Expanding the Boundaries of Theological Education in China

October 28, 2016

Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry is beginning a major new initiative in the nation of China. This summer, Dr. Tito Cruz, Associate Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry, travelled to China with Dr. Kan Liang, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Science, as part of a generous new endowed program to promote the study of Chinese Christianity, and the support of Chinese Christian students.

Through the generosity of Fred Brandauer and Marie Materi, the fund seeks to build and strengthen theological education for Chinese students, and supports the education and formation of students, scholars, and ministers who are devoted to the cultivation of Chinese Christianity. Long-time friends of the school, Fred is a son of Chinese missionaries. He has been a lifelong student of the Chinese language and Chinese culture, and his wife, Marie, is a three-time graduate of Seattle University. Her first degree in theology and ministry was granted in 1976, through a theology and ministry degree program that eventually matured into the founding of the School of Theology and Ministry in 1997.

Seattle University is dedicated to holistic education and forming professionals and leaders “for a just and humane world.” As a faith-inspired, top-tier academic institution, the School of Theology and Ministry’s pursuit of partnerships with Chinese institutions through this September trip will allow students at the school and in China to have a better understanding of religion from a more global and culturally conscious way.  “We are seeking to continue developing a curriculum that includes perspectives and approaches to education that takes all of us beyond the ways we are most comfortable and familiar” Dr. Cruz said about the trip.  “By being in relationship with Chinese Christians, all of us can deepen our understanding of Christianity as a global reality.” He stresses the importance of critical reflection and participation, rather than simply theological tourism, urging that it is not just about unilateral giving or receiving but a reciprocal exchange of ideas, experiences, and ways of embodying the Christian faith.

Over the course of two weeks, Drs. Cruz and Liang travelled to Shanghai, Nanjing, Beijing, and Dailan developing relationships with academic institutions and Christian communities like the China Christian Council, Catholic Diocese of Shanghai, Fudan University, Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, and the Beijing Center. They met with a variety of academics and community leaders to explore potential partnerships and imagine a collaborative effort for mutual exchange of scholarship, training, and learning.  At Fudan University, one of the most prestigious universities in China, they collaborated with faculty from the Master Program for Chinese Religious Studies in English, a new program that seeks to train students in the field of Chinese religions.  

“Fred and Marie have been long-time supporters of the School of Theology and Ministry,” Dean Mark Markuly said. “Their passion for Chinese Christianity is marked by years of hosting Chinese scholars when Fred taught at the University of Washington. Several years ago, they also funded the translation of a school certificate program, Scripture and Leadership Training, into Mandarin, and one of our faculty overseeing the translation and cultural adaptation, Dr. Sharon Callahan, culminated the project by taking the program to China for free distribution across the continent.

“Fred and Marie have always provided the kinds of consistent and transformative gifts that can truly create new types of breakthroughs in ministerial education,” Dean Markuly said. “Their gift will allow for us to begin building student and faculty exchange programs and will help us to educate our students to become true students and citizens of the world.”

Fred and Marie created the China Friendship endowment in honor of Fred’s parents, the Reverend Doctor Frederick W. Brandauer and Grace A. Brandauer, who served as Protestant missionaries for many years in China and later in Indonesia. The deep commitment of Fred and Marie to the future of the Christian faith in mainland China is the foundation of more than 30 years of work and dedication to the cultivation and advancement of the Chinese Christian Church throughout the world. Fred and Marie’s generosity in establishing and endowing the China Friendship Fund has now amounted to the largest planned gift to the School of Theology and Ministry in its history.

Learning about Christianity in China, a minority religion there, requires learning about other religions and philosophies in relation to Chinese culture and context, because Chinese Christianity is influenced by other traditions such as Islam and Confucianism.  It also differs socially, culturally, and historically from various forms of Christianity found in dominant US culture and religion.  For Dr. Cruz, visiting several Chinese cities and communities brought “hope and new possibilities.”

“It is difficult to study Christianity while staying in our own context,” recognizes Dr. Cruz. He views the possibility of mutual partnerships in China as an opportunity to “enrich our students and all institutions involved.”

The School of Theology and Ministry is grateful to Fred Brandauer and Marie Materi for their generosity, passion, and commitment that have made this endeavor possible. Describing the unusually pristine weather during the trip, Dr. Cruz says he was left with a sense of profound joy and looks forward to the ways in which this project will expand the boundaries of theological education.