Critical Concepts and Methods in the Study of Religion in Modern China

The last decade has seen a rapid increase in the number of publications addressing various aspects of religion in modern China. This flood of new research reflects the fact that the subject of ‘religion in modern China’ has become a new and challenging field of study. To date, monographs and edited volumes have focused on specific historical events, prominentindividuals and local religiosities, as well as the rituals and material cultures of modern Chinese religious traditions. Within this emerging field of study, however, there is an ongoing and largely unresolved, debate regarding what methods and theories are appropriate to be employed in this new field.

This research project will address these conceptual and methodological issues in a systematic and comprehensive manner. The project is divided into two parts. The first includes (1) a discussion of the benefits and limitations of applying conventional theories and disciplinary methods to the study of modern Chinese religion, and (2) the delineation of new, and potentially more effective, research methodologies for working in this field. The second part is dedicated to the definition of critical concepts in the study of religions – such as ‘ritual’, ‘modernity’, ‘authority’ and ‘scripture’, as they apply to the study of religion in modern China. In this context, these topics take on new lives, and thus definitions drawn from Western contexts often lack accuracy when applied to the field.

This research aims to create the basis for constructive dialogue and cooperation among Western and non-Western scholars, directed towards the theorization of effective conceptual frameworks and methods for the study of religion in modern China.

For information of activities and associate fellows of this project please check the Centre’s website

In early 2015 I was awarded a conference grant from the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange and a grant from the KNAW Conference Grants Fund for the organisation of the international conference “Framing the Study of Religion in Modern China and Taiwan: Concepts, Methods and New Research Paths”. The conference, which saw the participation of some of the associate fellows and other scholars in the field, was held at the University of Groningen, from 9 to 12 December 2015. For more details see the conference website.