Click for Map


Welcome to OSAC! The Online Spiritual Atlas of China was created by the Center on Religion and the Global East (CRGE) at Purdue University to complement the print volume, Atlas of Religion in China: Social and Geographical Contexts, by Fenggang Yang (Brill, 2018). OSAC allows users to visualize the spatial distribution of individual religious sites in China, as well as see how provinces, prefectures, and counties compare with each other in terms of the number of religious sites. Currently, the data comes from China’s 2004 Economic Census, which listed 72,887 religious sites from all of China’s 31 provinces or provincial-level regions and municipalities. For more information on this dataset, see the section below on the 2004 Economic Census.

There are a variety of ways to use OSAC. First, all religious sites can be viewed on a point map, with each of the five main religions (Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam, and Protestantism) as a different color. Using the filter function, users may limit the points to a single religion and/or a geographic region (province, prefecture, or county). Next, the “Predominant Religion by Province” layer reveals the religion with the largest number of sites for each province. Likewise, the “Predominant Religion by Prefecture” and “Predominant Religion by County” layers do the same for smaller geographic areas. Finally, users may also view the distribution of sites for each religion as a heat map, revealing where there are more or less sites for a single religion. Below are short tutorial instructions that demonstrate these major functions.

We will be periodically updating the data in OSAC, adding religious sites gleaned from mapping services (like Google or Baidu), published sources, or users, like you. Each year we will “publish” an official version of OSAC, complete with a DOI and with data that can be downloaded from Purdue University Library. Now you can access the 2019 version of the data here.

China’s 2004 Economic Census Data

China’s 2004 Economic Census, unlike subsequent years, considered religious sites as economic units, providing a name, location, leaders’ name, relative size, and reported annual income for over 72,000 religious sites. The large number of religious sites listed in the census allows us to study the spatial distribution of religions in ways not previously possible. However, we also realize there are limitations to this data. First, the number of religious sites today is different from what was recorded in 2004. In general, we can assume that the total number of religious sites has increased, but certain geographic areas may have experienced a decline in total sites or in the number of sites of a particular religion. Secondly, not all of China’s religious sites were included in the 2004 census. Some religious communities cannot or choose not to register with government authorities. Thirdly, considering the economic nature of this particular census, some religious sites may not have met the economic criteria for inclusion. Finally, the precise location for some of the religious sites in this data may not be accurate. In particular, there are cases in which a religious site on the outskirts of a town or village has been listed as being located in the administrative center of the town/village. However, we estimate that more than 95% of the religious site points are within 5 km of the site’s actual location.


Card image cap
Basic filtering

Filter data by religion or geographic unit.

Card image cap
Map control

Adjust the provincial, prefectural, and county boundaries; zoom in and out; change the background map; and restore map to default.

Card image cap
Map visualization

Use the categories in the left column to visualize religious sites.

Card image cap
Advanced filtering

Advanced filtering allows users to filter sites based on more detailed information.

Card image cap
Add data

Add new data with ArcGIS Online or your own files, including CSV, Geo JSON, KML, and GPX.

Card image cap
Story maps

View visual essays about individual religious sites.

Contribute to OSAC

Not only does OSAC allow users to visualize the distribution of religious sites in China, but it also provides a platform to add to or edit this data. Given the size of the dataset, the location and name or information for some of the religious sites may not be completely accurate. For example, the data may not list the correct district in a city where a certain religious site is located (even though the location on the map may be accurate). Additionally, many current religious sites were not included in the 2004 economic census. We encourage users to access the OSAC Edit application to make changes to existing points or add additional religious sites, so that we can continue to update the data in OSAC.

In the future we hope to merge religious site information compiled from other datasets with the 2004 economic census. If you would like to contribute data to this project, please contact the Center on Religion and the Global East.