Academic Staff

      David A. Palmer

      DAVID A. PALMER 宗樹人

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


      Dr David A Palmer is a Professor jointly appointed by the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences and 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, Université Paris PSL), 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’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. He 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 (Edward Bruner Prize for the best book in the Anthropology of Tourism by the American Anthropological Association and Oustanding Research Output Award of the HKU Faculty of Social Sciences; co-authored with E. Siegler) was published in 2017 by the University of Chicago Press. 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. His writings have been published or are forthcoming in journals such as Current Anthropology, American Anthropologist, Economy and Society, The Journal of Asian Studies and Modern Asian Studies.

      He leads the “Asian Religious Connections” research cluster at the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, where he directs a GRF grant on “Daoism, Ethnic Identity and State Socialism: the Lanten Yao on the China-Vietnam-Laos Borderland” and a CRF grant on “Infrastructures of Faith: Religious Mobilities on the Belt and Road.”


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

      Selected Publications


      The Civil Sphere in East Asia

      2019 The Civil Sphere in East Asia (co-edited with Jeffrey Alexander, Agnes Ku and Sunwoong Park), Cambridge University Press, 320 pages.

      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. (Available in Open Access)

      Chinese Religious Life

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

      The Religious Question in Modern China

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

      Qigong Fever: Body, Science and Utopia in China

      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]

      Selected journal articles

      The Bahá’í Faith and Covenantal Pluralism: Promoting Oneness, Respecting Difference” (with Temily Tavangar) The Review of Faith & International Affairs, 19:2, 29-39, DOI: 10.1080/15570274.2021.1917138

      Ethics of the Heart: Moral Breakdown and the Aporia of Chinese Volunteers” (with Rundong Ning). Current Anthropology 61:4 (2020): 395-417.

      Chinese NGOs at the Interface between Governmentality and Local Society: An Actor-Oriented Perspective” (with Qing Liu). China Information, published online Sept 2020, DOI: 10.1177/0920203X20942094.

      Black Bloc against Red China: Tears and Revenge in the Trenches of the New Cold War”. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 10:2 (2020).

      Cosmology, Gender, Structure and Rhythm: Marcel Granet and Chinese Religion in the History of Social Theory.” Review of Religion and Chinese Society 6 (2019): 160-187.

      Guanyin’s Limbo: Icons as Demi-Persons and Dividual Objects” (with Chip Colwell and Martin Tse). American Anthropologist. Published online first, 23 Aug. 2019.

      Neo-Socialist Governmentality: Managing Freedom in the Peoples’ Republic of China” (with Fabian Winiger). Economy and Society 48:4 (2019), pp. 554-578.

      The Cosmopolitan Moment in Colonial Modernity: The Bahá’í Faith, Spiritual Networks and Universalist Movements in early Twentieth Century China” (with Zhaoyuan Wan). Modern Asian Studies. Published online first, 2019.

      Spirituality, Transcendence, and the Circulatory History of Modern Asian Religion” (Review Essay). Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 78:1 (2018), pp. 171-180.

      “Occulting the Dao: Daoist Inner Alchemy, French Spiritism and Vietnamese Colonial Modernity in Caodai Translingual Practice” (with Jeremy Jammes). Journal of Asian Studies 77:2 (2018), 405-428.

      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.

      Selected book chapters

      The Civil Sphere in the Cultural and Political Transformations of Modern East Asia”, in Jeffrey Alexander, David A. Palmer, Agnes Ku and Sunwoong Park (eds.), The Civil Sphere in East Asia. Cambridge University Press, 2019, pp. 1-17.

      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. Cambridge University Press, 2019, pp. 126-147.

      The Resurrection of Lei Feng: Rebuilding the Chinese Party-State’s Infrastructure of Volunteer Mobilization” (with Rundong Ning), in Elizabeth Perry, Gzegorz Eckiert and Xiaojun Yan eds., Ruling by Other Means: State-Mobilized Social Movements. Cambridge University Press, 2020.

      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, 2018, pp. 83-105.

      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 20th 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

      Infrastructures of Faith: Religious Mobilities on the Belt and Road (BRINFAITH). Project Coordinator, Hong Kong Collaborative Research Fund (CRF), 2019 – 2022.

      Daoism, Ethnic Identity and State Socialism: the Lanten Yao on the China-Vietnam-Laos Borderland (YAODAO). PI, Hong Kong General Research Fund (GRF), 2018 – 2021.

      Chinese Modernity and Soft Power on the Belt and Road. PI, RGC Research Fellowship, 2021 – 2025.

      Religious Cosmopolitanism in China, 1895-1927. PI, Hong Kong General Research Fund (GRF), 2021 – 2023.

      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 at HKIHSS

      Ning Rundong, MPhil graduate, HKIHSS, 2015

      Fung Lok Hang, MPhil graduate, HKIHSS, 2021

      Qiu Zichan, MPhil graduate, HKIHSS, 2021

      Martin Tse, MPhil graduate, HKIHSS, 2022

      Sun Jiayue, MPhil graduate, HKIHSS, 2022

      Fabian Winiger, PhD graduate, HKIHSS, 2018

      Anna Iskra, PhD graduate, HKIHSS, 2020

      Rao Yichen, PhD graduate, HKIHSS, 2021

      Fan Ziwei, MPhil student, HKIHSS, 2021 –

      Gai Yijun, PhD student, HKIHSS, 2021 –

      Hua Ye, PhD student, HKIHSS, 2022 –

      Sun Jiayue, PhD student, HKIHSS, 2022 –

      Martin Tse, PhD student, HKIHSS, 2022 –

      Wang Yang, PhD student, HKIHSS, 2022 –