The Catholic University of America

July 16, 2012

Religious Studies Professor Teaches in China

  Guide Xinpu Li and Professor William Dinges in downtown Shanghai

Guide Xinpu Li and Professor William Dinges in downtown Shanghai

Professor William Dinges was climbing down a steep hill from the Basilica of Our Lady of She-Shan, located to the west of Shanghai’s metropolitan area, when he met a young priest who had studied philosophy at The Catholic University of America. Delighted to meet someone from CUA, Dinges stopped and chatted.

For Dinges, a first-time traveler to China who recently spent a week in Shanghai, other moments on the trip also stand out: dodging countless scooters and bicycles on the crowded streets of China’s largest city; walking through a park built during the Ming Dynasty; and explaining to Chinese professors and graduate students how religion functions in a free society.

Dinges, professor of religion and culture in Catholic University’s School of Theology and Religious Studies and a fellow in CUA’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, helped conduct a program on religion in American culture May 28 to June 2 for the Institute on American Society and Culture at the Center for American Studies at Shanghai’s Fudan University.

More than 20 faculty and doctoral candidates from various Chinese universities attended the weeklong program and received certificates for their participation.

“It was so interesting to talk with them,” says Dinges. “Few of them had a sense of how religion works in a free society such as ours. They were very curious to learn about the separation of church and state in America.”

Dinges teaches a class at Fudan University  

 Dinges teaches a class at Fudan University.


Partnered with Kenneth D. Wald, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of Florida, Dinges delivered lectures and led discussions on aspects of religion in America that included sociological trends, immigration, American exceptionalism (the theory that the United States is different from other countries because it has a specific world mission to spread liberty and democracy), political behavior, and non-governmental organizations, among other topics.

The program was sponsored by the U.S./China Education Trust, a Washington, D.C., area organization that promotes U.S.-China relations through education and exchange for next-generation leaders.

As part of the program, Dinges shared meals with the participants, which gave them a chance to talk about the differences between life in China and the United States.

The week included two excursions — one to the Basilica of Our Lady of She-Shan and another to downtown Shanghai, where Dinges and the University of Florida’s Wald had a walking tour with a young woman who shared her insights into the concerns and aspirations of Chinese young adults during what turned out to be a two-hour conversation at a Shanghai Starbucks .

Dinges says he was taken with the city’s outdoor markets and the Bund Promenade along the Huangpu River. He says the river area is a study in contrasts with buildings of different architectural styles including Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism, and Renaissance on one side and the “massive skyline of modern Shanghai” on the other.

“I feel very gifted to have had the opportunity to meet some wonderful and really interesting people and to help make the world a smaller place,” says Dinges. “As a professor, I’m then able to share the experience with my students at Catholic University. As a global Church with a global university system, these types of opportunities should be important to us.”


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