Mapping Chinese Spiritual Capital


This initiative expands the social scientific study of religion in China by pursuing three inter-related goals: mapping the religious landscape and the changing religious markets, assessing spiritual capital in the emerging civil society, and nourishing the growing field through publishing first-rate research in a new journal.


(1) Mapping the Religious Landscape and the Changing Religious Markets: What are the status and changing dynamics of various religions in China today? We will produce an atlas that includes maps, charts, images and descriptions of religious life in various parts of China. The maps will apply GIS technologies and spatial statistics to show geographical locations of religious venues and patterns. Much of the data for these maps come from China’s 2004 economic census that include information of 72,887 religious venues as economic units, and new geodata collected from “hot spot” and “cold spot” areas (i.e., areas with high and low concentration of religious venues). The atlas will also include a set of survey analyses that identify the social environments of religious believers and practitioners. Several surveys have become available, yet remain under analyzed until now. Second, we will produce an edited handbook of the changing religious markets in China, which will include fieldwork reports of religious groups and communities in various parts of China, with an emphasis on their changing status and crossing the boundaries of the red/black/gray markets of religion. This edited volume will help deepen the theoretical construction of religious markets. In addition, we will develop an online interface to archive and present the geodata, audio/video materials, and interactive maps. The atlas, the handbook, and the online interface together will set a benchmark for the study of the dynamic changes taking place in the spiritual and religious traditions in China.


(2) Assessing Spiritual Capital in the Emerging Civil Society: By spiritual capital we mean the value created by religious and spiritual social networks that enable people and groups to bond together and to serve others. This part of the initiative will answer two research questions: How have religions survived and revived under Communist rule? What roles do Christians and Buddhists play in the growing civil society during the market and democratic transitions? The two largest religions in China today are Christianity and Buddhism. We will conduct oral history interviews with 100 Christian leaders and 100 Buddhist leaders. These interviews will help to discover factors and mechanisms of how religions survived the eradication policy during the Cultural Revolution and how they have revived and are thriving since then in spite of restrictive regulations. We will also conduct in-depth interviews with 100 Christian professionals (lawyers, journalists, professors, writers, and artists) and 100 Buddhist professionals about their civic values and civic engagements.


(3) Fostering New Scholarship: We will nourish the scholarly study of Chinese religions by developing first-rate, independent research in our journal, the Review of Religion and Chinese Society. We will also organize a series of two-week writing workshops for younger scholars at Purdue. For each workshop, we will select twelve scholars who have done research on religion in China and who are motivated to publish in international journals in English. We’ll publish two special issues based on the research in the first two parts of the new initiative, one on the changing religious markets and one on religion in civil society or democratic movements.



August 16, 2015 Launch of the Initiative
June 17-21, 2016 First Conference — Case Studies of Religious Groups in a Rapidly Changing Society
August 8-21, 2016 Writing Workshop for the Social Scientific Study of Religion in China (1)
July 11-13, 2017 Second Conference — Changing Religious Landscape in Contemporary East Asia
August 2-14, 2017 Writing Workshop for the Social Scientific Study of Religion in China (2)
June 22-July 5, 2018 Writing Workshop for the Social Scientific Study of Religion among the Chinese (3)
July 3-5, 2018 Third Conference — Religiosity, Secularity, and Pluralism in the Global East
November 9, 2018 Book Launch — Atlas of Religion in China and Mapping Religion and Society
June 28-30, 2019 Final Conference — Mapping Religious Change and Spiritual Capital in China


1. Producing scholarly writings of mapping the Chinese religious landscape, testing hypotheses of the religious markets, and assessing spiritual and social capital: submit 5 books and 10 articles; edit 2 special issues of RRCS; 20 hotspots on the geodatabase.


2. Expanding first-rate, independent research on religion in China and disseminate the findings to academia: 400 interviews, 10 presentations at annual meetings, symposia, and final conference.


3. Training researchers through workshops and research practices: 3 English workshops at Purdue, 2 Chinese workshops in Hong Kong, and a number of postdocs, graduate students, and visiting scholars.


4. Communicating research results to other key audiences: CRCS website and E-Newsletter for the larger field, media appearances, and professional associations.