstances other than illness [bring a note for the illness]. Each subsequent absence will result in a reduction of the final grade one mark (e. g., B- to C+) per absence. Three absences for any reason before midterm, and five absences for any reason before the end of the course will result in removal from the class. Absences on days when a paper is due or there is peer editing will count double. Classes missed on account of athletic contests do not count as absences due to illness. Students on academic probation are not allowed any unexcused absences. If you miss a class, it is your responsbility to check with other students about information and handouts on the day you missed-assignments can change. Because the classroom is small, tardiness is a significant distraction and discourtesy. Students arriving after role will receive a tardy mark; those arriving over ten minutes late will receive two. Three tardy marks equal one absence. If you come in after roll, be sure to tell me immediately after class so you are not marked absent.

   
Texts

Required Texts

Barnhill, David. “Responding to the Universe: Chinese Views of
Nature” (photocopied manuscript).

Barnhill, David. “Handbook on Skills” (photocopied manuscript).

Callicott, J. Baird, and Roger T. Ames, eds. Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought: Essays in Environmental Philosophy (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1989).

Chan, Wing-tsit. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963).

Lunsford and Connors. Easy Writer (Guilford’s writing resource book).

Tucker, Mary Evelyn, and John Berthrong. Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998).

Watson, Burton trans., Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings (New York,
Columbia University Press, 1964).

 
Schedule

Part 1: Introduction

Jan 12

Introduction to the Course

Jan 17

Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday
Assigned Due

  • Attend one MLK Event and Reflect on Connections to and Implications for Environmental Responsibility.
Jan 19

Introduction to Ecology
Assigned Reading

  • Barnhill, “Chinese Views” Ch 1: “Basic Principles of Scientific Ecology.”
Assignments Due
  • Reflections on Social Justice and Environmental Responsibility
Jan 21

Introduction to Ecological Philosophy
Assigned Reading

  • Barnhill, “Chinese Views” Ch 2: “Introduction to Ecological Philosophy”
Jan 24

Introduction to the Cosmological Implications of Ecology
Assigned Reading

  • Callicott, “The Metaphysical Implications of Ecology,” in Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought, 51–66.
  • Hargrove, “Foreword,” in Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought, xiii-xxi.
Assignments Due
  • Study Questions Due
  • Quiz on Scientific Ecology
Jan 26

Introduction to Asian Religions and Ecological Thought
Assigned Reading

  • Callicott and Ames, “Introduction: The Asian Traditions as a Conceptual Resource for Environmental Philosophy,” in Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought, 1–17 (note: this is not the whole chapter).
  • Tu, Wei-Ming. “The Continuity of Being: Chinese Visions of Nature,” in Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought, 67–78.
Assignments Due
  • Study Questions Due
 

Part 2: Taoism and Ecological Thought

Jan 31

Early Chinese Cosmology
Assigned Reading

  • Barnhill, “Chinese Views,” Ch 3: “Early Chinese Cosmology.”
  • Chan, Source Book, 244–50, 262–70, introductions to Chs 14–19.
Assignments Due
  • Quiz on Ecological Philosophy
  • Hand in Critical Reading Notebook
Feb 2

The Tao Te Ching
Assigned Reading

  • Barnhill, “Chinese Views,” Ch 4: “Tao-te-Ching.”
Feb 7

The Tao Te Ching
Assigned Reading

  • Chan, Source Book, 136–76.
Feb 9

Chuang Tzu
Assigned Reading

  • Barnhill, “Chinese Views,” Ch 5: “Chuang Tzu.”
  • Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, 23–45 (recommended: 1–22).
Feb 14

Chuang Tzu
Assigned Reading

  • Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, 46–72.
Assignments Due
  • Paper on a Chapter of the Tao Te Ching Due
Feb 16

Chuang Tzu
Assigned Reading

  • Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, 96–130.
Feb 21

Taoism and Ecological Thought
Assigned Reading

  • **Kinsley, “Chinese Religions: Ecological Themes,” in Ecology and Religion: Ecological Spirituality in Cross-Cultural Perspective, 68–83.
  • **Ip, Po-Keung, “‘Taoism and the Foundations of Environmental Ethics,” in Environmental Ethics: Divergence and Convergence, 539–45.
Assignments Due
  • Study Questions Due
Feb 23

Taoism and Ecological Thought
Assigned Reading

  • Hall, David L., “On Seeking a Change of Environment,” in Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought, 99–112.
Assignments Due
  • Study Questions Due on Reading
Feb 28

Taoism and Ecological Thought
Assigned Reading

  • Ames, “Putting the Te Back into Taoism,” in Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought, 113–44.
Assignments Due
  • Study Questions Due (also consult notes on the article included after the study questions).
  • Hand in Critical Reading Notebooks
Mar 1

Discussion of the Validity and Relevance of Taoism
Assignments Due

  • Taoism Exam
 

Part 3: Neoconfucianism and Ecological Thought

Mar 13

Classical Confucianism and Ecology
Assigned Reading

  • Barnhill, “Chinese Views,” “Classical Confucianism” (appendix).
  • Ivanhoe, “Early Confucianism and Environmental Ethics,” in Confucianism and Ecology, 59–76.
Assignments Due
  • Precis of Article (rather than the study questions)
  • Prewriting on Paper 2 Due (at the beginning of the class)
Mar 15

Buddhism and Early Neo-Confucianism
Assigned Reading

  • Barnhill, “Chinese Views,” “Buddhism” (appendix).
  • Barnhill, “Chinese Views,” Ch 6: “Early Neo-Confucianism.”
  • Chan, Source Book, 95–96, 107–110, 460–65; 495–500; 518–523; 544–47.
Mar 20

Chu His
Assigned Reading

  • Barnhill, “Chinese Views,” Ch 7: “Chu his.”
Assignments Due
  • Paper on Taoism and Ecology Due (at beginning of the class)
Mar 22

Peer Editing for Taoism Paper
Assignments Due

  • Read Peer’s Paper
Mar 27

Chu His
Assigned Reading

  • Chan, Source Book, 588–653.
Mar 29

Chu His
Assigned Reading

  • **Munro, “The Mirror and the Body: Internal Knowledge and External Embodiment,” in Images of Human Nature: A Sung Portrait.
Assignments Due
  • Study Questions Due
Apr 3

Neo-Confucianism and Ecology
Assigned Reading

  • Adler, “Response and Responsibility,” in Confucianism and Ecology, 123–50.
Assignments Due
  • Study Questions Due
  • Revision of Paper on Taoism and Ecology Due
  • Critical Reading Notebook Due
Apr 5

Neo-Confucianism and Ecology
Assigned Reading

  • Tucker, “The Philosophy of Ch’i as an Ecological Cosmology,” in Confucianism and Ecology, 187–210.
Assignments Due
  • Eight Tasks (rather than the study questions)
Apr 10

Neo-Confucianism and Ecology
Assigned Reading

  • Kalton, “Extending the Neo-Confucian Tradition,” in Confucianism and Ecology, 77–100.
Assignments Due
  • Eight Tasks (rather than the study questions)
  • Prewriting on Paper 2 Due
 

Part 4: Concluding Reflections on the Relevance of Neo-Confucianism Today

Apr 12

Cross Cultural Studies of Religion and Ecology: Are They Valid?
Assigned Reading

  • Larson, “‘Conceptual Resources’ in South Asia for ’Environmental Ethics,’“ in Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought, 267–77.
Assignments Due
  • Eight Tasks (rather than the study questions)
Apr 17

Discussion of the Relevance of Applying Neo-Confucianism to Ecological Issues

Assignments Due

  • Paper on Neo-Confucianism and Ecology Due
Apr 19

Peer Editing

Assignments Due

  • Read Peer’s Papers
Apr 25

Concluding Reflections
Assigned Reading

  • Taylor, “Companionship with the World, Confucianism and Ecology, 49–56 (this is only part of the article).
  • de Bary, “‘Think Globally, Act Locally,’“ Confucianism and Ecology, 23–36.
Assignments Due
  • Precis of Article
Critical Reading Notebook Due
  • Neo-Confucianism Exam

**Reading on Reserve

Notes

  • Reading Assignments are to be read before coming to class
  • Revision of Second Paper Due First Day of Finals Week, 9 am
  • Group oral final on the relevance of Chinese thought to environmental issues

 

Copyright © 2000 David Barnhill.
Reprinted with permission.
The author retains all copyrights for all syllabi materials.
Please contact each author individually for reprint rights.