Scholar speaks on Chinese culture

Trevor Ivan

International scholar Dr. Ken Pomeranz speaks to a history class in Satterfield Hall yesterday. The event was sponsored by Phi Beta Kappa.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Kenneth Pomeranz, a scholar who visited campus on Monday and yesterday, spoke to students about topics ranging from the role of religion in Chinese history to the effects of European colonization in the 19th century.

Pomeranz, a history professor from the University of California, Irvine, lectured to several classes while on campus. He also gave a public talk on Monday evening.

His visit was sponsored by Kent State’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. Daniel Holm, professor of geology and president of Kent State’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, said there was a broad appeal in selecting Pomeranz to come to campus.

Pomeranz said many people in Western society often view the Chinese practices on issues like religion as being backward.

“There is a tendency to see our monotheistic system as a higher form of evolution in terms of religion,” Pomeranz said. “However, these other religions are very sophisticated.”

People in China often go to a shaman for healing when they are ill. “By going to a shaman when they are sick, people are dealing with the emotional and psychological side of their illness that medicine doesn’t cover,” Pomeranz said.

He said it’s common for people in China to go to a doctor for a prescription and to a shaman for spiritual healing.

Western society has had different attitudes about Chinese religion throughout history, Pomeranz said.

He said there is less emphasis on salvation in China. Religion is viewed as means of manipulating the gods to work in one’s favor.

“Religious rituals were a mean of talking to the other realm,” Pomeranz said. “People used whichever rituals they thought the gods wanted to hear in that in particular situation.”

Pomeranz said many in the West find it odd that Chinese also practice several religions simultaneously.

Pomeranz compared the use of different religious rituals for different situations to a person using different languages to address different people.

“If you speak English, and you address your aged grandmother in Polish, I wouldn’t assume that you don’t believe in English,” he said. “Religious rituals, like languages, fit different situations.”

Religion in China changed with the impact of the market economy, Pomeranz said. Through the years, the image of the god of wealth has changed to suit peoples’ attitudes.

Pomeranz said people in the United States tend to place religion in a separate box than government and the economy. This isn’t true in China.

“Religion in China tends to bleed over into other aspects of society,” he said. “This is not a better or worse way to live than we do. It’s simply different.”

Religion is not necessarily a simple reflection of society, Pomeranz said.

“As Chinese history progressed, people started praying to female deities,” he said. “This doesn’t necessarily mean that women were given an equal role in society.”

Many students reacted well to material Pomeranz presented, Holm said.

“Faculty and students were extremely enthusiastic about his presentations,” Holm said. “His topics were very interesting and appealed to a wide variety of students.”

Contact honors and international affairs reporter Trevor Ivan at [email protected].