Academic Staff

      David A. Palmer

      DAVID A. PALMER 宗樹人

      PhD in Anthropology of Religion, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Sorbonne, Paris)
      Associate Professor, HKIHSS and Department of Sociology, The University of Hong Kong


      Dr. David A. Palmer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong, which he joined in 2008. After completing his Ph.D. at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (School for Advanced Research, Sorbonne), he was the Eileen Barker Fellow in Religion and Contemporary Society in the Department of Sociology of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and, from 2004 to 2008, Director of the Hong Kong Centre of the French School of Asian Studies (Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient), located at the Institute for Chinese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

      Palmer is best known for his award-winning books The Religious Question in Modern China (Joseph Levenson Award of the Association for Asian Studies and PROSE Award of the American Publishers’ Association, co-authored with V. Goossaert) and Qigong Fever: Body, Science and Utopia in China (Francis L.K. Hsu Award of the Society for East Asian Anthropology), both of which have become essential reading for studies on contemporary Chinese society and religion. His latest book Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality (co-authored with E. Siegler) was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2017. He has also published numerous articles, journal issues and edited volumes on Chinese religion, civil society, Daoism, the Bahá’í Faith, and modern and transnational religious movements.

      Palmer’s interdisciplinary research and teaching is situated at the intersection of sociology and anthropology, and is informed by scholarly traditions in history, religious studies and Sinology. His current research projects focus on inter-Asian religious circulations; Daoism and ethnicity in southern China and the Indo-Chinese Peninsula; and on civil society, subject formation and governance in China. His other research interests include religion and spiritual movements, state, society and traditional culture, comparative and historical sociology, and Asian assemblages of science and religion.

      He leads the “Rethinking Spirituality and Religion in Asia” research cluster at the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, where he is on secondment for the academic year 2017 –2018.


      Room 114, May Hall, The University of Hong Kong
      Tel: (852) 3917-5903
      Fax: (852) 2559-6143

      Selected Publications


      Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality

      2017 Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality (co-authored with Elijah Siegler), University of Chicago Press, 326 pages.


      2014 Zhongguoren de zongjiao shenghuo (中國人的宗教生活), HKU Press. [Chinese edition of Chinese Religious Life]

      Daoism in the Twentieth Century: Between Eternity and Modernity

      2012 Daoism in the Twentieth Century: Between Eternity and Modernity (co-edited with Liu Xun), University of California Press, 404 pages.

      Chinese Religious Life

      2012 Chinese Religious Life (co-edited with Glenn Shive and Philip Wickeri), Oxford University Press, 296 pages.

      La question religieuse en Chine

      2012 La question religieuse en Chine, Paris: Editions du CNRS, 500 pages. [French edition of The Religious Question in Modern China]

      The Religious Question in Modern China

      2011 The Religious Question in Modern China (co-authored with Vincent Goossaert), University of Chicago Press, 464 pages.

      2007 Qigong Fever: Body, Science and Utopia in China, Columbia University Press, 320 pages.

      2005 La fièvre du “Qigong” Guérison, religion et politique en Chine, 1949-1999, Paris: Editions de l’EHESS, 512 pages. [French edition of Qigong Fever: Body, Science and Utopia in China]

      Book Manuscripts under Preparation

      The Civil Sphere in East Asia, ed. by Jeffrey Alexander, David A. Palmer, Agnes Ku and Sunwoon Park. Cambridge University Press.

      Self-Government under Neo-Socialism: Cultivating Autonomy in China (co-authored with R. Ning, F. Winiger, A. Iskra, Q. Liu, Q. Peng and Z. Liu).

      Journal Articles

      “Occulting the Dao: Daoist Inner Alchemy, French Spiritism and Vietnamese Colonial Modernity in Caodai Translingual Practice” (with Jeremy Jammes). Journal of Asian Studies, forthcoming, 2018.

       “Transnational Sacralizations: When Daoist Monks Meet Spiritual Tourists.” Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 79: 2 (2014), 169-192.

       “From ‘Congregations’ to ‘Small Group Community Building’: Localizing the Bahá’í Faith in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China.” Chinese Sociological Review 45: 2 (2013), 78-98.

      “Gift and Market in the Chinese Religious Economy”. Religion 41:4 (2011): 1-26.

      “Chinese Redemptive Societies and Salvationist Religion: Historical Phenomenon or Sociological Category?” Journal of Chinese Theatre, Ritual and Folklore / Minsu Quyi 172 (2011), pp. 21-72.

      “China’s Religious Danwei: Institutionalizing Religion in the Peoples’ Republic.” China Perspectives 2009/4, pp. 17-31.

      “Modernity and Millenialism in China: Qigong and the Birth of Falun Gong”, Asian Anthropology 2 (2003), pp. 79-110.

      Draft Articles in Progress

      “Ritual Conquests and Socialist Event Productions: An Exorcist Goddess and the Production of Sacrality in Contemporary China.”

      “Beyond Hybridity: Poly-Ontological Assemblages in Chinese Religion.”

      “Neo-Socialist Governmentality, ‘Constructing Spiritual Civilization,’ and the China Dream.” (with Fabian Winiger)

      “The Aporia of Chinese Volunteers: Moral Breakdown and Ethical Moments.” (with Ning Rundong)

      “Intimate Utopias: Volunteer Spaces and Micro-Civil Spheres in China.” (with Ning Rundong)

      Book Chapters

      “Three Moral Codes and Micro-Civil Spheres in China,” in Jeffrey Alexander, David A. Palmer, Agnes Ku and Sunwoong Park eds., The Civil Sphere in East Asia. Contracted with Cambridge University Press.

      “The Resurrection of Lei Feng: Rebuilding the Chinese Party-State’s Infrastructure of Volunteer Mobilization” (with Ning Rundong), in Elizabeth Perry, Gzegorz Eckiert and Xiaojun Yan eds., Ruling by Other Means: State-Mobilized Social Movements. Contracted with Cambridge University Press.

      “Secularization, Sacralization and Subject Formation in Modern China” (with Fabian Winiger), in Peter van der Veer and Kenneth Dean eds., A Secular Age in Asia?, Palgrave MacMillan, forthcoming.

      “Religion, Spiritual Principles and Civil Society,” in Ben Schewel and Geoff Cameron eds., Religion and Public Discourse in an Age of Transition: Reflections on Baha’i Practice and Thought. Guelph, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2018.

      “Is Chinese (Lack of) Religion Exceptional?” In Ryan Hornbeck and Justin Barrett, eds. Homo Religiosus and the Dragon: Cognitive Studies of Religion in China. Springer Academic Publishers, 2017. 

       “Daoism and Human Rights: Integrating the Incommensurable”. In Joseph Tham, Kai Man Kwang & Alberto Garcia eds. Religious Perspectives on Bioethics and Human Rights. Springer Academic Publishers, 2017, pp. 139-144.  DOI: 978-3-319-58431-7_12

      “Religiosity and Social Movements in China: Divisions and Multiplications”, in Gilles Guiheux & K. E. Kuah-Pearce (eds.), Social Movements in China and Hong Kong: The Expansion of Protest Space. ICAS/Amsterdam University Press, 2009, pp. 257-282.

      “Heretical Doctrines, Reactionary Secret Societies, Evil Cults: Labelling Heterodoxy in Twentieth-Century China”, in Mayfair Yang (ed.), Chinese Religiosities: the Vicissitudes of Modernity and State Formation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008, pp. 113-134.

      Research Projects

      Civil Sphere Theory Globalization Project. Yale University Centre for Cultural Sociology and HKU Contemporary China SRT, 2016 – 2018. Co-convenor of Civil Sphere in East Asia book project, in collaboration with Jeffrey Alexander, Agnes Ku and Sunwoon Park. 

      Daoism, Chinese Imperial Power and Borderland Local Society: the Case of the Lanten Yao in Laos. British Library Endangered Archives Programme, 2015 – 2017 (Co-I with Joseba Estevez and Josephus Platenkamp); PI, HKU Seed Grant for Basic Research, 2017 – 2018.

      New Approaches to Religious Pluralism in Asia: India-China-Indonesia. PI, United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, 2016 – 2019; in collaboration with the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies and the Asian Centre for Cross-Cultural Studies (Chennai, India).

      Infrastructures of Faith: Religious Mobility on the Belt and Road. PI, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, HKU BRC Strategic Research Fund, 2018 – 2021.

      Knowledge Exchange Projects

      A Values-Based Evaluation Framework for Humanitarian Education Programmes. Co-PI with Marie Harder (HKU Faculty of Social Sciences ExCEL3, Fudan University, Brighton University and a major social service agency in Hong Kong), 2017 – 2020.

      Student Supervision

      Ning Rundong, MPhil graduate, HKIHSS, 2014

      Fabian Winiger, PhD student, HKIHSS, 2014 –

      Anna Iskra, PhD student, HKIHSS, 2015 –