Seventh Asian Studies Conference Japan
    Saturday, June 21-Sunday 22, 2003
    Ichigaya Campus of Sophia University



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Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181

Session 24
The Politics of Religion in Contemporary China
Organizer/Chair: Yoshiko Ashiwa, Hitotsubashi University

This panel examines dynamism of religion in contemporary China since the late 1970s. The framework is that this dynamism is proceeding through the interaction of various actors within the context of state policies and bureaucratic administration of religion. State religious policy contains definitions, principles, and stipulations that problematize such issues as membership, rituals, and teaching in religious communities and also the form of state interventions in religious communities. But the policy is vague enough and the state management apparatus loose enough to permit multiple interpretations and competing possibilities. The revival of religion in locales, therefore, involves the interaction of such various actors as different levels of the state and religious associations, religious sites and clergy, and various groups of adherents, overseas Chinese, and foreign religious groups, as well as tourism, business, education and other societal sectors.

Most studies of religion in contemporary China focus on either the identities, beliefs and values within religious communities or the policies and bureaucracy of state apparatus of religious management. This panel moves in a less charted direction by foregrounding the interaction of state and society in the institutionalization of religion. The first paper (Ashiwa) presents a theoretical framework for considering the politics of religion and its revival in China. The second paper (Murakami) examines how everyday practices among Shanghai Protestants are constrained by the state policy stipulation for Christianity to be "Chinese". The third paper (Vala) examines the local interpretations and implementation of national religious policy in regard to Christianity in the northeast border region city of Harbin. The fourth paper (Wank) examines the politics of institutionalizing Buddhism in the southeast city of Xiamen, focusing on the role of the Chinese Buddhist Association. All papers draw on extended fieldwork in China and presenters are from the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, and political science.

1) Yoshiko Ashiwa, Hitotsubashi University. "Positioning Religion: A Theoretical Approach to Studying Religion in Contemporary Societies"

This paper will consider the methodology of research, analysis and theoretical framework for studying religion by focusing on contemporary China. Examining studies of religion in China since the Cultural Revolution, especially Buddhism, indicates that religion should be considered as an equivalent arena of state-society interaction alongside such established arenas of scholarship as the market and civil society. I argue that bringing state policies and bureaucratic administration into the analysis religion furthers understanding of the institutionalization of emerging religious fields in China which are constituted by the interaction of various actors and agencies. I further argue that the study of the institutionalizing of religion in China should be broadly comparative with the situation of religion elsewhere in the modern world.

2) Shiho Murakami, Hitotsubashi University. "Everyday Practice of Religion: The "Chinicization" of Christianity among Shanghai's Protestants"

So far the process of integrating Christianity into China has been called by such terms as Chinicization (zhongguohua), and "indigenization" (bendihua), etc... Discussion on this matter among Chinese intellectuals sees it as a process of amalgamation of western and Chinese cultures or as the reaction of the Chinese Protestants to the Communist Party. However, not enough ethnographic attention has been paid to how Protestants discuss their image of Chinicization and how these images affect everyday practices. This process is scattered in the practice and opinions of various agencies, such as government and Communist Party officials, academics, Christian leaders, and believers. Through fieldwork on the Chinese Protestant Church in Shanghai, I examine the daily choices related to Chinicization facing believers and churches in their everyday practices.

3) Carsten T. Vala, University of California, Berkeley. "Believing in the Northeast: Seeking Autonomy among Chinese Christians"

This paper will examine the grassroots search for autonomy among Chinese Protestants and Greek Orthodox believers in Northeast China. Starting from the unique setting and historical background of the area, the paper addresses relationships among the official and unofficial Protestant churches in the urban areas. The unique location as a border area and the history of the Northeast as a site of Russian and then Japanese presence shapes how religious policy is conceived and carried out. In other areas of the country, religious policy is grounded in the perspective of a historically Chinese terrain interacting with the outside world; in the Northeast, the very terrain itself has been contested, leading to policy that is both more restrictive and actions by believers that are highly guarded. In addition to geographical and historical factors, the search for autonomy is also greatly affected by the surging growth in Protestant believers.

4) David Wank, Sophia University. "The Politics of a Local Religious Field: Buddhism in Xiamen"

This paper examines the institutionalization of Buddhism in Xiamen since the late 1970s focusing on the its major temple, Nanputuo. I trace the interaction of three actor, the state (different levels of the Religious Affairs Bureau), the China Buddhist Association (center and local levels), and clergy leadership in the restoration of Nanputuo Temple. The local branch of the China Buddhist Association has played a key role in the restoration and its position has shifted over time from standing on the side of the temple to allying itself with the local state. The paper traces this shift to the interaction of local politics and changing religious policies, and considers its implications for the drawing of the temple towards national politics, activities, and institutions, on the one hand, and movement of secondary temples and groups towards the needs of the local sphere of Minnan speaking Buddhists.


list of panels