restricted access Process Pluralism: Chinese Thought on the Harmony of Diversity by Zhihe Wang (review)
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Process Pluralism: Chinese Thought on the Harmony of Diversity. Zhihe Wang. Ontos Verlag Process Thought series, edited by Nicholas Rescher, Johanna Seibt, and Michel Weber. Frankfurt: Ontos Verlag, 2012. Distributed in the U.S. by Transactions Books, Rutgers University. 221pp. with index and bibliography. $125 cloth.

Zhihe Wang (Wang Zhihe in Chinese order) is the primary mover of process thought in China today. While John B. Cobb Jr. and David Griffin are poster scholars of the movement, it is Wang who makes things happen, from the Process Academies to international conferences on topics ranging from ecological civilization to education. At my last count, there were six “Whitehead Wisdom Education Kindergartens” in Beijing.

While Wang Zhihe has contributed to three other books in the Ontos Verlag Process Thought series, this is his first monograph there, and it is a valuable contribution. While I want to survey the flow of the book, it is the concluding chapters that I think especially warrant our attention, for that is where we get Wang’s presentation of “Chinese Harmonism,” which connects with but moves beyond (and is much older than) the specifics of modern process thinking.

Process Pluralism begins with a historical survey of the road toward religious pluralism, followed by chapters on John Hick and Mark Heim. In contrast to Hick, process thinkers refuse to reduce diverse religions to a common essence. They deny that all religions are really responding to and seeking union with a single transcendent Real. They share Heim’s insistence on the particularity of each religious tradition. But they do not share what Wang sees as Heim’s inclination to isolate religions and to retain an Evangelical tendency toward exclusivism.

Wang explores the contribution of process thinking to discussions of religious pluralism under five general headings: “The Importance of Panexperientialism and Hardcore Common Sense”; “The Primacy of Internal Relations”; “Affirming Uniqueness without Exclusivism”; “Linking Religion and Justice”; and “Moving beyond Binary Thinking” (105–25). With reference to Whitehead’s distinction between creativity and God, he examines the ways in which process thinkers like Cobb have put forth the idea that there can be more than one ultimate with which people in different traditions seek harmony. The Buddhist goal of emptiness is closely connected with creativity, while the Abrahamic traditions seek union with a loving God. These are both legitimate but irreducibly different journeys, both of which can nurture compassion and creative [End Page 186] transformation. Chapter 4 examines in more detail the specifics of Cobb’s efforts to affirm the unique contributions of Christianity while respecting the genuine diversity and particularity of other religions, and Griffin’s exploration of the link between supernaturalism and exclusivism. I came away better informed about and more appreciative of Cobb’s contribution in particular.

The real gem in this book, however, is Wang’s own constructive contribution in chapters 5 and 6. I was deeply impressed by what he has to offer us here and commend it to your reading even if you feel like you know the literature well enough to skip the previous chapters.

The Chinese harmonism proposed here reflects the long history in which Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism have coexisted with and cross-fertilized each other in China. Granted times of conflict, the overall history seems to be one of deep harmonism. Wang draws on this history to argue that Chinese people have learned to approach religious diversity very differently from most Westerners, and that we can learn a great deal from the habits of thought Chinese people have developed.

Wang opens his presentation of Chinese harmonism by affirming that process thinking, in a deep sense much older than the modern process movement, is essential to Chinese traditions. “Process thinking has deeply influenced Chinese people’s way of thinking and way of living” (155). He coins the term harmonism partly to replace terms like pluralism and syncretism, which he considers inadequate to the depth of the Chinese tradition. By harmonism, he means “the activity of human beings as they open their hearts and minds to different religious traditions and hold them together in a unified and sympathetic appreciation. The traditions then become harmonized in their minds and...