New course highlights two philosophical schools of China

By: Justin Worthing ~Staff Writer~

This semester, Xavier’s theology department has added a course focusing on the influence and relevance of Confucianism and Taoism, the two main philosophical schools of China. THEO 359, taught by Dr. Hsing-yi Kao, examines the two schools in their historical context and applies them to a variety of contemporary social issues.

The course, which Dr. Kao offered as a philosophy course last semester, begins by outlining themes of ancient Chinese civilization, followed by a look at the basic concepts of the religions. Students then study influential Confucian thinkers, such as Mencius and Confucius themselves.

Kao then guides students through the reading of Taoist works, specifically the Tao Te Ching and similar texts. During this portion of the class, students will study Taoist thinkers such as Laozi and Zhuangzi.

Throughout the course, students are challenged to apply what they learn to find new ways to think about social issues.

“We human beings nowadays think we are perfect on everything: scientific technology, industrial development,” Kao said. “But from a Taoist perspective, when we develop something the negative effect also develops… We really pride ourselves on saying we produce nuclear energy, which saves costs and brings convenience to our lives, but on the other hand we are living day after day under the threat of nuclear annihilation. So does that really qualify to be called progress?”

In some discussions, students apply Taoist thinking to our “contemporary materialistic” context, examining the role and purpose of civilization in light of classical Chinese thought.

Students will also study Neo-Confucianism and popular figures from this time such as Zhu Xi and Wang Yangming.

The course concludes with a discussion on whether or not Confucianism and Taoism can be called religions at all.

“In Confucian teaching, when I am in a religious ceremony I pay (complete) respect (to the Church), but when I am not I do not let those future (concerns) always bother me,…” Kao said. “Heaven in this context does not carry religious meaning. It is just an orderly world, a harmonious world, a respectful world.”