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Over onsFaculteit Godgeleerdheid en GodsdienstwetenschapOnderzoekCSRCAResearchMapping Religious Diversity in Modern Sichuan

Mapping Religious Diversity in Modern Sichuan

A Spatial and Social Study of Communities and Networks

Directors: Dr. Stefania Travagnin and Dr. Elena Valussi

This three-year project aims at discussing dynamics and paradigms of religious diversity in Sichuan in the Qing and Republican period.

Historians of China have been increasingly interested in this extremely creative, if chaotic, period of time as central for the creation of Chinese modernity. Religion has only recently been part of the discussion, as publications and conferences have attested, but already provides an important lens through which to consider societal, political and cultural changes.

Our aim is the study of religious diversity through the analysis of communities and networks, with a specific interest in interactions between rural/urban, public/private, religious/lay communities and spaces. Project participants will take into account not only the five officially recognized religions (Buddhism, Daoism, Protestantism, Catholicism and Islam) but also other religious manifestations that do not fit into these neat categories, like Confucio-Daoist traditions, philanthropic organizations, new religious movements, spirit writing communities. Further, we will try to address these different religious groups not as separate entities, but often in conversation with each other, and we will pay specific attention to gender relations in these exchanges. We will try to highlight interactions and the permeability of religious borders, and how ‘space’ is in itself an active agent in the formation and development of those relationships and networks. Finally, we plan to produce a digital mapping of these networks in free open access so to be used for teaching and research.

Locally, this project will enhance (1) theories and methods for the study of Chinese (and local Sichuan) practices of religious and ethnic inclusion through the conceptual categories of ‘network’ and ‘space’; (2) the understanding of the dynamics in the binaries urban and rural settings, private and public sphere, female and male communities that define the historical background to the contemporary religious landscape in Sichuan province ; this will contribute to the fields of Chinese religious regionalism and spatial studies of religion; (3) the use of digital technologies to mark-up textual materials, produce GIS maps of the locations and geographical networks of religious communities; finally, (4) concentrating on Sichuan as a specific case study will also allow us to use the time at our disposal to build a case that will work as a model for a larger scale longer-term project. Globally, this research will produce (5) the basis of conceptual paradigms on religious diversity and community networks that can be applicable to non-Chinese areas, and thus will become also academically and socially relevant on a global scale.

The team, led by Stefania Travagnin (University of Groningen) and Elena Valussi (Loyola University Chicago) includes scholars from institutional affiliations located in three continents [North America (USA and Canada), Europe (Netherlands) and Asia (Hong Kong and Taiwan)], with various disciplinary training (history of religion, Chinese studies, political science, anthropology, sociology, ritual studies, media and material culture), and whose previous and current research has addressed all the major religious traditions and practices (Han Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Protestant Christianity, Catholicism, popular religions, new religious movements). Therefore the composition of this team guarantees multidisciplinary parallel studies and a final interdisciplinary output. These researchers will work in constructive dialogue with local scholars in Sichuan at Sichuan University and the Southwest University for Nationalities.

Each researcher will conduct three yearly ethnographic and archival researches in Sichuan, investigate either or both inter-religious and intra-religious community networks, and consider the role and rule of space in the creation and development of those community networks.

The various sub-studies in this research project all, in different ways, reveal the centrality of Sichuan in their narrative, the importance of intra- and inter- religious networks and communities, and the texts, rituals, spaces, images which result from these interactions. These studies, taken as a whole, begin to trace the contours of a complex and unique religious landscape influenced by migration, ethnic diversity, and the lack of strong political control that allowed for wider experimentation. Religious communities are analysed in different ways: by tradition (intra-religious networks): by looking at communities who conduct the joint practice of more traditions (inter-religious networks), by uncovering communities that lie outside of easily identifiable categories (spirit writing groups, new religious movements, philanthropic associations), by making a distinction between lived religions in the city and in rural areas, and by focusing attention on the role of women in these religious communities.

This three-year research is funded by the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange.

Laatst gewijzigd:12 juni 2017 13:57