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New Developments of Popular Religion in Post-Mao China: Deterritorialization, Feminization, Buddhification

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dateOctober 14, 2010 timeThursday, 12:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Columbia University

The severe suppression that popular religion suffered in Maoist China did not prevent its return when a more liberal religious policy was implemented in the post-Mao years. The revival of popular religion in contemporary China has been hailed by many scholars. Based on her fieldwork in Southeast China, Yanfei Sun, however, discerned several ongoing processes that have accompanied the resurgence of ancient religious forms and that complicate a simple “revival” story: firstly, the bonds between popular religion temples and village communities have been attenuating; secondly, women have come to play a more significant role in the communal religion, which used to evince male domination; and finally, many communal temples have initiated a process of “Buddhification,”installing Buddhist icons, building Buddha halls, holding Buddhist ritual services, and inviting Buddhist monks or lay leaders to manage temples, sometimes even at the risk of diluting their popular religion identity.

Dr. Sun argued that the three interrelated processes have to be explained by the interaction between the nature of popular religion and the changing structural conditions of China’s rural society, which include, above all, the removal of lineage associations as the dominant power-holder and the outmigration of rural residents.

  • Yanfei Sun Assistant Professor of Sociology Zhejiang University