Religion, Spiritual Capital, and Civil Society

The 10th Annual Conference of the Social Scientific Study of Religion in China and the Chinese Spirituality and Society Program Final Conference was held in Hong Kong from July 10 -14, 2013. The theme of this year’s conference was “Religion, Spiritual Capital, and Civil Society,” and it attracted more than 100 scholars from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Middle East, Europe, and North America. More than 80 scholars presented papers. Presentation topics covered politics and religion, culture and religion, religion and civil society, faith among college students, modern transformation of folk religion, religious issues and problems in mainstream discourse, spiritual capital and religious market, market and identity, historical studies of religion, theories of spirituality and spiritual capital, psychology of religion, and fieldwork and historical studies of Confucianism. Among all the presentations, 16 of them were sponsored by the Chinese pirituality and Society Program. The conference also featured keynote presentations delivered by Richard Madsen (University of California, San Diego) and Robert Weller (Boston University).

The 16 presentations of the Chinese Spirituality and Society Program were the highlight of the conference. Research sites for these projects extended from cosmopolitan areas such as Beijing, Shanghai, Wenzhou, the Yangtze Delta area, Fuzhou, Hong Kong, and Taiwan to inland rural areas including Heilongjiang, Northern China, Henan, and Ningxia. The religions studied included institutionalized religions such as Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam, as well as folk and traditional religions. In terms of research concentration, religion and civil society was the hot topic. Zhidong Hao from Macau University presented a study on civic engagement and civic activism of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, Macau, Taipei, and Shanghai. His study found that the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taipei participated more actively in social services than did the dioceses in Shanghai. However, in terms of civic activism, Hong Kong outperformed the other three cities. Fuk-Tsang Ying from The Chinese University of Hong Kong discussed four types of relationships between church and civil community through a case study of a Beijing Protestant church. Zhifeng Zhong from Baylor University also used Beijing for his fieldwork in which he compared and analyzed the social engagement of Christian businessmen and lawyers. Qiangqiang Luo from Ningxia University talked about the role Islam played in the Hui peasants’ protest. Based on case studies of three folk religion temples in Hunan province, Bin Chen from Hunan Normal University attempted to answer the question of whether folk religion helps construct civil society. He concluded that folk religion is the “seedling” of civil society but far from mature in form. Ying Wang from Henan University of Economics and Law discussed the role of Chinese religion in building civic culture.

The other popular topic for the 16 project reports were religious economics and the market theory of religion. Heng Han from Zhengzhou University studied the networks and patterns of Christian converts in a rural community in Henan province as well as discussed the conversion proposition in the religion economy theory. Fengtian Zheng from Renmin University used survey data to analyze the intergenerational transmission of beliefs to convince the audience that the generational chain effect has led to the religious boom phenomenon in Chinese rural areas. Shangyang Sun of Peking University studied the Christian conversion of Beijing college students. Using theories of social capital, Zhihui Fan of Heilongjiang University conducted a study of the religious gray market of a village in Heilongjiang. Fang Liu of the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law applied the market theory of religion to his study of the Catholic Church in Northern Chinese villages.

Religion and entrepreneurship received equal attention from the researchers. Yi Zhou of Fudan University used survey data to study the relationship between charitable donations and religious beliefs among entrepreneurs in Wenzhou. Mantang Gan of Fuzhou University analyzed the differential impact of traditional religion and Christianity on entrepreneurship.

The Chinese Spirituality and Society Program also included other topics. Based on a survey done in China’s Yangtze River Delta region, Xiangping Li of Eastern China Normal University attempted to trace patterns of divinity-humanity relations in contemporary Chinese religious beliefs. Wen Fang from Peking University compared religious believers and non-believers’ bias maps using a psychological experiment. Jin Li from Calvin College proposed that the processes of diversification and re-organization of urban house churches can be explained by a market differentiation model, based on a comparative study of Protestant house churches in urban China.

The conference also arranged two keynote presentations. Richard Madsen of the University of California, San Diego, proposed emphasizing the social attributes of Chinese religions. He suggested that religions in China emphasize belonging more than belief. Professor Madsen argued that belonging is religious but belief is secular. To conclude the conference, Robert Weller of Boston University spoke on pluralism. He argued that people construct identity and ego in society by differentiating from others through memory, mimesis, and metaphor.

This conference was co-organized by the Centre for the Study of Religion and Chinese Society, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Center of Religion and Society at Eastern China Normal University, and the College of Social Science at Hong Kong University. The event was co-sponsored by 11 other research institutes from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.