SOCL 280Spring

Chinese Society and Religions

Delve into the complex interaction of society and religion in contemporary China
Ian Johnson
Course Introduction
Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson

M.A. Freie Universität Berlin
Interests
  • Society and Religion
  • China
  • Islam in Europe
  • Cold War studies
  • Daoism

Chinese Society and Religions

This course is accredited through Loyola University Chicago
Download Syllabus

Course Description

This course will explore the contemporary social situation of China’s major religions by reading texts, visiting places of worship and discussing issues with practitioners. The goal is to see how China’s religious renaissance is unfolding at the grassroots level, and how that renaissance impacts Chinese society.

Chinese society is increasingly driven by the twin forces of State power and spiritual curiosity. The historical development of the country has been marked by encounters between authorities and social actors of many sorts, more recently by groups who take their direction from religion.

While other courses in the TBC curriculum look at religions in China in the manner of a historical survey or at the history of Christianity in particular, this class will examine recent and current challenges to the way religion is practiced.

We will spend time looking at the five authorized religions in China for insight, but this course will also use case studies to look at trends and directions away from the mainline spiritual establishment, as well as splits within the religious communities on what and how to worship. We will look at sects; at how worship has been practiced historically and locally; and why religious revival in China is occurring at the grassroots level more and more often. We will read relevant texts, and we will examine places of worship and speak with practitioners to arrive a more comprehensive understanding of religious renaissance in Chinese society.

Courses Outcomes

This course looks at the complex interaction of society and religion in contemporary China. By seeing places of worship, talking to practitioners and reading relevant texts, students will gain a nuanced understanding of contemporary Chinese religious life.
Some of the key topics to be explored and questions to be answered are:

  • The formal theory that the Party uses to organize religious life versus the informal networks that actually guide much religious life. Examples to be explored here include the persistence of unregistered Daoist priests or churches and the growth of hermits, all of which are illegal but exist either with or without the Party’s knowledge. Why are these networks and the practices they embrace tolerated in some cases or pushed aside in other instances?
  • The unregulated existence of what is arguably China’s largest religion, folk religion, which includes the worship of local gods, ancestors and geographic features. Why does the Party not formally register such practices and what are the results of this policy?
  • Tensions between commerce and religion; some places of worship in China exist primarily as tourist attractions. How do practitioners deal with this?
  • In some cases, religious belief and practice can take on a political hue and become a form of dissent. While this colors much of the West’s view of religious life in China (i.e. reports of crackdowns on places of worship), how common is this? When it does occur, are their common points between faiths?