Religious Revival in China’s Economic Core
The second meeting of our research project on religions and civil life in the Lower Yangzi region of China took place on August 4-5, 2011. This meeting allowed all the scholars involved in the project to present their preliminary findings to the group. It was also an occasion to welcome several new scholars to the project, whom we added to fill gaps in Daoism and in local history.
In the process of our discussions of the policy implications of rapid religious change in this most developed region of China, we focused especially on these questions:
- How does religious life fit into the legal gray zone where most of it lies? Many papers discussed how religions are responding to the problem that they cannot (temple religion) or choose not to (house churches) register as official religious organizations. Instead, they work in a space that is not illegal, but also has no legal protection. This space seems to create unusual constraints and opportunities and we are trying to specify what they are. We also seek to understand the long-term consequences that follow when a temple defines itself officially as Buddhist or Daoist or a museum or an old people’s association (all of which occur in various of our studies)?
- What is the local religious ecology? By using a metaphor from ecological science, we intend to understand how particular religious institutions interact with their broader social and political environments and how they cooperate and compete with each other. This includes questions like: (1) What kinds of networks do religious organizations create with each other and with their surrounding communities? Do they build bridges to other social groups, or do they instead build walls to separate themselves? (2) What makes each of our specific case studies unique in the Chinese context?
- In what sense is this a revival? We all agree that there is no such thing as a simple revival, but that historical precedents and continuities are always important. These historical processes will help us understand the micro-variations in why we get lineages in one place and not another, or different forms of Christianity.
- What is religion doing beyond the realm of religion itself? Do religious groups have a commitment to serving people beyond providing religious services? For instance, do they provide emergency relief or charity beyond the ranks of their followers? And do people learn important non-religious skills in the context of religion, like public speaking or social organizing?
- When and why do people become self-conscious about religion? What causes people to move from taking religion for granted to seeing it as something they most consciously think about? In many cases the arrival of Christianity is crucial in this process, even if people do not convert. In Islam, it has been part of a world-wide trend. But it may not be happening at all in some areas.
- How important are outside connections? Here we can think of networks of monks who move from one temple to another, of alliances between Christian churches or their spread through missionaries (e.g., the Wenzhou model), or of incense division (分香) networks. But the concept also includes global ties through missionaries or NGOs, like ties to Christian foundations overseas or to Taiwanese Buddhist groups.
Our final meeting will take place in June 2012, with drafts of each paper circulated in advance and the discussion focused on creating an integrated and coherent book. We have several potential publishers in mind for both Chinese and English versions.
Current list of contributions:
- Introduction, Robert P. Weller
- Local Gods and Economic Change, Zhu Haibin (History, Fudan University)
- Lineage Halls and Social Capital in Wenzhou, Fan Lizhu (Sociology, Fudan), Chen Na (Communications, Fudan), and Richard Madsen (UCSD)
- Varied Religious Networks in Zhejiang, Fan Lizhu (Sociology, Fudan), Chen Na (Communications, Fudan), and Richard Madsen (UCSD)
- Choice and Religious Authority in Jinhua and Yiwu, Chen Jinguo (Anthropology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
- Open Space and the Growth of New Buddhist Movements, Sun Yanfei (Sociology, Columbia)
- Three Buddhist Niches, Wu Keping (Anthropology, Chinese University of Hong Kong)
- Daoist Reconstruction in Suzhou, Vincent Goossaert (Sinology, CNRS, Paris) and Tao Jin (Beijing)
- Local Temples, Daoists, and Legitimacy in Hangzhou, Fang Ling (Religion, CNRS, Paris)
- New and Old Muslims in Nanjing, Bai Li (Sociology, Nanjing Normal University)
- Protestant Conversion in Anhui, Zhou Dian’en (Sociology, Anhui University)
- A Protestant Entrepreneur and Social Service, Cao Nanlai (Anthropology, Hong Kong University)