Close this search box.
Close this search box.

DKU hosts conference bridging Chinese and Western perspectives on space exploration

Duke Kunshan University hosted a conference that gathered some of the most brilliant minds in space exploration, cultural studies and the philosophy of science.

The conference on the Spirit of Space Exploration in China and the West took place from June 6 – 8. It began with opening remarks from DKU’s Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Scott MacEachern, who recalled the rapid growth and interdisciplinary studies of the university and reflected on his lifelong affection for science fiction.

“The spirit of space exploration has always been a touchstone in my life, providing a hopeful undertone in the face of less hopeful historical developments,” MacEachern said.

James Miller, Co-Director of the Humanities Research Center at Duke Kunshan and co-organizer of the conference, reflected on the mission of humanities.

“Given that all researchers are, in some way, engaged with humanistic inquiry, we strive to foster interactions between the humanities and sciences among other disciplines,” Miller said. “This interdisciplinary ethos is woven into the fabric of our university.”

Ben Van Overmeire, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at DKU and another co-organizer of the conference, took the stage with a touch of whimsy. He cited childhood inspirations from ‘Star Wars’ and Zen Buddhism as the fuel for his academic curiosity. His research quest — understanding the deep connection between Buddhism’s metaphors and the human perception of space — reflects the spirit of inquiry encouraged at DKU.

Jack Traphagan from Arizona State University’s Interplanetary Initiative highlighted the partnership between DKU and ASU. He emphasized how the partnership is crucial in shaping modern academic discourse on space exploration. Traphagan’s rich experience added a layer of depth to the conference, providing a bridge between cultural anthropology and the philosophy of interplanetary expansion.

Over the course of three days, the conference became a melting pot of ideas. Historians, scientists, and philosophers compared narratives from Qian Xuesen’s stature as China’s ‘father of spaceflight’ to Afrofuturism’s reinterpretation of space narratives. Interdisciplinary panels discussed the sinicization of lunar surfaces, debated the ethics of technology in space, and pondered the global impact of space exploration.

Conference Highlights:

  • Keynote Address: Jeffrey Kripal’s thought-provoking presentation on UFOs contemplated the historical and religious dimensions of otherworldly encounters, challenging academic and public perspectives on the paranormal.
  • Chinese Astroculture Panels: Discussions led by Alexander C.T. Geppert, Lu Liu, Tonio Savina, and Evander Price delved deep into China’s role in shaping space culture through figures such as Qian Xuesen, lunar nomenclature, and popular perspectives on the NASA Voyager Golden Record.
  • Comparative Perspectives on Outer Space: Scholars including Brad Tabas, Olga Dubrovina and Vladimir Brljak brought fresh insights into space from the perspectives of technology and cultural history, including Soviet-era dreams of space and Jeff Bezos’s ‘Great Inversion.’
  • Keynote by Su Meng: Esteemed space scientist Su Meng offered a visionary glimpse into the potential advancements and future trajectory of space exploration from China’s perspective.
  • Chinese Transvaluations of American Space Rhetoric: Rubenstein’s session revisited American space rhetoric, highlighting how China offers a self-conscious alternative that could lead to more collaborative space endeavors, potentially reshaping global astroculture.
  • Vision, Technology, and Media: This panel featured compelling discussions, with Kiu-wai Chu’s “Native Soil Goes to Space” examining Chinese planetary fictions in the Anthropocene era and Ting Zheng’s “Technoecological Eyes” exploring the visions of technology in space and nature. Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko’s presentation connected Buddhism with cosmic understanding, and Lukáš Likavčan’s talk on the mediality of light delved into the infrared spectrum’s role in cosmic information ecologies.
  • Space Research at DKU – Scientific and Interdisciplinary Perspectives: Professor of Physics Kai Huang, Associate Professor of Physics Changcheng Zheng, and Associate Professor of Mathematics Marcus Werner shared their latest findings and perspectives. Associate Professor of Documentary Practice Travis Wilkerson, Assistant Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Science Ding Ma, and filmmaker Erin Wilkerson discussed space research from a cross-disciplinary standpoint.
  • Philosophy and Outer Space: The philosophical discourse was enriched by sessions such as Lance Gharavi’s exploration into U.S. space exploration narratives, Mohamed Zreik’s intersection between Eastern philosophies and space exploration, and Ujjwal Kumar with Haoqin Zhong’s unpacking of Buddhism in the context of extraterrestrial life.
  • Closing Keynote: Renowned science fiction author Chen Qiufan provided insights into how Eastern religions might interweave with Chinese science fiction, granting a unique lens on space culture and ethics.

If you are a journalist looking for information about the University or for an expert to interview for a story, our team can help.

Add our