Student puts faith into studies

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 January, 2007, 12:00am

Growing fundamentalism in his church led one man to reconcile his doubts and tensions through the intellectual pursuit of religion, and he now recognises the diversity of experiences

Leung Koon-ting

PhD student in the department of cultural and religious studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong

WHEN LEUNG KOON-TING, 27, completed his bachelor's degree in history, he found himself facing a personal crisis of faith.

He was upset by the growing religious fundamentalism in his church and was searching for a way to reconcile the religious doubts and tensions that this had raised and renew his faith.

Mr Leung found his answer in the intellectual pursuit of religion, and instead of continuing with a postgraduate degree in history, he signed up for a Master of Arts in Religious Studies at his alma mater, the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

'Religion is a way of life for me. But I am not the type of religious person who blindly imitates or follows a set of dogma,' he said. 'I recognise the diversity of religious experiences and the different ways of religious expression.'

Brought up as a free thinker, Mr Leung converted to Christianity when he was 18 and still in Form Five.

'I want to be a Christian. Being a Christian is to endeavour to love all people, and a religious person sees not only his own needs but those of others in the material and spiritual spheres,' he said.

As a child, he tended to be introvert, preferring to read alone rather than play with friends. When he became a Christian he attended church every Saturday and Sunday, and religious activities occupied most of his time.

'I think faith has provided me with some passion,' he said. But while passion is, for him, an important element in life, it is not the sole driver of what he does.

'Life is not merely for self-interest. It can't be driven by passion without considering one's responsibilities within the community that one belongs to,' he said, adding that if doing a degree meant that he could not fulfil his responsibility to his family, then he would immediately abandon his degree.

Mr Leung is completing his articulated MPhil-PhD thesis at the department of cultural and religious studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

His thesis is focused on the Chinese Students Christian Association of North America during the Republican period of 1911-1949, and the association's religious activities in the United States. It was worth studying, he said, because the historical case was similar to the situation now in China.

With the 'overseas study fever' once again in full force among Chinese students, many Chinese students returning from the US now convert to Christianity. And their faith may not be compatible with the real-life situation in China,' he said.

Mr Leung's study of religion was not always fully understood by his parents. While they had always respected his decisions, they sometimes wondered if he would end up as a pastor or preacher in the church after graduating from his MA programme.

'I explained to them several times that the course does not serve to train church workers but it seemed that they still couldn't get the point. Of course, when they found out that it was not the case after my graduation, they stopped asking questions.'

As a PhD student deeply immersed in research, Mr Leung made it a point to involve himself in the activities of the Divinity School. 'Doing research can't be really enjoyable if I am walking alone on this path,' he said.

He enjoys basketball games, discussions and other daily interactions with fellow divinity students.

'All those religious activities also remind me that I am in a faith community and not working alone in the office,' he said.