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·Lv Daji

Lu Daji, male, Han nationality, born in September, 1931, is a native of Da County, Sichuan Province and a member of the Communist Party of China. In 1957, he graduated from the department of philosophy, Peking University as a graduate student. He is researcher and PhD student advisor with the Institute of World Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, consultant wit the Chinese Society of Religion. His academic expertise is the study of religion. Since 1991, he has enjoyed a special allowance awarded by the State Council.


A Religion Expert from Daba Mountain


Xiao Yan (hereafter referred to as Xiao): Nice to meet you, Mr Lu! Mr Lu is the founder of religious studies and a famous religion expert in China was judged as an honored department commissary by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences recently. As a scholar respected by collegues and fellows, we really want to know something about your thinking and life, could you talk about your hometown first?

Lv Daji (hereafter referred to as Xiao): You have mentioned that I’m a founder of Chinese religion, so do others. You flatter me. As a matter of fact, I’m probably an explorer of Chinese religion.

My hometown is Dihe Village, Da County, Sichuan, surrounded by mountains at the south of Daba Mountain and adjoined by the Ba River. My hometown has green mountains and rivers as well as beautiful scenery. There were less than 10 families in Dihe Villiage before liberation. It is far away from towns and cities, so it is difficult to bring modern culture into a far-away mountain. Villagers in Dihe Villiage live a natural life. To be specific, they plough, weave clothes, respect heaven and fate and they are very superstitious.

      Xiao: It seems that everything comes into being because of a sage. But no one has noticed that such a famous scholar who devotes himself to philosophy and religion, promoting reasonable enlightenment and criticizing faith was born in such a remote village. How did your family influence your academic career?

      Lv: My father was an out-and-out villager, but he learnt the ‘Three Characteristics’ and ‘A Collection of Surnames’, so he knew characters well and sent his boys to school each in turn. However, it was only me who went to senior high school. When I was young, I used to be naughty but liked reading books, especially literature and history. In my childhood, I liked novels about swordsman the most. I was deeply moved by the attributes of martial actors, such as sincerity, sacrificing, helping and righteousness, which have affected my life and thinking unconsciously.

      Interest is the best tutor. At that time, whenever I found books, I would read them voraciously. I could remember most of the books that I read in my childhood and retold the content to adults and friends. In my hometown, my relatives thought that I was a talented boy. Actually, I seldom read textbooks but novels at that time. They had no idea about the differences between textbooks and novels that they saw me reading, so they believed I was a good learner. It is generally held that a good child is good because of lots of praise. Probably, it was their unrealistic praise and encouragement that made me a learner in my mind.

      Xiao: Since you are capable of changing yourself from a childish mountain boy to a world-famous expert and scholar, you must have had a lot of experiences. I’ve heard that you like climbing mountains very much and have organized other scholars to climb mountains. Is that true? What makes you like climbing mountains so much?

      Lv: (He smiled.) There are mountains and rivers in my hometown, so I show special preference to them. When I am free, I used to going swimming and mountain climbing. I am famous for liking mountains and rivers in my circle and my friends describe as “whenever I see a mountain, I must climb it; whenever I see a river, I must swim in it’. My friends in Qing Hua University, China People’s University and Min Zu University of China and I organized a mountain-climbing team and we will climb mountains together every week. When we climb mountains, we usually talk of everything under the sun and enjoy nature. We were not only getting exercise but also understanding life through climbing mountains. When we climb to the top of mountains, we feel immersed in nature. We could not only understand ‘the huge universe and abundant species’ among high mountains and lofty peaks, but also open our mind to enjoy life and experience the joy of being a winner for climbing to the top of mountains. How wonderful it is! In my opinion, it is necessary to hold the spirit while climbing mountains, that is, sticking to it and climbing to the top. Actually, it is necessary to hold such spirit while learning and doing other business!

      Xiao: As the old saying goes: “A sage likes mountains and a human likes mountains”. A sage should be moral at first before he writes. Considering your preference for mountains and rivers, we can find clues to some questions. From your words, we could experience that learning could be compared with climbing mountains. As you climb higher and higher, it becomes more difficult, so you should stick to it. In other words, learning is just like climbing mountains: as you move forward, it becomes higher.


Studious Thinking: Attempt and Exploration of Philosophy Study


      Xiao: As is known to all, you have studied two fields, namely, philosophy and religion. When did you commence your philosophy study?

      Lv: At the end of 1949, when the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army emancipated the southwest part of China, I had just finished senior high school. I was 18 years old. I began to receive a ‘new trend of thought’ when I was in junior high school, so I hated the despotism and corruption of the Nationalist Party and longed for a free and equal society. As long as Da County was liberated, I packed up my bag and walked for miles to study in Chuan Bei Peoples Revolution University. In other words, I was running to ‘take part in revolution’. The chairman was Hu Yaobang, director of Chuan Bei Administration Department. The school was there for students to learn Marxism-Leninism, reform our views on life and foster revolution officers. At the beginning of the establishment of the new China, young officers longed to learn Marxism-Leninism. During this period, I fostered the interest and habit of learning theories.

      At the age of 22, I came to Beijing alone in 1953 and studied at the Philosophy Department of Peking University. Then, I began the first turning point of my academic career. The Chinese Communist Party started the first five year plan from 1953 to 1957, during which we began to reconstruct China and commenced the golden times of the entire academy and culture education. The Philosophy Department of Peking University in 1953 was the only Philosophy Department left after adjusting all the schools of higher education. Almost all the famous philosophers and philosophy professors gathered there, like Feng Youlan, Xiong Shili, Jin Yuelin, He Lin, Hong Qian, Zhang Dainian, Zhu Guangqian, Zong Baihua, etc. These great masters wrote works or even taught themselves in the Philosophy Department. At that time, the Philosophy Department was the crown of Peking University, or even a pearl on the crown. Academic study and level in the Philosophy Department was in a period of great prosperity at that time.

      Xiao: You were so lucky that you could study in Peking University at that time, receive the leading education of philosophy and experience the instructions of these great masters. Are these related to your great achievements in the fields of philosophy and religion?

      Lv: As it were, I could learn from them, receive new thinking and learn freely. It is because of the study during that period that I had a solid base in philosophy and held relatively scientific thinking on Marxism. Since then, I questioned all the Marxism textbooks copied from the Soviet Union in our school and believed that there were traces of dogmatism and culture factions. I believe Marxism is a continuously developing and open system and a real Marxist shall not only quote expressions but also cite new views together with new thinking and achievements to propel Marxism.

      Xiao: Did you begin to publish academic papers when you were in school? I have read your academic papers published during your school time, such as, ‘A Question upon Ontology of Wang Chong’, ‘About the Essence of Agnostic’, etc., which aroused great attention in academic circles at that time. Your precise arguments, accurate interpretation and incisive analyses are still excellent academic works which are praised and admired by the fellows.

      Lv: They are just exercises! I began to publish several academic articles on ‘Philosophy Research’, ‘Guang Ming Daily’, etc. since Grade 3 in university, on which I announced my views on some important and sensitive problems of philosophy and philosophy history and discussed or argued with some famous scholars.

      Xiao: I’ve read some introductions that you published ‘Criticism on Barclay Subjective Idealism’ during your school time, which possesses important academic value. You have achieved a favorable academic level in interpreting the philosophy spirit of Barclay, using related materials, managing the strictness of logic arguments, etc. Up to now, this passage is still praised by scholars in China who focused on Barclay.

      Lv: I wrote ‘Criticism on Barclay Subjective Idealism’ when I was in Grade 3 in Peking University. In the 1956 Anniversary Dissertation Competition of Peking University, famous philosophers like Hong Qian, Zhen Xin, etc. thought highly of this paper which was recommended to be published in ‘Philosophy Research’ and I won the first prize in this competition.

     Xiao: At that time, it was quite rare for an undergraduate to publish his article concerning philosophy on ‘Philosophy Research’ which was the sole philosophy journal in China. Could you introduce this academic paper?

      Lv: As a matter of fact, I am not afraid of anything like newborn calves. Nonetheless, I began my academic career from Barclay philosophy indeed and gradually started to focus on British Empiricism of the 17 to 18 century. I remember that Tilly, a famous philosopher, said that: “There is no philosopher who can deeply influence the spirit and system of human beings other than Locke”. In my opinion, Chinese nowadays should know more about Locke. In 1957, I chose the philosophy of Locke as the title of my thesis paper. Since then, I have studied and written about the philosophy of Locke for a long time.

      Xiao: Among your published philosophy papers and works, ‘Research of Locke’s Transitivity’ is the most influential. What creative views did you mention in this book?

      Lv: I began to teach in Minzu University of China after graduation. After teaching, I continued to study philosophy and philosophy history and published several papers. I finished the first draft of ‘Research of Locke’s Transitivity’ in 1963, but I couldn’t publish it due to political reasons. I couldn’t hand in the first draft to the China Social Sciences Publishing House for publication after the ‘Great Cultural Revolution’.

      The philosophers in China at that time believed the arguments of the Soviet Union and held that the theory of primary and secondary qualities of Locke were a kind of mechanism and metaphysics. The secondary quality, which denies the existence of color, sound and odor, is subjective idealism which is against Barclay philosophy. I published several long articles successively, denounced the majority and argued with the so-called authentic views. The arguments concerned Locke philosophy, the entire history of western philosophy and a series of questions about natural philosophy, ontology, etc. In this important debate, I proposed a set of important theoretical questions about philosophy and philosophy history, developed new views and offered new answers. For instance, I believe that the so-called statement that Locke denies the existence of the secondary quality is a great misunderstanding. Locke holds that the secondary quality is the ability of feeling (color, sound and odor) caused by the reformation of the primary quality in objects rather than real feelings. Locke doesn’t deny the existence of ability and always holds that subjective feeling is based on it.

      Xiao: At that time, your surprising thinking and views must have impacted the academic field.

      Lv: Many statements in this book relate to the foundation of philosophy. However, in the field of philosophy from the 1960s to 1970s during which Marxism was regarded as the authentic one, these statements broke the closed thinking and promoted the research and development of philosophy theories. Certainly, my concept was not perfect or even right. Many young scholars who explored philosophy after 1978 were very excited and interested in these statements. At that time, some of them came to me to discuss all kinds of philosophical questions aroused by my statements.

      Xiao: It is certain that different scholars must have held different opinions on your views and thinking about Locke philosophy and its extended views. However, the scholars who study Locke philosophy and western philosophy till now could not surmount your achievements or conclusions. 

      Lv: Actually, philosophers approve of my achievements about Locke philosophy and they gradually accepted that my statements about the secondary quality of Locke philosophy are undisputed science, that is, we can feel color, sound and odor from real objects.


Innovation of Theories: Exploration and Cultivation of Religious Studies


      Xiao: It is very difficult for someone to achieve a lot in one field, but you have achieved compelling achievements in the fields of philosophy and religion. When did you start to study religion?

      Lv: I was transferred to the Institute of World Religions after the ‘Great Cultural Revolution’ in 1975. It was another turning point in my life and academic career. Since then, I began to study religions rather than philosophy or philosophical history.

      When I first worked in the Institute of World Religions, I mainly studied Marxism view of religion, atheistic history and history of religions in the framework of the history of western philosophy. I published a series of papers stating humanism, pantheism, mechanical materialism as well as the views of religions and antitheism of Descartes, Hobbesian, Locke, Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc. Along with the development of religious studies, I believe the studies of religion, which could not be summarized by philosophy and antitheism, is an unmeasured branch. As early as the second half of the 19th century, western scholars had already split the studies of religion from philosophy or theology and developed it into an independent subject. Since then, the studies of religion have been equipped with its research objects and research methods. For several decades, we have only talked about antitheism, regarded the western studies of religion as ‘capitalist pseudoscience’ and had no idea about the development of western studies of religion for hundreds of years. Therefore, if we want to build Chinese studies of religion and research the studies of religion, we should accumulate basic materials first, grasp basic knowledge and set up basic theories. At that time, there were lots of young and middle-aged scholars working in the Institute of World Religions. They published and translated more than 30 kinds of religious works in a few years, ended the closed study of religion and opened academic views in the study of religion.

      In 1979, I was the editor of ‘The Religion Views of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin’ which collected and sorted out the statements of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. In the meantime, this book classified their basic thoughts about religious theories. This classification laid a foundation for the basic framework of Marxism religious theories. This book is the first academic monograph which displays the comprehensive religion theories of Marxism after the establishment of the new China and it is also the first book published after the establishment of the Institute of World Religions.

      Xiao: Referring to you academic achievements, we could recall your book ‘The Studies of Religious Theories’ published in 1990. You proposed ‘four religious elements’ in this book, the thoughts of which have already been adopted by academics. Mr Mu Zhongjian mentioned in the preface: “‘The Studies of Religious Theories’, a ground breaking work in the history of religious studies, is the first masterpiece in the entire system of religious studies and is an epoch-making landmark”. Your deceased predecessor, Luo Zhufeng, also said: “this book is a milestone in religious studies in China’. Meanwhile, some scholars also proposed that the setup of ‘four religious elements’ marks the establishment of religious studies in China. At that time, some famous newspapers and magazines such as the ‘Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’, ‘Philosophy Research’, ‘Guang Ming Daily’, ‘etc. also announced long comments about it and thought highly of it. What do you think of the status and significance of ‘four religious elements’ in the studies of religion in China?

      Lv: This book was the achievement of ‘6.5’ Important Project of National Philosophy Social Sciences —‘Outline of Religious Studies’ in the 1980s. I proposed ‘four religious elements’ in this book for the first time, holding that religion was a social and cultural system composed of religious concept, experience, action and structure. It signifies two aspects. Firstly, it proclaims the nature and basic content of religion and distinguishes religion from non-religion. Secondly, ‘four religious elements’ and its level structure provide theoretical bases for the classification of religion and construction of religious categories. Thirdly, it also reflects the conformity between the logic order of four religious categories and the history of religion’s occurrence and development. It is the basic theory to explain the entire religious phenomenon.

      Xiao: A friend told me that ‘The Studies of Religious Theories (New Edition)’ was the primary choice to learn about religion. In my opinion, his comments were too absolute, but they in turn showed the importance of this book. I have read this book carefully and the profound thoughts, extensive content and rigorous logic have left a deep impression on me. Can we say that basing the ‘The Studies of Religious Theories’, ‘New Edition’ promotes and develops religious theories greatly? Compared with ‘The Studies of Religious Theories’, what are the basic features and main contributions of the ‘New Edition’?

      Lv: Whatever you are studying, it is definitely impossible to read one book. I believe the contributions of the ‘New Edition’ could probably be summarized in three ways. Firstly, this book insists on the instruction of Marxism and analyzes the applications of historical materialism in religious studies practically and realistically. As for me, it is not appropriate for Marx and Engels to apply historical materialism in analyzing the entire social and historical phenomenon. Nevertheless, the basic thoughts of Marxism historical materialism (like social existence and social consciousness, economic base and superstructure as well as class struggle and class analysis) are of scientific and widespread instructive significance to explain the nature and functions of ideology and all types of cultural forms including religion. Secondly, I have proposed the principles – ‘Academia needs reasons and belief needs tolerance’ for the theories and methods of religious studies. I insist on reasonable thoughts in studying religion, promote tolerance of different suggestions or religious beliefs and encourage free academic speech so as to enable traditional religions or culture to adapt to the changing world and promote prosperity. At last, the most distinguishing feature of the ‘New Edition’ or its basic thoughts is to perfect ‘four religious elements’ and conduct these elements as the basic principles to explain the entire religious phenomenon.

      Xiao: Gong Xuezeng once said in: “‘The Studies of Religious Theories (New Edition)’ was the supreme theory achievement of Lu Daji who has devoted himself to studying religion for more than 20 years.” “‘Four religious elements’, as the principle, has penetrated deep in to this book.” What do you think of these comments? Three important books embody your achievements in promoting the studies of religion and developing religious theories, they are, ‘The Studies of Religious Theories’, ‘The Studies of Religious Theories (New Edition)’ and ‘Outline of Religious Studies’. In my opinion, the publication of these three books symbolises that your studies of religion have come to a stage of systemic summarization and deepening. These three books sell well in mainland China and Taiwan with many versions. Many universities and Research Institutes in mainland China and Taiwan regard the ‘New Edition)’ and ‘Outline of Religious Studies’ as teaching materials and necessary books. Many famous young and middle-aged scholars claimed that they grew up reading your books. It can be said that your works have cultivated a generation.

      Lv: ‘The Studies of Religious Theories’ is the product of many people. Due to the different cognition of each writer, ‘The Studies of Religious Theories’ could not cover the principles of ‘four religious elements’. In my opinion, ‘four religious elements’ is the epistemology and methodology to analyze all kinds of religious phenomenon and recognize all types of religious problems, including the nature and structure of religious phenomenon, the production & development of religion, the functions of religion as the social and cultural form in social life and development of history, etc. In other words, ‘four religious elements’ is the basic principle to explain the entire religious phenomenon and it is of general significance. Therefore, ‘four religious elements’ ran through this book.

Entrusted by the Higher Education Press 5 years later, I was asked to write and publish ‘The Outline of Religious Studies’ on the basis of ‘The Studies of Religious Theories (New Edition)’ at the end of 2003. This book compresses the contents of ‘The Studies of Religious Theories’ and ‘(New Edition)’, the content of which is more concise. Other scholars supplemented some chapters to perfect the system of this book.

Xiao: In 2005, the ‘Chinese Religions and Chinese Cultures (Four Volumes)’ that you charged with compiling was published. This book is an excellent achievement reviewed by our country was brought into the National Library of Social Sciences Fund’s Results and received academic praise. It is generally believed that this book is a masterpiece which is elaborately designed, demonstrated and studied. The relationship between religion and culture is always a hot topic among scholars. During the construction of culture, people care more about what part religion plays in culture and moral construction and its functions. It can be said that the project you were charged with is the first thorough and systematical discussion of a question in China’s academic history, so it is of great significance. What do you think of the important issue you have finished?

Lv: As a matter of fact, the relationship between religion and culture is a general concern. Generally speaking, there are some critics who dig into the theories systematically. ‘Chinese Religions and Chinese Cultures’ focuses on the studies of theory and history. It mainly probes the basic theories concerning the relationship between religion and culture and discusses the relationship between religion and philosophy, ethics, literature & art, folklore, politics and nation. It clearly sketches the history of the interaction between Chinese religions and traditional cultures from the historical perspective of Chinese religion and culture history. Four achievements of this important issue were obtained through the cooperation and efforts of some famous scholars (Yu Dunkang, Mu Zhongjian and Zhang Jian) and I.

      Xiao: Referring to the important issues you have hosted, I must mention ‘The Collection of Original Religious Materials of Each Nation in China. It is said that you have organized more than 100 religious scholars and folklore experts in China to collect, investigate and systematically sort out the original materials of each nation in China so as to complete this important issue. After 10 years of painstaking effort you completed this masterpiece of 6 volumes and 8 millions words. Famous folklore scholars, Mr Yang Kun and Mr He Xingliang, wrote a monograph to praise this book and held that ‘it pains for the moment and gains for the millennia’. Could you introduce this book briefly?

Lv: This collection is the achievement of the National Philosophy and Social Sciences’ key project which is hosted by Mr He Xiaohua and me. It is a large-scale collection of materials concerning academic studies. The collection is composed of 6 volumes with 1 volume for archeology and another 5 volumes for 27 nations. It is a large-scale on going academic project. Except for the 6 volumes, we continue to write other volumes about 10 nations or more which will be published in the near future.

This collection is mainly about the large-scale and broadened materials of original religions believed by each nation in China down the ages. The collected materials mainly come from four sources: field research, discovery from archeology, records of literature together with academic works. The publication of this collection guarantees the thinking and historical data for scholars to study the religion and culture of each nation in China and further boosts the research of original religion and culture of each nation in China.

Xiao: What’s your favorite proverb during your academic study?

Lv: I think highly of Max Mttlleb’s saying – ‘He who knows one knows one.’ I think his saying surmounts religion and can be applied to each academic field. As for the scholar who studies philosophy, if he isn’t aware of the nature, significance and interrelationship of each philosophy faction and he is only familiar with one kind of philosophy, he knows nothing of philosophy indeed. If he studies religions but knows nothing of its history, he knows none indeed.

Xiao: You first studied western philosophy. When you turned to study religions, are you studying western philosophy as well?

Lv: Sure. As a matter of fact, I had been studying the history of western religions before I started to study and write ‘The Studies of Religious Theories’. But ‘The History of Western Religious Studies’ was published in 1995 which was later than when ‘The Studies of Religious Theories’ was published. This book gathers my thoughts about western philosophy and religious studies over several decades. It mainly introduces the formation and development of religious thinking of each faction from the ancient Greeks to the first half of the 20th century and it also covers the subfields of modern religious studies, including religious anthropology, religious sociology, religious psychology, religious philosophy, etc.

This book, as the first exploration, is a relatively systematic masterpiece concerning religions in China. The history of western religious studies is as vast as the sea. There are thousands of scholars, a large number of masterpieces and different theories of different factions, which are interrelated and the relationship of which is very complicated. While dealing with these objects and texts, it is very difficult for one person to find out or straighten out their history. My exploration is preliminary, so more efforts are necessary to be taken.

I have expressed myself in the preface of the first version of this book. I would like to read my words here: “According to the materials and research status in China at present, we should admit that it is too early for us to found the history of western religious studies into an independent subject and compile ‘The History of Western Religious Studies’. But if there’s a target, there shall be someone to pave the way. We shall lay the road step by step and build the bridges one by one, so there must be someone to move it forward. My book is also like a toddler. He might not step forward firmly, sometimes staggering and sometimes zigzagging, but he’s moving to our final target. Along with the maturity of religious scholars, improvement of status together with accumulation of knowledge and experience, the childhood of religious studies in China and the history of western religious studies will turn into a young adult. By then, walking in childhood will be accepted as a precious trial.”


Theoretical Thinking: Ardent Messages to the Young Scholars


Xiao: Could you say something to the young scholars?

Lv: Young scholars becoming mature in the golden period of Chinese history are the future and hope of academia in China. A harmonious and stable environment is necessary for the development of China and its academics. I was very grateful to go to university from 1953 to 1957 because this period was the most stable and peaceful in Chinese political life. I was thankful to read some books during this period so as to prepare for the future research of philosophy and religious studies. I should have thought actively and created academic works vigorously after 1957. Unfortunately, we were dragged into the long-term political struggles and could not carry out true academic studies for nearly 20 years. However, contemporary young scholars are living in an open society, they can receive all types of new ideas or thinking and they are able to perform academic studies, so they should create more and contributes more to the prosperity of Chinese academia. We have only laid the foundations and became cleaners sweeping the base. It is the young generation’s responsibility to construct buildings on this basis.

At that time we went along a tortuous road to carry out academic study, but you don’t have to. We should learn Russian rather than English after the establishment of the new China. I learnt English all by myself. I could only read books and translate some words rather than listen and speak. It’s a great pity that I haven’t learnt English well in my academic career. You are good at English and your knowledge is very abundant, so you should surpass our generation.

The studies of religion, an interdisciplinary and comprehensive discipline, need abundant knowledge. If you are only familiar with one religion, you know none. Only if you are aware of different religions and compare different religions to find out specific rules and relations among different religions, could you study specific religions, in which abundant knowledge of religious history is necessary.

But if you want to teach religious studies, it is not enough to know the history of religious studies. Now, more and more people begin to study religious history whereas less and less people study theories.

Religion, a part of society, is affected by all. Only if you know the basic knowledge of folklore, culture, politics, moral, etc., could you carry out deep studies. However, it is impossible to form a theory system without philosophical theories, so philosophy knowledge is the base of academia. If authors know little of philosophy, they could not write masterpieces. Generally speaking, great authors are also great thinkers. If philosophy is a food, others are flowers. Humanists and religious studies experts should understand a lot about philosophy.

      Academic interest is important as well. If you want to choose a research subject, you should be interested in it. If you are not interested, do not ask yourself to study it. After setting the target, you should insist on it and move forward towards your target. Extensive reading, hardwork research and thorough thinking contribute to excellent academic achievements, just like climbing to the top of mountains.

      What I have said are my academic opinions which might not apply to others. My words are only to be used as a reference to young scholars. It is certain that there are universalities among academic research, but they function through different features of different scholars. Hopefully, the young generation could select their direction and target of academic studies so as to make their own choices.


      Translated by Feng Weijiang.


Editor: Wang Daohang

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