I was surprised by the invitation from the United Board for Christian Higher Education to participate in the Institute for Advanced Study on Asian Cultures and Theologies (IASACT), 1 June to 6 July 2013 at the Chung Chi College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). For sure, it happened after I have some e-mails back and forth for application and paper abstract that will be my main agenda during the program. I would say it little bit hard since I am doing my second preliminary paper that must be submitted at the end of July. So, I must accomplish two papers for about 5 weeks.
During the first week we have introductory session when each participant shared his/her biography one another. This session is guided by Dr Hope Antone (project manager) and Dr Avron Boretz (Dean of IASACT) and opening worship led by Rev. Prof. Lung-Kwong Lo, Director of Divinity School of Chung Chi College, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. The participants are divided into two groups mentored by Prof. Eugene Eung-Chung Park (a biblical scholar of San Francisco Theological Seminary, California) and Prof. Bonita Aleaz (a social scientist at University of Calcutta, India). I was listed to the group of Eugene.
In the following days the participants presented their brief paper proposals that will be written during 5 weeks mentored by the professors. My colleagues come from India (Ebenezar [male] and Alemla [female]), South Korea (Un Chu Kim [female]), Philippines (Robert [male] and Nelly [female]), Myanmar (Awng Li [male]), Thailand (Kajornpat [male]), Mainland China (Jun Zhang [male] and Tali Duan [female]), Taiwan (Paul [male]), and Indonesia (Steve [male] and Sri, Siska, Tabita [females]). They have various academic backgrounds and have been serving as lecturer at university. It was amazing when I listen to their presentation which demonstrates variety of disciplines they had (theology, psychology, political science, philosophy, education, sociology, philology, development studies, and religious studies). The day after brief proposal presentation we had consultation time with mentors to sharpen our insights and determine specific objectives as we got from the first seminar. Mostly mentors suggested us to narrow down the scope of paper in order to reach the IASACT’s goal by which the scholars can produce an academic article for 5 five-week individual working in Hong Kong. Well, for the following weeks, reading and writing will become our routine to construct ideas step by step and put them into the paper.
Every day seminar has been arranged as presentation of the paper’s draft and received critical comments from other participants and mentors. I learned very much about many issues that conveyed by participants and mentors through their critical comments, humble opinions and suggestions. They brought out their different perspectives in seeing themes which are presented and then we were engaging in very constructive conversations. I will be the last presenter on 2 July and am preparing the paper entitles “Agama Ambon: Negotiating Religious Identity, Local Culture and Modernity in Maluku’s History”. This paper actually is my preliminary study on religious phenomena (especially Islam) in Ambon Island. I really hope that some parts of my research here will enrich the paper as part of dissertation research project although still needs improvement on some basic structure of ideas.
However, IASACT 2013 is not merely about academic conversation. As we are Asian who come from different countries in Asia, we also shared different living experiences in the student dormitory. Males resided on second floor and females on fourth floor of Theology Building. We are using English as communicative language one another but, you know, we also have unique pronunciation which is a typical Asian-English. Sometime I need few seconds to get understanding what my other colleagues talk about. I do not know about the females group on fourth floor but we on the second floor try to build communicative fellowship since the first day we stayed in the dormitory. We walked together to student canteen for lunch or dinner, made fellowship conversation about carrier, family at home, food preferences, political situation in Asia, sharing meals, taking time to shopping, and jogging.
The spirit of fellowship among us as Asian scholars brings about the quality of IASACT as a distinguished academic atmosphere ever I attended. We exercise our scholarship not only in high level academic discourse but also in our warm daily activities. It makes our relationship more become a family-like rather than scholars who are rigidly pursuing individual academic targets. I am writing this on the last week of IASACT 2013. I personally will miss this academic fellowship of IASACT 2013 when go back home on 6 July. One thing that I have got during the IASACT 2013 is that we are now engaging in an Asian scholarship networking. It promises that we are going to share Asian spirit and academic perspectives for strengthening our struggle deal with humanitarian issues in Asia, encouraging our theological understanding to be more open for Asian cultures as resources for doing theology contextually and practically, and developing Asian cultures as new humane civilization for Asian as well as global society now and future.
25 June 2013
Theology Building 202
Chung Chi College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong