University of Leiden Ecole Pratique des Hauies Etudes, Paris
The question before us appeared to me to imply: can a change in society cause a change in science? That could only be the case if and when the field of investigation had undergone a major mutation. One could argue that society is indeed the primal field of investigation for the science of religions and that a change in society, that is: in its culture, might provoke a change in the basic tenets on which this science was based. I am not sure whether this highly theoretical question was actually on the minds of the organizers of the present symposium, as in the theme description we see that the approach is qualified in more circumstantial terms: not only the fundamentals of Science of Religion are being questioned, the way different countries allow this science nowadays to develop is also being investigated.1 This in itself is a worthwhile topic. Let us be happy that in today's world research on religious phenomena is allowed and exists at all, even if in some cases we should say 'still exist', in others: 'exist again', or, as in the case of China, 'exist for the first time'. Even if these endeavours remain forever modest, they are all the more noteworthy and deserving when measured against the forces which oppose them, again, for instance, in China.
In this contribution, I shall therefore first say something about these endeavours, describe how the scientific study of religion in China came into being, what it actually represents, and what it has accomplished so far. Cogently, this, and perhaps in an unexpected way, will also oblige me to address, somewhere towards the end of this paper, the more fundamental question put before us: to what extent does the present Chinese situation oblige us to revise some of
1 See the introduction by Wiegers to the present volume.