HOLLAND - Hope College is one of four colleges and universities participating in a new academic exchange program with Chinese universities through support from the John Templeton Foundation.

The exchange program is part of a larger project titled "Science, Philosophy and Belief: A Program for Chinese Scholars" initiated by Calvin College's Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity in conjunction with the Society of Christian Philosophers, and supported by a $2 million grant from the foundation.

Hope, Calvin, BaylorUniversity and the University of Notre Dame are each participating in the exchange program. Each of the four institutions will receive $40,000 a year for three years to support visiting graduate students in philosophy and religious studies from China.

"Hope has been a part of the world community since its founding in 1866," said Alfredo Gonzales, who is associate provost and dean for international and multicultural education at Hope. "Engaging Chinese students at Hope's campus is good for China and for the United States. The presence of Chinese students will enliven our campus and engage Hope students in study and conversations that will lead to the mutual understanding of these two important countries. We are very pleased to play a role in this significant undertaking whose goal is education and cross-cultural understanding."

The Chinese exchange students will enroll in courses in the English language, philosophy and religion at Hope, and also pursue their own independent research. They will also become involved in campus life, participating in activities of the Office of International Education and giving talks on contemporary China, as well as visiting local elementary and middle school classrooms.

"As China becomes increasingly open to the west in the areas of cultural and economic exchange, it is also more open to influence by western thought, and not just scientific or technological ideas, but also philosophy and religion," said Dr. Andrew Dell'Olio, who is director of the Hope-China exchange program as well as an associate professor of philosophy and chairperson of the department of philosophy at Hope.

"There is a deepening recognition in China that the great societal changes taking place there must be accompanied by a renewal in traditional moral values," said Dell'Olio, who participated in a conference in Beijing in 2002 on the foundations of morality, east and west. "And they are looking both to their own traditional moral resources as well as those of the west."

Hope's connections to Asia extend back more than 125 years. Two out of the six students in Hope's graduating Class of 1879 were Japanese, one of whom was the valedictorian, delivering the graduation address in both Latin and Japanese. Over the years Hope has continued to host students and scholars from Asia and to send American students and scholars to Asia.

The relationship continues in the present day through a number of academic programs and cultural resources, including the international education program; the Japanese Studies major and minor; the Asian Studies minor; the De Pree Art Center's collection of Japanese art, including the Maurice Kawashima Collection of Japanese Ceramics; and exchange programs with Meiji Gakuin University and Technos University in Japan.

Hope has been hosting students from China with other support since 2004, including through grants from the United Board of Christian Higher Education in Asia and Hope's CrossRoad's Program.

The mission of the John Templeton Foundation is "to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life's biggest questions. These questions range from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness and creativity."