Institute hosts faculty seminar on U.S.-China relations
Before the spread of COVID-19 halted the Institute for Freedom & Community’s spring lecture series on U.S.-China Relations, St. Olaf College faculty and staff met to engage in interdisciplinary discussions on China today under Xi Jinping. As the seminar leader, Professor of Religion and Philosophy and Morrison Family Director of the Institute for Freedom and Community Edmund Santurri worked to help the group delve deep into questions, compare perspectives, and share disagreements and insights related to this complex topic over the course of three Fridays in February.
The conversation was guided by the assigned reading material — The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State by Elizabeth Economy, as well as several supplementary articles. Santurri selected Economy’s book as a focal point for the seminar because it covers a wide range of topics that invite free inquiry — everything from environmental sustainability and economic growth to internet freedom and censorship to political authoritarianism and political dissent.
Director of the Piper Center for Vocation and Career Leslie Moore ’77Reading the chosen books and articles and sharing in the discussion was invaluable, and I am grateful for the care that went into choosing the topics and for the thoughtful commentary of my faculty colleagues.
While the seminar included a core of Chinese and Asian studies specialists, faculty and staff participants hailed from a wide range of departments and some came into the discussions with little to no knowledge of contemporary China. The intention of the seminar was not to convene a committee of U.S.-China relations experts, but to instead bring together a robustly interdisciplinary group interested in exploring the subject from a range of perspectives.
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Ed Langerak found Economy’s book very informative and helpful, and was especially pleased with the discussion amongst his peers. “I really appreciated having my comments received respectfully and my (sometimes naive) questions answered knowledgeably,” he says.
Many participants benefited from the opportunity to learn more from their peers. “We have wonderful faculty with deep expertise on China, and having the chance to hear their views and discuss our ideas with them was such a plus,” says Director of the Piper Center for Vocation and Career Leslie Moore ’77. “Reading the chosen books and articles and sharing in the discussion was invaluable, and I am grateful for the care that went into choosing the topics and for the thoughtful commentary of my faculty colleagues.”
Associate Professor of Asian Studies Ka WongThese days everyone has something to say about China and its role on the world stage, especially during this time of global pandemic. The seminar offered a rare and rewarding opportunity for raising questions, sharing concerns, and expressing different opinions.
Assistant Professor of Biology and Education Emily Mohl felt similarly. “I am not at all an expert on China, and I found it very revealing to be part of these discussions with people who are,” she says. “They helped me to identify places where common biases about Asia surfaced in the readings we discussed and helped me to be a more critical consumer of information.”
For those seminar participants who do happen to be experts on China, the seminar proved just as impactful. “I appreciated the opportunity to discuss U.S.-China relations with faculty from across the college in different disciplines, particularly given the increasing tension between the Trump-Xi administrations,” says Assistant Professor of History and Asian Studies Stephanie Montgomery.
These sentiments were echoed by Associate Professor of Asian Studies Ka Wong, who was grateful for the opportunity to listen, discuss, and reflect. “These days everyone has something to say about China and its role on the world stage, especially during this time of global pandemic,” notes Wong. “The seminar offered a rare and rewarding opportunity for raising questions, sharing concerns, and expressing different opinions.”
These types of conversations are the essence of the Institute’s mission. Established at St. Olaf in 2014, the Institute for Freedom and Community encourages free inquiry and meaningful debate of important political and social issues. The faculty seminar is sponsored by the Institute and was part of the Institute’s general spring program on U.S.-China relations. Seminar participants were able to explore the topic further after the seminar ended by attending “Pandemics, China, and the Coronavirus” with historian John M. Barry and “China: Big Data, AI, and Privacy” with Jeffrey Ding, Joy Dantong Ma, and Xiao Qiang.
Although the spread of COVID-19 prompted the cancelation of two Institute events this spring — “U.S.-China Relations Today” with guest speakers Elizabeth Economy and Evan Osnos and “Freedom and Coercion in China” with guest speakers Sheena Greitens and Minxin Pei, Santurri hopes that the seminar situated participants well to continue fostering constructive dialogue as a means to explore the topic of U.S.-China relations.
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The Institute is currently looking to reschedule the guest speakers whose events were unfortunately canceled because of COVID-19.