Constructing Contemporary Chinese Christianity and Civic Community:
A Study of Four Types of Churches in Beijing

Fuk-tsang Ying
The Chinese University of Hong Kong

 

The Results of the Project
With the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation, our project researchers were able to go to Beijing several times for field research. Our project studied contemporary Christianity in Beijing to explore the relationship between different types of churches and the civic community. Between 2011 and 2012, we conducted more than 50 in-depth interviews and observed dozens of religious activities among more than 30 churches; we generated about one million characters of research notes and diaries. We completed a project paper (English) and four journal articles (Chinese). Of the five papers, four have been submitted to and one has been accepted by academic journals. We are currently revising three papers. In addition, we have shared our research results in various courses in CUHK and plan to publicize the research findings at public lectures and forums in the future.

The Benefit of the Workshops
We have benefited greatly from the workshops in at least four ways. First, most of the invited speakers in the workshops are renowned experts in the social scientific study of religion. With profundity and an easy-to-understand approach, the speakers helped us grasp the essence of the field. Second, the scholarly exchange and encouragement among the participants of the workshops helped improve the quality of our research. Third, the most valuable aspect of the workshops for our team was the opportunity to observe and participate in the religious activities of various local religious communities. We visited and observed different types of religious communities including Protestant churches, Catholic churches, and mosques. We also visited several faith-based social service organizations to explore how these religious organizations operate. The above mentioned field experiences provided us with first hand material and a comparative framework for the operation of religion in an open society. Fourth, the workshop specifically arranged lectures on journal article writing, which helped us understand the process and standards for submitting papers to international journals.

The Contribution of our Project to the Study of Chinese Religion and Society
Regarding our research approach, individual liberalism is the mainstream perspective in the study of Chinese Christianity and civil society, while the communitarian approach is underdeveloped. Our study springs from an attempt to address several theses from the communitarian approach. In terms of the subjects of our research, we tried to classify and compare different types of Chinese Christianity. Chinese Christianity has experienced diverse developments due to the market economy, urbanization, and varying degrees of regulation by the state. Even the house church is too diverse to be treated as a singular type of unit of analysis. Lastly, we have examined and revised several classical social scientific concepts in the context of China, e.g., Putnam’s civic community and Tonnies’ Gesellschaft and Gemeinschaft.

The John Templeton Foundation and the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University have significantly pushed forward research on Chinese religion and society. The CSSP has engaged in the production of knowledge beneficial to humanity, breaking down the monopoly, and more importantly, dismantling the bondage of religious research under ideological dogmatism.