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For Calvin philosophy professor Kelly Clark, it began on a lark. “I wanted to go to the exotic country of China, and our department was looking for a university in China to partner with,” Clark says.

“I had a friend at Xiamen University, so I set up an exchange with Xiamen in 1998.” Clark went to China, along with another Calvin philosopher, to teach Christian philosophy to Chinese graduate students.

Clark had no idea that the visit would expand into many cross-cultural seminars and courses and $5.4 million in grants from the John Templeton Foundation to help bring the study of philosophy from a Christian perspective to China.

Why such interest?

“Intellectuals in China are eager to find frameworks for managing the rise of capitalism,” explained Joel Carpenter, director of the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin College.

Since his first trip, Clark has been part of Calvin’s efforts, in partnership with the Society of Christian Philosophers, to teach Western philosophy in China from a Christian perspective—and also to learn about China, the world’s oldest continuing civilization. Over time, nearly every Calvin philosophy professor has been to China, some more than once.

In efforts funded since 2007 with help from a $2 million Templeton grant, Chinese scholars have come to study at Calvin and other Christian institutions, North American philosophers have taught and held seminars at Chinese universities, and thousands of Western philosophy texts have been placed in Chinese university libraries.

Now Calvin will be expanding its work with help of a three-year, $3.4 million Templeton grant to the Nagel Institute. The grant allows for the formation of “Values and Virtues in Contemporary China,” a program with three emphases.

The first, “Evolution and Ethics,” explores the question of whether morality can exist in a godless universe.

The second, “The Foundations of Morality,” builds upon the first, Clark said. “We will look at various natural and supernatural accounts of the foundations of morality and assess their adequacy.”

The third component, “Creating Character,” Clark said, will be especially crucial. “How do you teach or train people to be virtuous?” he said.

The new grant will also help Calvin put on conferences that focus on the art and craft of teaching. “Chinese professors long to be more creative teachers,” said Clark.

Clark is grateful that the grant also allows Calvin to offer scholarly opportunities to former students of the exchange programs, which will help him and others stay connected to Chinese scholars. “Since relationships are as or more important as information, we work hard to continue relationship building,” he said.

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