The Construction of the ‘Religion Sphere’ in Modern and Contemporary China

ANU China Seminar Series

The Construction of the ‘Religion Sphere’ (zongjiaojie 宗教界) in Modern and Contemporary China
Adam Yuet CHAU

16:00 to 17:30, Thursday, 20 July 2017
Seminar Room A, China in the World Building (188), Fellows Lane, ANU, Canberra

The ‘religion sphere’ (zongjiaojie), along with many other ‘spheres’ (jie), emerged in the early twentieth century as a result of intense negotiation between the modern state and emerging social constituencies. These various ‘spheres’ were supposed to circumscribe the boundaries, and represent the interests, of these emerging constituencies. The religion sphere is not an official state category; rather, it is a fuzzy socio-political realm constituted partially by state policies and attitudes towards religion, but not exhausted by the control apparatus of the various state-sanctioned religious associations (such as the Buddhist Association or the Three-Self Patriotic Church). On the one hand, the constitution of the religion sphere favours actors who are organisationally savvy and organisational forms that are ‘legible’ to the state. On the other hand, many non-state actors, such as journalists, help to shape the overall contour of the religion sphere. This presentation will trace the historical emergence of the religion sphere and examine how it operates in contemporary China. It will address questions such as ‘Is the religion sphere part of China’s public sphere or civil society?’

Adam Yuet Chau (PhD in Anthropology, 2001, Stanford University) is University Senior Lecturer in the Anthropology of Modern China in the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Cambridge. He is a Fellow at St. John’s College. He is the author of Miraculous Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China (Stanford University Press 2006) and editor of Religion in Contemporary China: Revitalization and Innovation (Routledge 2011). He is currently working on projects investigating the rise of the ‘religion sphere’ (zongjiaojie) in modern China; the idiom of hosting and forms of powerful writing (‘text acts’) in Chinese political and religious culture. For further information, please refer to:

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