Transcendental in Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theological aesthetics and its significance for Chinese academic aesthetics
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This thesis begins a dialogue between Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theological aesthetics and Chinese academic aesthetics. We identify a tension between aesthetics and religion in Chinese academic aesthetics, and argue that a dialogue with von Balthasar’s work has the potential to contribute to the development of Chinese academic aesthetics with regard to overcoming that tension. In order to set a ground for the dialogue, von Balthasar’s theological aesthetics is examined in Part I. His theological aesthetics reveals that genuine beauty can never be fully accounted for by a perspective based in modern aesthetics, an aesthetics that limits itself to worldly categories. Rather, genuine beauty comes only from the beauty of the Christ form, in which religion and aesthetics converge. In Part II, we examine the tension between religion and aesthetics in Chinese academic aesthetics. The origin and influence of Chinese academic aesthetics stems from Cai Yuan-pei’s proclamation calling for the “substitution of aesthetics for religion”. For Cai, with a perspective based in modern aesthetics, aesthetics and religion occupied opposed and incompatible positions. Social and historical factors, for example government backed Marxist ideology, also contribute to hostility towards Christianity. We argue that due to the lack of the transcendental dimension, a result of rejecting the divine and so divine beauty, the further development of Chinese academic aesthetics may be stunted. Finally, in Part III, we outline the beginning of a dialogue between von Balthasar’s theological aesthetics and Chinese academic aesthetics. We argue that by dialoguing with von Balthasar’s theological aesthetics, Chinese academic aesthetics may potentially obtain a transcendental dimension in coming to recognise genuine beauty, divine beauty. In coming to recognise genuine beauty, we argue that true progress in Chinese academic aesthetics may be made.