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Guan-xi Between Spirituality and Society in China------An Empirical Study on the Beliefs of Citizens in Yangtze River Delta

Center for Religion and Society at East China Normal University
LI Xiangping (Principal Investigator)

Professor, Religious Studies, Department of Philosophy at East China Normal University



This study will focus on guan-xi between spirituality and society in contemporary China. We define the spirituality as guan-xi between gods and beliefs based on the different guan-xi. The different types of guan-xi will been divided into three main types of beliefs, that is, political beliefs, popular beliefs, and religious beliefs, along with their social construction in contemporary China.

Our questions in the project are: How do the different guan-xi between gods and beliefs constitute the different types of beliefs? And with no dominant religion and the coexistence of various religions in China, how do religious beliefs and the other two kinds of belief affect society? Under the strong sacredness of political belief, how do religious beliefs and popular beliefs constitute their own sacredness? What are the consequences of the similarities and dissimilarities between religious belief and ideology in Chinese society?

Main Research Questions

Based on the Yangtze River Delta, one of the most economically developed areas in China, this research aims to explore guan-xi or the relationship between gods and beliefs. We will study two aspects:

1. Estimation of the population and proportion of common belief holders or non-religious belief and religious belief holders;
2. The relationships among different beliefs. From this point, we will try to measure belief guan-xi in contemporary Chinese society.

This research will mainly use a questionnaire survey to gather information and data to measure the belief guan-xi and religious belief guan-xi among the citizens in contemporary China.

On the one hand, we will try to trace the variations in beliefs and religious beliefs on a time scale in order to lay the foundation for future research. On the other hand, by measuring the belief guan-xi and religious belief guan-xi of people in the Yangtze River Delta, we will offer a reference for comparative studies of other areas of China.

The hypotheses of this research are as follows:
1. In a society where civil society is still in the making, differences between beliefs and religious beliefs can be seen as a reflection of the differences in identity, social status, power, and rights among different belief holders;
2. The social differences and social construction of belief types are complementary to each other;
3. The identities of the three belief types are conversely related: Given the strong identity of political beliefs, the identities of religious belief and popular belief will be relatively low. Conversely, given the strong identity of religious belief, the identities of political belief and popular belief will be relatively low.
4. Strong-institutionalized belief has a high interior identity and a low exterior identity, while weak-institutionalized belief has a high exterior identity and a low interior identity. These are the different logics within different beliefs.

Research Design

According to the area planning of the National Development and Reform Commission, the Yangtze River Delta is composed of Shanghai municipality, Jiang-su province and Zhe-jiang province, and has a population of nearly 90 million. In order to choose the questionnaire sample, we will use the method of 4-stage stratified non-probability sampling, except in Shanghai. First, we will choose some primary sampling units (districts/ counties), then we will choose 4 secondary sampling units (streets/towns) from each primary sampling unit. After that, we will choose 2 tertiary sampling units (village committees/ neighborhood committees) from each secondary sampling unit, and finally, we will choose 10 sampling units from each tertiary sampling unit.

Research Method

The concepts "guan-xi between gods and beliefs” refer to religious belief holders and popular belief holders as well as political belief holders, respectively. Relevant concepts and indicators cover three aspects—identity, belief, and society. We will try to put significant concepts from each aspect into operation, transform the concepts of spirituality and belief into measurable indicators, and then devise questionnaires which contain these three aspects.

Research Objectives

1. Acquire general guan-xi on the three types of belief in the Yangtze River Delta;
2. Combine the guan-xi from the three aspects—identity, belief, and society, so as to observe the practical relationships between the non-religious beliefs and religious beliefs, and the ways they are constructed;
3. Focus on “the different guan-xi between gods and beliefs and the different belief types,” then discuss the phenomena of different beliefs or different identities in Chinese religion and society;
4. Devise some systematic questionnaires or scales that have high reliability and validity so as to measure the belief guan-xi of Yangtze River Delta citizens;
5. Combine this research project with system construction, organize a group for academic study, set up a “Religion and Society Advanced Research Center” in East China Normal University in future years, and publish an annual journal, Study of Chinese Beliefs, in order to establish a research base for sociology of religion and beliefs in East China.

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