A reflection on the three-year project

Zhidong Hao
University of Macau

 

Our project on Catholicism and its civic engagement in Hong Kong, Macau, Taipei, and Shanghai, for which I was lead investigator, has come to an end. We found varying levels of civic engagement of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, Macau, Taipei, and Shanghai. Our research led us to classify civic engagement into two parts: civic services and civic activism (called civic action in Hong Kong). Civic services included services in areas such as education, health care, elderly care, etc. These areas are comprehensively developed in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, but quite immature in Shanghai. This is in stark contrast to Shanghai before 1949, when Catholic schools and health institutions were prevalent. But in contemporary Shanghai, these independent Catholic institutions are restricted. In terms of civic activism, the Catholic Church in Hong Kong has been particularly outspoken in democracy movements, while the Church’s activism in Shanghai, Macau, and Taipei is more tacit. This lack of activism is understandable for mainland China, but we needed to explore reasons for this lack in Taipei and Macau.

Therefore, we conducted a survey and in-depth interviews and found that the factors that influence levels of Catholic civic engagement in these four cities were a combination of political, cultural, and individual opportunities and choices. The Catholic Church in Shanghai is bound by political constraints, but why is there low civic engagement in Taiwan and Macau? We found that cultural factors play an important role in the civic engagement of the Catholic Church. Chinese culture emphasizes inner development, along with hierarchy and order, which are similar to Catholic culture. This may affect the civic engagement of the Catholic Church. The interpretation of the Vatican II Council in the four cities has also influenced the amount of civic activism. Surprisingly, recent social movements in Taiwan seem to have had little impact on the civic activism of the Catholic Church. We also took individual-level factors into consideration in our analysis. Indeed, we found that the clergy’s attitude toward civic engagement, especially bishops, directly influenced the Church’s civic engagement in that area. In the case of Hong Kong, this is a powerful explanatory factor that explains why the Church there outperforms those in the other three cities.

Indeed, political, cultural, and individual factors are all important, and these three factors intertwine to influence the different levels of civic engagement of the Catholic Church in these four cities. Thus, we proposed an integrative model for political, cultural, and individual opportunity structures. In other words, political, cultural, and individual factors can provide opportunities for civic engagement, but they can also become constraints. These factors are in constant flux and mutually influence each other to determine the level of civic engagement. I believe this model will help explain the different levels of civic engagement of the Catholic Church in these four cities, as well as the civic engagement of other religions.

We are quite satisfied by this research outcome and its application. Of course, other than the effort of our team, we also benefited from many experts in the CSSP workshops and other colleagues. Particularly, Professor Fenggang Yang has given many constructive critiques to help our project.

Recently, the research network for the research in the sociology of religion has grown and matured. In contrast, the research in the other areas of sociology in China, such as the issues of race, gender, and class, do not have a mature research network. This is regrettable! Many scholars in these areas have made commendable individual achievements, but I would like to see more research networks similar to those in the sociology of religion. Maybe we need more leaders with passion and vision like Fenggang Yang.

In sum, I hope the field of the sociology of religion can continue to develop and play a positive role in the development of Chinese society.