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Negotiating Tolerance: Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Researching Religion in China

Naomi Thurston


Just as G. E. Lessing criticized what he saw as the narrowmindedness of his contemporaries by creating characters that exemplified a morally enlightened rationalism, religious studies scholars in contemporary China have helped instruct and reshape uninformed or generalizing attitudes towards religion in Chinese society. Reflecting on Lessing’s literary case for religious tolerance, the present article discusses different understandings of the nature and significance of religion in the field of so-called “Sino-Christian studies” (汉语基督教研究 Hanyu Jidujiao yanjiu). It demonstrates how religious and “theological tolerance” are variously understood depending on the stances, approaches, and constructions of meaning of individual scholars, influenced, in one way or another, by Western Enlightenment thought.

Keywords Sino-Christian studies, Sino-Christian theology, religious studies in China, theological tolerance, G. E. Lessing, Zhuo Xingping, Yang Huilin, He Guanghu

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