Purdue University



The Attitudes of University Students in Beijing Toward Christianity

SUN Shangyang

Professor, Sociology, Peking University



In China, higher education has always been considered as the main venue to achieve upward social mobility. University students, usually seen as the "most favored" people in society, are expected to take leadership in the future development of Chinese society. Considering the interactions between university students and Christianity in the history of modern China, the attitudes of university students toward Christianity have exerted a great influence in China.

Based on our exploratory survey on the attitudes of Peking University students toward Christianity, we have made some discoveries. There is an overall trend among Peking University students: they hold neutral, objective, and cautious perspectives on Christianity. Most of them know a little about Christianity, and those who have Christian friends are more likely to be familiar with this religion. As they learn more about Christianity, they might be more likely to have a relatively positive attitude toward it. The main channels for them to learn about Christianity are the mass media, reading, and talking with teachers or friends. The instructional help of believers becomes increasingly important as these students grow in their preliminary understanding of Christianity.

As a comprehensive university, Peking University can not represent all kinds of universities in Beijing. Therefore, in order to better understand university students’ attitudes toward Christianity, we plan to extend our survey and interview students in other kinds of educational institutions, including colleges and universities of science, technology, agriculture, medicine, law, and art.

Using a scientific survey, this project will be the first cross-sectional study on the attitudes of university students in Beijing toward Christianity. We plan to use stratified, multistage cluster designs with Probabilities Proportionate to Size (PPS). A sample of 2000 students will be selected from the thirteen colleges and universities among the fifty-five higher educational institutions in Beijing.

xThis project’s theoretical approach is not only to testify to the second exception of the desecularization thesis raised by Peter Berger; that is, the global elite subculture is still secular, but also to answer the following questions through an attitude survey: In a non-western social context such as China, has the permeating Communist atheistic education been curbed as it encounters the trend of de-secularization and the emerging interest in religion among today’s university students? After the disenchantment with the mainstream ideology of atheism, while demand exceeds supply in the religious market and the meaning of life is unclear, will those university students who are searching for answers to ultimate questions follow the historical precedent, that is, be indifferent, rejecting, and even hostile toward Christianity, or will they adopt the opposite attitude and become tolerant, accepting, interested in, or even believing in Christianity? What is the situation of the Christian university students? Is the ratio of Christian university students higher or lower than that of the whole nation? What has caused the attitude shift in this group? And what does this shift mean?

By examining the above questions, we would also like to discuss questions concerning future trends: In modern China, are universities the reproducing mechanism of social and mental structures, or are they a crucial participant in the public sphere, gradually becoming the field for democratization of knowledge and meaning? And what role will Christianity play in this field?

With reference to the accomplishment of World Value Surveys (WVS) and National Study of Youth and ReligionNSYRin the United States, and on the basis of our experience of previous studies, we intend to revise our questionnaire and then try to assure the measurement for the above questions in terms of reliability and validity. Our research team is qualified for this work.

Drawing lessons from WVS and NSYR in the United States and comparing our results with Spiritual Life of Chinese Residents and data from Religious Situation among Renmin University Students conducted by Professor Huilin Yang, we hope to make headway in both the method and the findings.

During our project, we will issue one to three research reports. The final results will be in an essay of about thirty pages, which we hope to publish in JSSR or American Journal of SociologyAJS).

Key words: university students in Beijing, attitudes toward Christianity, survey

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