Purdue University



A Study of the Occurrence and Development of “Religion Fever” in China’s Countryside

ZHENG Fengtian

Professor, Economics, Renmin University of China



In general, large-scale religious conversion is rare, and when it happens, it is precisely at a time when there are social culture upheavals (Stark & Finke, 2000). Change is often a challenge both to established theories and policies; conversely, it is also an opportunity for progress. Currently, huge and rapid changes are taking place in the scale and structure of the faith conversion in China’s rural areas. Because of its large scale and high speed and the late start of the study of religion in China (Jin Ze et.al, 2008), existing research has not yet fully explained the phenomenon of rural religious conversion. First, the research does not distinguish between the occurrence and the development phase of faith conversion, or relate the different characteristics of different stages and their reasons.  Secondly, it ignores the structural changes in faith conversion and the relationship between the changes and the overall conversion scale, so that it does not fully explain the evolution rule of religious belief conversion. Thirdly, it neglects the influence of economic structural change. Besides, the unique nature of religious belief and the ongoing conversion in China endows the study with a high theoretical value. Due to historical, political, and other reasons, there are significant differences between the religious development in China and elsewhere. For example, diffused religion is prevalent in China (Fan, 2003; Yang, 2007). Chinese religions are in a period of transition from a balanced equilibrium to another, while those in western countries are in a relatively stable state of development. At present, the existing religious social science research is mainly based on what has happened in the western world. Therefore, the study of Chinese religious conversion provides an opportunity to test the explanatory power of existing theories as well as very good material for extending previous theories and establishing new theories.

In view of the above, this research plans to explain the occurrence and development of religious belief conversion in China’s countryside from the perspective of socio-economic structural changes, such as organizational building of rural society and liquidity of the labor force. We will study the following questions: What factors generate the religious conversion in Chinese rural regions? What has led to the development of religious belief conversion and its structural change in China’s countryside? What kind of roles do urbanization and intergenerational transmission play in the process of the faith conversion in China?

The study divides the rise of “Religion Fever” in the Chinese countryside into two phases – the occurrence phase and the development phase. The basic hypothesis is: Since the building of primary organizations at the rural level is lacking in strength with the collapse of the collective economy and the withdrawal of government, in addition to the effect of the liquidity of the labor force, both the faith conversion networks of traditional rural society and the household are facing a huge change. As a result, some people - mostly elderly people and women – have become religious, and the rural faith conversion has begun. Besides, with the acceleration of the process of the liquidity of the labor force, young people (or males) leave and elderly people (or females) stay in the countryside. The faith conversion of the latter will lead to an increase of the religious human capital and thus the conversion probability of children who stay at home. Also affected by the faith conversion network and religious human capital, their offspring are probably religious. Thus, with more and more young people, including males, joining in, rural religions are undergoing structural change and development.

Method: The research methodology includes case study, participatory interview, and multiple regression analysis such as DID, Granger causality test, and IV predict.


Objective: Through exploring the above questions, this research attempts to develop the religious human capital model to explain the relationship between household structural change and religious human capital accumulation so as to promote the construction and advancement of Chinese religious social science. Beyond this, the research will contribute to solving the riddle of religious conversion in China and provide helpful material for future study on the scale and structure of religious belief in China and references for policy making.


Anticipated achievements in two years: Expected outcomes of the program are (1) Five high quality academic research papers (one-two internationally); (2) Two-three relevant doctoral dissertations and six-eight relevant master’s theses.  


Stone Hall Room 347, 700 W. State Street, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907 Phone: (765)494-5801 Fax: (765)494-6938 Email: CRCS@purdue.edu
© by CRCS at Purdue University. All rights reserved.