Religion and Spirituality in China Today

In celebration of the anniversary of its establishment, the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University held the Symposium on Religion and Spirituality in China Today from April 30 to May 2, 2009.

Thirty scholars from the United States, China, and Singapore and other participants engaged in heated discussions on the religious developments and transformations in contemporary China and similar subjects of academic interest.

The symposium consisted of such special sessions and workshops as “Revival of Confucianism,” “Rise of Christianity in China,” “Christianity and Civil Society,” “Islam on China,” “Religious Freedom and U.S.-China Relations,” “Studying Religion of the Chinese in Diaspora,” and “Survey of Religion in China.”

Keynote speaker Dru Gladney looked at the development of Islam in post-Olympic and post-9/11 China. Through examining the “One World, One Dream” theme of the Beijing Olympics and its “staging” of unity and plurality, Professor Gladney gave the audience a vivid PowerPoint presentation on how the historical trajectory of Islam in China and the state’s policy toward Islam highlighted the tension of internal politics suggesting “many worlds, many dreams” and the circumstances for Islam’s survival.

Another keynote speaker Brian Grim argued that whereas society in general grants a fair degree of religious latitude (the yang, or light side of religious regulation), the government is less willing to “afford such latitude (the yin, or dark side of religious regulation) largely because it views a number of religion-related groups in the country as threats.

To conclude the symposium, our third keynote speaker Victor Yuan, president of Horizon Research Consultancy Group, maintained that religious beliefs have unconsciously had profound impact on the habit, behaviors, sense of happiness and public life of the Chinese. But the impact is still limited compared to western societies, especially the U.S. He argued that although religion in China is changing, due to stringent religion policies, the general circumstances have not improved much.