International Symposium of the Survey Research on Religion and Society: a Summary
The International Symposium of the Survey Research on Religion and Society, held at Purdue University from August 11 to 12, was no less than a feast of learning to all the participants of the “Chinese Spirituality and Society Program.” The symposium consisted of three major parts. The fi rst part was two lectures given by Professors Roger Finke and Christopher Bader from the Association of Religion Data Archives on the construction, function, application, and future perspectives of the ARDA database. The second part consisted of Professor Tsai Yen-ren of National Chengchi University and his colleagues from Taiwan who introduced the results of the Religious Experience Survey in Taiwan. The third part consisted of the 17 PIs’ presentations on their research in English. During the two-day symposium, in their exchange with the first rate international scholars, all the participants of CSSP achieved an understanding of the latest developments in religious practices and expansion of vision and thinking.
The ARDA, established in 1998, aims at providing all researchers, news media, religious groups, and educational institutes with the most systematic and latest religious data gathered from fi rst rate international research institutes. At present, the ARDA has collected and uploaded 600 questionnaires and pertinent data for free download and analysis, which covers a rich content of religious development, and the relationships among religion and politics, economy, and society in all the countries of the world. Every survey in the ARDA includes three basic components: basic conclusion of data analysis, process and methods of data collection, and questionnaires, which offer multi-perspective investigations to facilitate researchers’ access to the content of their interests. ARDA offers an open platform for researchers to comprehend in detail the goal, research design, data collection, analysis, and conclusion of every survey. On the basis of these questionnaires, researchers can collect related questions and make their own questionnaires according to the goals of their own research. They can dig deeper into the data of ARDA, open up comparative studies, or form new insights. As far as current surveys are concerned, they can evaluate them, revise and improve them, and develop new tools for gauging religious belief. In all, the ARDA database represents the cutting edge of internet applications in the field of religious studies, embodies the ancient Chinese saying, “scholarly learning is a tool for the world to share,” and will strongly empower the global development of social scientific study of religion.
The Religious Experience Survey in Taiwan (REST), directed by Professor Yen-ren Tsai of Chengchi University, is the first religious experience survey in the academic field of Taiwan. At present, it has completed all the data collections and analysis and produced a number of research reports. At this symposium, Professor Tsai and his colleagues on the team, Professors Ping-Yin Kuan, Hsing-kuang Chao, and Cheng-tian Kuo each shared the results of their research. Based on their survey of various groups of Christian, Daoist, and Confucian followers, the team of the REST project discovered the syncretistic characteristics of the religious beliefs of the people of Taiwan. It indicated that the boundaries of belief of the people of Taiwan are vague, religious beliefs and practices are open, and followers of various religions sense the existence of supernatural forces of religions other than their own. In other words, the model of syncretistic religious experience is consistent in religious identity and religious practice and belief in Taiwan. It exists in both institutionalized and diffused religions. In the meantime, these professors also stressed that the syncretistism was not stagnant. Rather, it was a process of constant changes. To a certain degree, the results of this research attest to the open and tolerant characteristics of traditional Chinese religions. Their study also touched upon the Taiwanese people’s views of life and death, crisis and religion, regional differences of folk beliefs, religion and political conservatism, concepts of the mandate of heaven and fate, and other topics. In spite of imperfections in its research design and analysis of the results, this survey is undoubtedly extremely inspiring.
At this symposium, the 17 principal investigators presented in English the progress of their own research and engaged in exchanges with Professor Roger Finke and the Professors of REST. For most participants of CSSP, this was not only a rare experience of international communication in English but also a rare opportunity for exposure to leading scholars in the field of social scientific study of religion.
The two-day symposium drew a perfect period at the completion of the CSSP workshop. As all the project participants enjoyed this scholarly feast, they achieved a more systematic understanding of the research methods, tools, theories, and experience of social scientific study of religion. They gained a sense of mission in promoting active participation in international dialogue on the basis of Chinese religious study, which offers powerful assurance for accomplishing high-quality CSSP projects.