Our stories

We asked the scholars one question, “Why did you study Chinese religion?” They shared their stories and research interests, recalling their first intention of entering the research field of Chinese religion. Here, although the academic paths they take are different, the destination they reach is a common ground of thoughts, which is, simply, to know the religious lives of people in the Chinese world. Please watch.

Kristofer Schipper: Path to Daoist studies

The well respected Daoism scholar Kristofer Schipper who edited the huge volume Daoist Canon, is also a Daoist priest! He was trained and initiated in Taiwan where he conducted his early research in the 1950s. Here, Schipper shares his funny stories and his adventure in the Chinese world which turned out to be a lifelong intellectual pursuit. He says, “I didn’t become a good Daoist. It’s very hard. It’s far more easy to be a university professor than to be a good Daoist priest. I can tell you that.” Let’s watch how hard his journey is.

Adam Yuet Chau: Why study Chinese religion?

Adam Yuet Chau gives a simple reason for the question: “studying another culture is a humanistic pursuit.” Why are there some people doing things that we had never heard of? What makes people devote themselves to those religions that we rarely encounter? To find the answers, we can observe, think, and learn from others, and Chau thinks that studying Chinese religion is a very “valuable lesson.”

Adam Yuet Chau: Path to Anthropology and Religion

Adam Yuet Chau is the author of Miraculous Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China that describes the revival of a popular temple in northern China. He picks up his memory of his first visit to Shanbei (part of Shanxi province) in 1995, where he found the world of Chinese peasants so fascinating. That summer, he decided to study popular religion in China.

C. Julia Huang: Why study religion?

Julia Huang is the author of Charisma and Compassion: Cheng Yen and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Movement (Harvard University Press, 2009). She studied the Tzu Chi Movement in Taiwan, a religious organization with five million devotees in over thirty countries. Why does she study religion? She gives a funny answer: “Because when you go to any religious organization, they will welcome you.”

Robert P. Weller: The reasons for studying religion

Why do we need to know how others’ live? Why do we need to study societies that we do not live in? Robert P. Weller gives a clear answer: “It helps build our own society as a more genuinely pluralistic place.” You can gain a lot by learning from others.

Thomas DuBois: Local religion – exotic and familiar

Thomas DuBois is the author of The Sacred Village: Social Change and Religious Life in Rural North China (University of Hawai’i Press, 2005). He studied the religious life of villagers in a village in Hebei province, where he found an intensely local view of the world derived from stories of divine revelations, cures, and miracles. Here in this interview, he describes local religion in China in an intriguing way: “it was exotic; and at the same time, it was familiar.” The religious practice in Chinese villages reminds him of his hometown in Indiana, U.S., a very heavily Roman Catholic small town where people integrate and interact through the church. This is an interesting comparison.

Thomas DuBois: Misconceptions about Chinese religion

Thomas DuBois shares his experience in the study of Chinese religion and he has found some common misconceptions about it: (1) there is no religion in contemporary China; (2) Daoism embodies anarchy, and; (3) Chinese religion is all about mysticism. These impressions are exaggerating, and as DuBois clarifies the above, he concludes, “Chinese people are real people too.” Let’s see why.

Tam Wai Lun: How I came to study village religion

Before conducting research on village religion, Tam Wai Lun was a Buddhist scholar. One day, he changed his mind and decided to study village religion, where he found intriguing expressions of Buddhism in the popular milieu. What changed his mind? Please watch.

Tam Yik Fai: Studying religious life

Tam Yik Fai stepped into the field of popular religion as he received some advice from a scholar, “folk religion is actually the real religion or the Chinese people and in their daily lives rather than the ‘Three Traditions.’” By “Three Tradition,” he means Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. But why isn’t the Three Traditions real religion? Let’s see how Tam Yik Fai explains.

Joseph Bosco: Why I study Mazu?

Joseph Bosco is the author of Temples of the Empress of Heaven (Oxford University Press, 1999). He studied the worship of Mazu (also known as Tin Hau or Tianhou), a goddess who look after fishermen, farmers, and villages in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and southeast China. His journey started in a Mazu temple in Taiwan, where he found observed the social functions and cultural meanings of the cult. Please watch.

Philip L. Wickeri: The growth of Protestant Christianity in China

Philip L. Wicker was ordained pastor in China by the Christian Council in Jiangsu province. He served his faith and devoted himself to the work of God in China. He developed the bible-printing agency Amity Printing Press, trained Christian clergies at the Nanjing Theological Seminary, and witnesses the robust growth of Protestant Christianity in China. Here in this interview, he remarks, “At a time when everyone is wanting to get rich, these people are devoting themselves to the Christian message and what will inevitably be a fairly difficult life in the church.”

Richard Madsen: My life in a global confluence of cultures

Richard Madsen is the author of Democracy’s Dharma: Religious Renaissance and Political Development in Taiwan (University of California Press, 2007). Actually, in the old days, he was a Catholic missionary and was first sent to Taiwan. He recalls, “And I gave that up, but ended up learning a lot about Chinese culture and China’s religion in the process, and brought that back in my own transformed way, trying to make my own synthesis out of it.” He lived his life in the time of global confluence of cultures, from the West to the East, and also from the East to the West.

Fenggang Yang: Why I study religion?

Fenggang Yang is the author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rules (Oxford University Press, 2012). He first studied western philosophy and became a professor in a university in China. And later, he went to the United States, visited many churches, and started his research on a Chinese Christian church in the Washington D.C. area. Why did he switch his academic career from philosophy to religion? Let’s watch.