Research Clusters

      Team

      Core members

      • David A. Palmer (HKIHSS & Department of Sociology, The University of Hong Kong)
      • Li Ji (HKIHSS & School of Modern Languages and Cultures, The University of Hong Kong)
      • An Wei (HKIHSS, The University of Hong Kong)
      Main Theme

      Background

      Over the past few decades, religion has played an increasingly vocal and visible role in Asian societies, identities and politics. In China, all forms of religion, whether indigenous or imported, are growing rapidly and increasingly challenging the secular consensus that has dominated intellectual, cultural and political life for over a century of modernizing reforms and revolutions. In India, religious traditions and identities are becoming more assertive in the public sphere. In Muslim nations, intensifying internal religious debates and conflicts are complicating the longstanding tension between Islamic and secularist ideals. In Southeast Asia and among religious minorities everywhere, conflations of religious and communal identity are either reinforced or challenged by the growth of Christianity and Islam. At the same time, modern spiritual movements and religious innovations are articulating new expressions of universal values and cosmopolitanism, blurring the boundaries between different traditions and between the religious and the secular.

      This cluster builds on an emerging scholarly consensus that the complexity of religious realities and issues in Asia requires a rethinking of the concept of religion and its relationship to the rest of society.  The study of religion has been, until now, dominated by theories and concepts derived from the Western experience in the post-enlightenment era, in which religion has been understood primarily in terms of doctrinal credo and congregational identity, all defined in opposition to the secular realm. The study of Asian religion has primarily been conducted in conscious or unconscious reference to Western models – either as essentially other and different from Western religion, or as local variants of a universal phenomenon defined along Western lines. The political, economic and cultural hegemony of the West over the past few centuries has, significantly but far from completely, contributed to refashioning the very phenomenon and experience of Asian religious traditions along Western lines. Over the past half-century, with the development of Area studies, the history, anthropology and sociology of religion in India, Southeast Asia, China and Japan have evolved in isolation from each other, with the West as the explicit or implicit focus of comparison for each region. While the knowledge and insights generated by these approaches should not be minimized, the goal of this research cluster is to promote the emergence of a trans-Asian conversation on religion in Asian societies. This includes facilitating conversations between scholars whose research focus is on different parts of Asia; advancing research on inter-Asian religious connections, influences and networks; building a network of Asian-based scholars of religion in Asia; and contributing to local discourses and debates on religion in Asian societies.

      Rethinking Spirituality and Religion in Asia

      This cluster builds on an emerging scholarly consensus that the complexity of religious realities and issues in Asia requires a rethinking of the concept of religion and its relationship to the rest of society.  The study of religion has been, until now, dominated by theories and concepts derived from the Western experience in the post-enlightenment era, in which religion has been understood primarily in terms of doctrinal credo and congregational identity, all defined in opposition to the secular realm. The study of Asian religion has primarily been conducted in conscious or unconscious reference to Western models – either as essentially other and different from Western religion, or as local variants of a universal phenomenon defined along Western lines. The political, economic and cultural hegemony of the West over the past few centuries has, significantly but far from completely, contributed to refashioning the very phenomenon and experience of Asian religious traditions along Western lines. Over the past half-century, with the development of Area studies, the history, anthropology and sociology of religion in India, Southeast Asia, China and Japan have evolved in isolation from each other, with the West as the explicit or implicit focus of comparison for each region. While the knowledge and insights generated by these approaches should not be minimized, the goal of this research cluster is to promote the emergence of a trans-Asian conversation on religion in Asian societies. This includes facilitating conversations between scholars whose research focus is on different parts of Asia; advancing research on inter-Asian religious connections, influences and networks; building a network of Asian-based scholars of religion in Asia; and contributing to local discourses and debates on religion in Asian societies.

      By taking an Asian perspective on religion, this cluster will aim to bring significant theoretical and methodological contributions to the humanistic and social scientific study of religion. Almost 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia, over three times more than any other continent. While the Middle East, Europe and the Americas are each dominated by one highly institutionalized religious tradition, be it Islam or Christianity, we find a far greater diversity, not only between but also within most Asian societies, with a lively substratum of local, “animistic” or “folk” religion everywhere; Axial traditions originating in India and China; a strong presence of the Christian and Islamic faiths; and waves of globalizing new religions and reform movements. In the modern era, secularization has never been complete in Asia, even in socialist countries like China or Vietnam, and we witness a wide range of creative forms of re-sacralization. Vastly different models of state-religion relations can be observed, both in pre-modern and modern times. Religion has, for centuries, travelled and cross-fertilized between different Asian societies along trade routes, transnational networks and new media.

      Rooted in strong expertise on religion in Chinese societies, the cluster extends its interest to the broader Asian region, both through the comparison of different Asian contexts and through the study of inter-Asian connections and circulations. Hong Kong, as a Chinese cultural hub, thoroughly integrated to Western academic networks and in close proximity to the rest of Asia,  is an ideal location for this research cluster. The interdisciplinary nature of the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences is an essential condition for a holistic consideration of religion in a social context, combining historical depth and contemporary focus.

      The inter-Asian focus of this cluster complements the spacial orientation of the “Hubs, Mobilities and the Asian Urban” cluster, while it engages in a theoretical dialogue with the “Science, Technology and Medicine in Asian Societies” cluster. Among the new theoretical approaches it is exploring, the cluster is examining the application of STS (Science, Technology and Society) theories and methods to examine the transformations of religion in Asian societies. At one level, changes, redefinitions, reinventions and innovations in Asian religious traditions have, since the onset of the modern era, been stimulated by the introduction and development of new forms of knowledge production and technology, as well as newly introduced and contested definitions of legitimate and illegitimate forms of knowledge. At a second level, moving beyond a Euro-centric conception of religion based on doctrinal credo and congregational identity, Asian religious traditions can themselves be seen as systems of technologies of the body, of the self, of healing, of ritual, of community building and political performance. Seen in such a light rather than as bounded sectarian identities, religious traditions can be considered as assemblages of technologies. The cluster will examine the social construction, combinations, dissemination and institutionalization of religious knowledge and technologies; and problematise the shifting boundaries, circulations and interpenetrations between different systems of knowledge.

      Rethinking Spirituality and Religion in Asia

      By taking an Asian perspective on religion, this cluster will aim to bring significant theoretical and methodological contributions to the humanistic and social scientific study of religion. Almost 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia, over three times more than any other continent. While the Middle East, Europe and the Americas are each dominated by one highly institutionalized religious tradition, be it Islam or Christianity, we find a far greater diversity, not only between but also within most Asian societies, with a lively substratum of local, “animistic” or “folk” religion everywhere; Axial traditions originating in India and China; a strong presence of the Christian and Islamic faiths; and waves of globalizing new religions and reform movements. In the modern era, secularization has never been complete in Asia, even in socialist countries like China or Vietnam, and we witness a wide range of creative forms of re-sacralization. Vastly different models of state-religion relations can be observed, both in pre-modern and modern times. Religion has, for centuries, travelled and cross-fertilized between different Asian societies along trade routes, transnational networks and new media.

      Rooted in strong expertise on religion in Chinese societies, the cluster extends its interest to the broader Asian region, both through the comparison of different Asian contexts and through the study of inter-Asian connections and circulations. Hong Kong, as a Chinese cultural hub, thoroughly integrated to Western academic networks and in close proximity to the rest of Asia,  is an ideal location for this research cluster. The interdisciplinary nature of the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences is an essential condition for a holistic consideration of religion in a social context, combining historical depth and contemporary focus.

      The inter-Asian focus of this cluster complements the spacial orientation of the “Hubs, Mobilities and the Asian Urban” cluster, while it engages in a theoretical dialogue with the “Science, Technology and Medicine in Asian Societies” cluster. Among the new theoretical approaches it is exploring, the cluster is examining the application of STS (Science, Technology and Society) theories and methods to examine the transformations of religion in Asian societies. At one level, changes, redefinitions, reinventions and innovations in Asian religious traditions have, since the onset of the modern era, been stimulated by the introduction and development of new forms of knowledge production and technology, as well as newly introduced and contested definitions of legitimate and illegitimate forms of knowledge. At a second level, moving beyond a Euro-centric conception of religion based on doctrinal credo and congregational identity, Asian religious traditions can themselves be seen as systems of technologies of the body, of the self, of healing, of ritual, of community building and political performance. Seen in such a light rather than as bounded sectarian identities, religious traditions can be considered as assemblages of technologies. The cluster will examine the social construction, combinations, dissemination and institutionalization of religious knowledge and technologies; and problematise the shifting boundaries, circulations and interpenetrations between different systems of knowledge.

      Building Blocks

      The cluster builds on the research and collaboration built by the core members over the past decade, touching on Chinese religion and modernity in a global context; religion, volunteering and social engagement in the Chinese world; Daoism and local society in south China and among the Lanten Yao ethnic group in Laos; Chinese redemptive societies in the Sinosphere and in Vietnam; new spiritual and religious movements in China and Asia; as well as religion and state; religious governance and local society; the history of Christianity in China and Asia; religious education; and religion, women and gender.

      The cluster hosts the website on Religious Life in the Chinese World, a companion resource to the book Chinese Religious Life edited by David A. Palmer, Glenn Shive and Philip Wickeri.

      David A. Palmer, Cluster Convenor, is Co-Editor of the book series Religion in Chinese Societies and Associate Editor of the journal Review of Religion and Chinese Society, both at Brill Academic Publishers.

      Our regular collaborating institutions include the following:

      Asia Research Institute, Religion and Globalization Research Cluster, NUS (Singapore)

      Asian Centre for Cross-Cultural Studies (Chennai, India)

      Center for Cultural Sociology, Yale University (USA)

      Center for the Study of Chinese Religions, Taiwan Cheng-chi University

      Centre on Religion and Chinese Society, Purdue University (USA)

      Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (Jogyakarta, Indonesia)

      Institute of Ethnology, University Münster (Germany)

      Institute of Religious Studies, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (China)

      Max Planck Institute for the Study of Ethnic and Religious Diversity (Germany)

      Religion, Society and Secularity Research Group (GSRL) of the CNRS/Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (France)

      Output

      Publications

      2018. David A. Palmer and Jeremy Jammes. “Occulting the Dao: Daoist Inner Alchemy, French Spiritism and Translingual Practice in Vietnamese Colonial Modernity.” Journal of Asian Studies, in press.

      2018. Li Ji. “Catholic Communities and Local Governance in Northeast China”, The China Review. (forthcoming)

      2018. Li Ji. “Resistance, Accommodation and Indigenization: Religion and Political Transformation in Modern China”, Twentieth-Century China 43, no.2: 188-195.

      2017. David A. Palmer and Elijah Siegler. Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 314 pages.

      2016. David A. Palmer and Elijah Siegler. “Healing Tao USA and the History of American Spiritual Individualism.” Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 25: 245-265.

      2016. Li Ji. “‘Sacred Heart’ and the Appropriation of Catholic Faith in Nineteenth-Century China.” Song Gang ed., Reshaping the Boundaries: Ming-Qing Chinese Encounters with Western Culture. Hong Kong: The University of Hong Kong Press, 76-90.

      2015. Li Ji. God’s Little Daughters: Catholic Women in Nineteenth-Century Manchuria. Seattle: University of Washington Press. (Paperback edition in March 2017)

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

      2014. Li Ji. “Faith, Gender, and Literacy: The Du Letters and Catholicism in Nineteenth-Century Northeast China.” Journal of Tsinghua University 2014.02: 7-16.

      2014. Li Ji. “Christianity in Northeast China: A Reflection on Recent Shift of Paradigms in Social, Cultural, and Religious History.” Wu Xiaoxin ed., Narratives from the Hinterland: Perspective, Methodology, and Trends on the Studies of Christianity in China, P. 325-339. Beijing: Guangxi Normal University Press.

      2013. Li Ji. “God’s Little Daughters: Christian Virgins and Catholic Communities of Women in Northeast China.” The Chinese Historical Review 20.1: 16-33.

      2013. Li Ji. “Dissemination of Catholicism in Nineteenth-Century Northeast China: A Study of MEP Archives on Missions Mandchourie.” Zhao Yifeng ed., Manuscripts, Memories, Localization, and Explanations: New Perspectives on Christianity in Northeast China and Sino-Western Cultural Exchange, p. 107-127. Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House.

      2012. David A. Palmer and Liu Xun eds., Daoism in the Twentieth Century: Between Eternity and Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press. 376 pages.

      2012. Li Ji. “Measuring Catholic Faith in Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century China.” Owen White and J. P. Daughton eds., In God’s Empire: French Missionaries and the Modern World, p. 173-94. New York: Oxford University Press.

      2011. Vincent Goossaert and David A. Palmer, The Religious Question in Modern China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 464 pages. Author order is alphabetical by publisher’s policy. French edition (La question religieuse en Chine) published by CNRS Editions, Paris, in 2012.

      2011. David A. Palmer, Glenn Shive and Philip Wickeri eds., Chinese Religious Life. New York: Oxford University Press. 296 pages. Chinese edition: Zhongguoren de zongjiao shenghuo, published 2014 at the Hong Kong University Press.

      2011. Special double issue on “Redemptive Societies and New Religious Movements in Modern China”. Guest editor with Wang Chien-ch’uan and Paul R. Katz, Journal of Chinese Theatre, Ritual and Folklore / Minsu Quyi 172 (July 2011) & 173 (October 2011).

      Events and Activities

      • Conferences, Workshops and Symposiums

      CRF Planning Workshop on “Infrastructures of Faith: Religious Mobilities on the Belt and Road” (October 26, 2018)

      Workshop on “Chinese Minjian Religion: Reviewing the Field and Future Directions”, co-sponsored with Center on Religion and Chinese Society, Purdue University. (May 5, 2018)

      Conference on “Science and Humanities in the 21st Century”, co-sponsored with the Faith and Science Collaborative Research Forum (FaSCoRe). (November 3 – 6, 2017) (Details)

      Conference on “The Church of the Almighty God and the Question of xiejiao”, co-sponsored with Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion. (September 15 – 16, 2017)

      Symposium on “Terrorism and Radicalisation: Ideology, Networks, Framing and Prevention”, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology, and HKIHSS, the University of Hong Kong. (September 8, 2016)

      International Conference on “Jing Jiao”, jointly hosted with the School of Chinese of the University of Hong Kong and the Divinity School of Chung Chi College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. (June 10 – 12, 2015) (Details)

      Forum on “Spirituality in Chinese Society”, East China Normal University, Shanghai. (November 29 – 30, 2014)

      International Conference on “Texts and Contexts: Redemptive Societies and Religious Movements in Modern China”, the University of Hong Kong. (November 8 – 9, 2014) (Details)

      • Faculty Development Workshops

      “Asia Network Faculty Enrichment Program (ANFEP): China-India Study Tour”, co-sponsored with Hong Kong America Center. (June 10 – 30, 2018)

      “Religion and Society in Asia: India/China/Indonesia, Second Summer School Chennai, 2018”, sponsored by the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, supported by Asian Centre for Cross-Cultural Studies. (May 14 – 18, 2018)

      “Religion and Society in Asia: India/China/Indonesia, First Summer School Hong Kong, 2017”, sponsored by the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia. (May 15 – 19, 2017)

      Website for Religion and Society in Asia: https://rsa-ici.weebly.com/

      • Lectures and Seminars
      Spirituality, Religion and Society Lecture Series

      “Is there a Chinese Cultural Essence?” by Professor John Lagerwey. (January 23, 2019) (Details)

      “Dynamic of Memory and Religious Nationalism in a Sino-Vietnamese Border Town” by Dr. Tam T. Ngo. (October 25, 2018) (Details)

      “Nationalism and Religion in India and China" by Professor Peter van der Veer. (October 24, 2018) (Details)

      “The Chinese Pursuit of Happiness: Meaning, Morality, and Everyday Life” by Professor Richard Madsen. (September 10, 2018) (Details)

      “Daoist Patronage and Practices of Arts, Literati Culture, Local Politics and Society in Late Qing and Early Republican Nanyang” by Professor Liu Xun. (April 20, 2018) (Details)

      “Why Empire? Empire as a Topic in World History” by Professor Krishan Kumar. (March 22, 2018) (Details)

      “Interactions Between Christianity and Local Folk Religions in 19th and 20th Century China” by Professor Chu Xiaobai. (February 12, 2018) (Details)

      “The Spiritual Practice of Orthodoxy (東正教的靈修傳統)” by Professor Zhang Baichun. (January 23, 2018) (Details)

      “The Radical Roots of Love: Christianity, Communism, and the Politics of ‘Love’ in Modern China” by Dr. Guo Ting. (November 30, 2017) (Details)

      “China’s Religious Revival” by Mr. Ian Johnson. (November 6, 2017) (Details)

      “「邊緣人」的歷史與歷史書寫—以日本神戶華僑為例” by Professor Wang Ke. (September 22, 2017) (Details)

      “The Judicialization of Religious Freedom: The European Court of Human Rights and Minority Religions” by Professor James Richardson. (September 18, 2017) (Details)

      “Early Modern Globalization through a Jesuit Prism: Intercultural Encounters in Japan, China, India, and Tibet” by Professor Jose Casanova. (March 10, 2017) (Details)

      “Spirit Cults and Surrogate Rural Subjectivity in Yan’an, China” by Dr. Wu Ka-ming. (February 17, 2017) (Details)

      “Engendering Religious Compassion Chinese Women and the Micro-Politics of Buddhist Volunteerism” by Professor Khun Eng Kuah. (February 15, 2017)

      “Using Transdisciplinary Tools to Address Controversial Issues in History of Religion: the Case of Early Christianity” by Dr. Andrew Ter Ern Loke. (January 26, 2017) (Details)

      “Belief in Meaninglessness, Belief in Literature — Religious Imaginations in the Contemporary Chinese Fiction” by Dr. An Wei. (November 25, 2016) (Details)

      “Urban Restructuring and Temple Agency — the Case Studies of Han Buddhist Temples in Shanghai” by Professor Huang Weishan. (November 10, 2016) (Details)

      “The Dejiaohui and the Construction and Development of Its Transnational Network between Chao-Shan Region, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia” by Ms Wu Qi. (September 13, 2016) (Details)

      “The Anthropological Study of Religion in China: Contexts, Collaborations, Debates, and Trends” by Dr. Liang Yongjia. (September 9, 2016) (Details)

      “The Birth of a Religious Group: An Ethnographic Study of Confucian Congregation” by Dr. Chen Na. (April 19, 2016) (Details)

      Seminar on “Spiritual Connection and Cultivation: The Cultivation Experience of the Spiritual Mediators in Taiwan” by Professor Lin Mei-Rong. (June 18, 2015) (Details)

      Seminar on “Daoist Ritual, the Transformation of Tradition and the Politics of Heritage among the Lanten Yao Minority of Laos” by Mr. Joseba Estevez. (May 12, 2015) (Details)

      Seminar on “The Development of Buddhist Charity in China: the Case Study of the Ren’ai Foundation in Beijing” by Professor André Laliberté. (April 21, 2015) (Details)

      Seminar on “Qigong and Healing Communities in Contemporary Shanghai: Techniques of the Body, State Institutions and Transnational Flows” by Dr. Marceau Chenault. (January 20, 2015) (Details)

      Seminar on “The Dao of World Religions: The China Problem in Modern Religion” by Dr. Mark Larrimore. (December 10, 2014) (Details)

      Lecture on “Is the Concept of Secularism Relevant to China?” by Professor Prasenjit Duara. (November 7, 2014) (Details)

      Lecture on “The Jade Emperor: Sovereign Power, Celestial Bureaucracy, and the Political Theology of the Masses in China” by Professor Mayfair Yang. (September 18, 2014) (Details)

      Round-table Seminar on “Comparing Indian and Chinese Philosophy and Religion: Reflection and Prospectus” chaired by Dr. David A. Palmer, with panelists Yao Zhihua, Huang Yong, Ithamar Theodor, and Xing Guang. (September 16, 2014) (Details)

      Grants

      David A. Palmer’s Grants

      Infrastructures of Faith: Religious Mobility on the Belt and Road. HKU Seed Funding for Strategic Interdisciplinary Research Scheme (HKD 147,000) and HKU BRC Bid

      Deepening Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts: Religion in National and International Affairs in China and India. David A. Palmer, co-director, 2018 (USD 125,960), ASIANetwork Faculty Enhancement Program (ANFEP).

      Daoism, Chinese Imperial Power and Borderland Local Society: The Case of the Lanten Yao of Laos. PI, Seed Grant for Basic Research, the University of Hong Kong. HKD 77,570 (2017 – 2018).

      New Approaches to Religious Pluralism in Asia: China – India – Indonesia. PI. USD 75,000 (HKD 582,000) (2015 – 2019), United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, in collaboration with the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies and the Asian Centre for Cross-Cultural Studies (Chennai, India)

      Popular Religion in Contemporary Chinese Literature. HKD 718,452 (2016 – 2018), Neo-Union Educational Foundation.

      Digital Library of the Lanten Textual Heritage. Co-Investigator (Principal Investigator: Josephus Platenkamp, Universitat Munster), GBP 30,042 (2015 – 2017), British Library Endangered Archives Programme.

      Religion in Minority Ethnic Regions of China. Co-investigator (Principal investigator: Liang Yongjia, China Agricultural University). CNY 200,000 (HKD 240,000) (2014 – 2017), China National Social Science Foundation.

      Li Ji’s Grants

      Negotiating Spirituality and Urban Space in Jiangbeicheng: Local History, Religion and the Making of Modern China. PI. HKD 573,056 (2017 – 2020). Early Career Scheme Research Fund (ECS), Research Grants Council, Hong Kong.

      Making Religion, Making Local Society: The Social History of a Catholic Village in Northeast China. PI. HKD 627,340 (2015 – 2017) General Research Fund (GRF), Research Grants Council, Hong Kong. Rethinking Indigenization and Christianity in China: Alfred Marie Caubrière (1876 – 1948) and His Private Writings in Early Twentieth-century Manchuria. PI. HKD 150,000 (2017 – 2019). Sin Wai-Kin Junior Fellowship, HKIHSS, HKU, and HKD 77,570 (2017 – 2019). Seed Funding for Basic Research, HKU.

      Floods, Religion, and Trade: A Lost River Town in Late Imperial and Modern China. PI. HKD 47,900 (2014 – 2016). Seed Funding for Basic Research, HKU.

      In God’s Name: A Century of a Chinese Catholic Family. PI. HKD 40,000 (2012 – 2013). Hang Sang Bank Golden Jubilee Education Fund for Research, HKIHSS, HKU. Faith, Gender and Community: Christianity in Northeast China, 1840 – 1900. PI. HKD 79,600 (2012 – 2014), Small Project Funding, HKU.

      Catholic Villages in Shanxi Province. PI. HKD 40,000 (2011), Shanxi Project Research Fund, HKIHSS, HKU.