Writing Workshop for the Social Scientific Study of Religion in China

Seattle University
August 8-21, 2016

Luke Chao

The Center on Religion and Chinese Society (CRCS) of Purdue University organized a two-week writing workshop for the Social Scientific Study of Religion in China at Seattle University from August 8th to 21st, 2016. The participants of this workshop, which was co-organized by Matteo Ricci College of Seattle University, included twelve scholars from mainland China, Taiwan, the United States, and Europe were selected to participate in the workshop.

There were three primary goals of this workshop: [1] bridging the gap between Chinese religion scholars and the Western scholarship on the sociology of religion, [2] encouraging and training Chinese scholars to write and publish in international journals in English, and [3] exposing the emerging group of scholars researching Chinese religions to an international academic environment.

During the two weeks, five US-trained scholars in this field were invited to give lectures on various topics related to conducting, writing, and publishing research about religion in China in English in the morning. In the afternoon, each workshop participant gives a 20-minute presentation about their research, which was immediately followed by comments and suggestions from other participants and invited lecturers. These afternoon discussions provided all participants an opportunity to improve the content of their research, as well as practice for the presentation skills necessary for major North American conferences.

The workshop began with an introduction by Professor Fenggang Yang, Director of the CRCS. Acknowledging the recent development of the Chinese scholarship in studying religion in China, Professor Fenggang Yang emphasized the importance of the voice of the Chinese religion scholars in the social scientific study of Chinese religions. After the brief introduction of the workshop and warm welcome from Professor Fenggang Yang and Professor Kan Liang, Associate Dean of College of Arts & Sciences in Seattle University, Professor Susan McCarthy from Providence College took the stage and gave a lecture on “Reverse Engineering the Journal Article.” In her lecture, Professor McCarthy discussed strategies for reading and analyzing journal articles as a prelude to writing academic articles. She also encouraged the participants to analyze the different parts of an article, aiming to make the participants understand how an English research article is written.

Patricia Chang, Associate Consulting Professor from Stanford University, gave lectures on Aug 10 and 11. As a reviewer for several journals in the sociology of religion and a professional writing coach, Dr. Chang discussed the common problems in academic writings, especially among Chinese scholars. She focused on the process of conceptualizing key concepts before writing a paper, using various examples that she dealt with as a professional writing coach. Dr. Chang also presented her research on the relationship between church and state as an example of using social scientific methods to study religion.

As a well-known scholar who has published numerous articles in various highly-regarded sociology journals, Professor Fenggang Yang gave two lectures on how to conduct research on religion in China as well as the strategies of getting published in a Western academic journal. Challenging the established theoretical frameworks in the social scientific study of religion in China, Dr. Yang used his own experience as a non-native speaker scholar publishing in English journals as an example to discuss the potential pitfalls in studying Chinese religions. He also shared his strategies of how to overcome the potential difficulties and get articles published. Highlighting the rapid growing religions in China, Dr. Yang emphasized that Chinese religion scholars should let their voice be heard in Western academia.

Professor Erik Hammerstrom from Pacific Lutheran University gave two lectures on August 15 and 16. His lecture focused on how to form thesis-based arguments based on Western academic tradition. He analyzed the social scientific research methods in detail with hope to illustrate how to choose proper methods to begin with a research project. He also discussed a number of practical skills in academic research, such as how to part a large project into several smaller projects and how to avoid plagiarizing oneself.

On August 17 and 18, Professor Carsten Vala from Loyola University Maryland discussed how to collect ethnographic data in studying religion in China. Using his experience of conducting research on Chinese religions, Professor Vala illustrated the mechanics of moving from data to idea to outline to publication. He highlighted the importance of note-taking in ethnography by giving the participants practical techniques of how to take notes in field research and form arguments based on the notes.

Professor Yuting Wang, Associate Professor from the American University of Sharjah in UAE, delivered a lecture on how to cope with the stress from the revision and resubmission process on the last day of the workshop. In this lecture, Dr. Wang focused on how to efficiently revise and resubmit the paper and eventually get it published. Dr. Wang explained the process of submission, revision, and resubmission in details and provided useful suggestions on how to survive the stressful process.

Jonathan Pettit, Associate Director of the CRCS, and Ting Guo, Postdoctoral Fellow at the CRCS, also gave lectures in the workshop. The topics of these talks targeted more practical issues in academic research, such as the specific writing styles in academia, how to cite in a paper, as well as an overview of the relevant academic journals and conferences.

The workshop concluded with the presentations of the participants at the ASR annual meeting on August 20. During the meeting, the workshop participants delivered captivating presentations and communicated with the audience in English, showing the effect of the workshop. The audience was impressed by their high-quality research and professional manner in their presentations.