The Catholic University of America

June 19, 2012

Politics Professor Honored in China

  Claes Ryn

Claes Ryn was named an honorary professor during a ceremony at Beijing Normal University.

Claes Ryn, professor of politics, was named an honorary professor during a ceremony at Beijing Normal University (BNU) in China last month.

The honor was bestowed during a May 18 ceremony at BNU, which is approximately the same size as the University of Maryland and ranked fourth academically in China, according to Ryn. About half of its students are master’s or doctoral candidates.

At that ceremony, Ryn helped launch a new humanities institute at the Chinese university. He also gave several lectures there during a two-week stay.

The new institute will collaborate with the National Humanities Institute (NHI), co-founded by Ryn and his former CUA graduate student Joseph Baldacchino in 1984 and of which Ryn is currently chair. NHI, which is based in Washington, D.C., promotes research, publishing, and teaching in the humanities and produces the journal Humanitas, of which Ryn is co-editor.

The Chinese institute will promote an understanding of the best of Western and Chinese culture, according to Ryn. NHI is expected to advise and collaborate with the institute on its activities.

Ryn — whose research interests include ethics and politics, politics and culture, and the history of Western political thought — has a history with China. He has made six visits to the country since the late 1990s. Ryn says he first became aware of Chinese interest in his work when scholars there began contacting him.

In 1999, he made his first trip to China when he was invited to a meeting of the Chinese Comparative Literature Association in Chengdu. He spoke about the challenge of cultural multiplicity and the way to harmony in diversity. He also gave concluding plenary remarks about the future needs of cultural studies.

In 2000, Ryn was invited to Peking University to give the Distinguished Foreign Scholar Lectures. He spoke about the moral and cultural preconditions of respectful relations among persons, peoples, and cultures. This lecture series was published as a book by Peking University Press in 2001 under the title Unity Through Diversity. Since then, he has returned four times to China at the invitation of academic institutions. Three of his books and many of his journal articles have been translated into Chinese.

Ryn says current circumstances in China may help explain why leading intellectuals in that country consider his research important.

“China is undergoing dramatic change,” he explains. “Communism is fading from the scene even though the Communist Party insists on retaining political control. Many Chinese intellectuals are wondering whether the country’s future might incorporate more traditional ways.

Claes Ryn  
Ryn, right, helps unveil the new Humanities Institute at BNU.


“One of my longstanding academic interests is precisely how traditional civilizations can creatively adapt their heritage to new historical circumstances. Also appealing to Chinese intellectuals is that I’ve always put a strong emphasis on the moral dimension of social life and the centrality of culture in shaping the future.”

Ryn says he sees the possibility for trouble as China rises as a global power.

“One of my worries, which I expressed in my lectures series at Peking in 2000, is the danger that, without proper attention to the moral and cultural requirements for peace, the world might in a few decades face a horrendous cataclysm,” he explains. “Only genuinely civilized people showing real restraint and respecting their counterparts in other societies will be able to avert eventual conflict. This problem is as great in the West as in the East.”

During his time in China, Ryn has developed relationships with many Chinese academics, including Zhang Yuan, the executive director of the new Humanities Institute at BNU.

Zhang’s doctoral dissertation at Peking University, which Ryn says were inspired by his ideas in the Distinguished Foreign Scholar Lectures in 2000, won her a national academic prize in China. That prize gave her an opportunity to go anywhere in the world to do further research. She elected to come to CUA last fall to be a visiting scholar with Ryn.

“Yuan is a leading representative of a Chinese movement that wishes to re-introduce traditional Chinese ideas in new form as China develops its identity after Communism,” Ryn says. “Chinese intellectuals are interested in my having developed a philosophy of how the best of human history helps articulate moral universality in the present.”

Ryn — who is working on a book about the need to rethink the meaning of morality, not least in politics — expects to return to China thanks to interest in his ideas and collaboration between NHI and the Humanities Institute at BNU.



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