Christianity in Chinese Public Life: Religion, Society, and the Rule of Law, a newly published book from Palgrave Macmillan, has emerged from the 2011 Gospel and Culture seminar in China.
Today a quarter of all Chinese claim a major religious tradition, yet the state remains deeply concerned about religious activity. The West tends to view religion-and-state relations in China in bipolar terms: dissidents' resistance and government repression. But as this work shows, the interaction of religion, society, and governance in China is much more subtle and complex than that. The contributors of this volume focus on Christianity in China to examine the prospects for social and political change.
Religion, Society and the Rule of Law in China
Shanghai and Beijing, 3-16 June 2011
In a mere thirty years, China has become a world economic power with the world's most dynamic economy, now second only to the United States in scale. At the same time, Chinese society has experienced fundamental changes, notably the rise of a well-educated and assertive urban middle class. The conventional wisdom is that the Chinese are very this-worldly and pragmatic people, and not generally interested in religion. But new social surveys in China show that more than 30 percent of Chinese people aged 16 and older have some religious convictions. Given the fairly recent political history of China, which saw the official promotion of atheism and the active suppression of religion, this is very surprising news. Even so, the Chinese government still attempts to manage the nation's religious affairs. In an interview last year in the China Daily, Prof. Liu Peng proposed legislation that would allow religious groups to register easily, be guaranteed freedom of belief, and be allowed to "compete freely—in a way similar to the market economy."
Can China achieve legal reform for the sake of religious freedom? As the Chinese government seems poised to consider reforming how it addresses religious belief and practice, how might Westerners understand this situation and play a more constructive role? And what might Chinese scholars of religion learn from an extended dialogue with their North American colleagues on religion and the rule of law?
This seminar on “Religion, Society and the Rule of Law” convened up-and-coming American and Chinese scholars with research interests in these issues to look at them with fresh eyes and to think together about how the Chinese government and people might address matters of religious belief and practice, and how Americans might play a constructive and supportive role. This seminar featured eight scholars from the United States and Canada and a dozen Chinese scholars with similar interests. These participants would be convened by a team of senior Chinese experts in this field, led by
- Prof. Liu Peng of CASS, and also including
- Prof Lu Yunfeng, a sociologist at Peking University and director of the Center for the Study of Chinese Religion and Society; and
- Prof. Yan Kejia, a senior researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences
This seminar succeeded on several levels. It put an extraordinary opportunity before the Chinese scholars. They were able to network with the North Americans and learn more about how western Christian thinkers addressed issues of religion’s role in society and relation to the state. And not least, they were able to network with each other, across academic, regional and denominational lines. The seminar helped North American Christian scholars see the issues they study playing out in a very different cultural context, and it raised some compelling questions for them about what might be important to study in the near future. It introduced them to China, a vast and diverse nation that is both dynamic and fragile. And it put them in touch with Chinese colleagues and fellow believers, whose diligence, patience, persistence and hope are deeply inspiring. We look forward to the publication of reflective essays from team members.