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Research Centre for East Asian Studies Groningen

Dr. Stefania Travagnin awarded a conference grant by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange

08 June 2015

he Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange has voted to fund the three-day conference 'Framing the Study of Religion in Modern China and Taiwan: Concepts, Methods and New Research Paths'. Dr. Stefania Travagnin is the organiser of the conference.

The last two decades has seen a rapid increase in the number of publications addressing various aspects of religion in modern China and Taiwan. Book series and journals on religion in modern Chinese societies have been founded as well. This publishing production has been paralleled by the organization of conferences, the establishment of research centres, and the creation of team-projects. This flood of new research reflects the fact that the subject of ‘religion in modern China’ has become a new and challenging field of study, in Asian and Western academia. To date, monographs and edited volumes have focused on specific historical events, prominent individuals and local religiosities, as well as the rituals and material cultures of modern Chinese and Taiwanese religious traditions.

Within this emerging field of study, however, there is an ongoing – and largely unresolved – debate regarding what methods and theories are appropriate to be employed in this new field. This three-day conference will address these conceptual and methodological issues towards the theorization of effective conceptual frameworks and methods for the study of religion in modern China and Taiwan. This largely unresolved debate has been grasped and initiated in the last few years, and results, authored by Chinese and Western experts, have been published in the volume Social Scientific Studies of Religion in China: Methodology, Theories, and Findings, edited by Fenggang Yang and Graeme Lang (Brill, 2011).

This three-day conference starts from the conclusive remarks made by Yang and Lang on important future steps on this research subject, and will develop those necessary future steps by also analyzing Chinese-language concepts, looking at both China and Taiwan, exploring disciplinary approaches other than sociology and anthropology, and unfolding global sets of ideas and concepts that are applicable to the scientific study of religion in China but also in other societies. Finally, this conference looks at China not only in its territorial micro constraints but also as a global player in the development of the macro academic study of religion.

The speakers invited to this conference have experience in archive research and ethnographic studies, are familiar with Chinese and Taiwanese academic and religious fields, and are thus capable to comment on the overall theme of the conference and intervene in the discussions after each of the panels. Most of the speakers are authors or editors of the main publications that marked milestones in the study of religion of modern China and Taiwan. Invited speakers adopt different disciplinary approaches and focus on various religious traditions (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, popular religions). Finally, they are affiliated to institutions spread in several countries among three continents, and therefore are representatives of a wide spectrum of academic environments.

The first panel will discuss contributions and shortcomings in the works of the pioneers in the field, and so of the past ‘first-generation-scholarship’ on the subject. Papers will explore topics such as the early history of the study of Chinese Protestant Christianity, the recent attempts by textual scholars to re-arrange and re-propose the Daoist Scriptural heritage, discursive dichotomies and key paradigms used to define the study of modern Han and Tibetan Buddhism in China, and finally features, trends and challenges encountered in the field of the study of Islam in modern China.

The second panel will address benefits and limitations of theories and disciplinary methods that are currently employed in the study of religion in modern China and Taiwan (i.e., the methods adopted by this present ‘second-generation-scholarship’) and advance new, and potentially more effective, research methodologies for this field. Papers will examine the formation of the so-called ‘Social Scientific Study of Religion’, the relations that had developed in Western and Chinese academia between the disciplines of Political Science and Study of Religions, time and space as methodological tools in the re-definition of nationalism and in new definition of religious phenomena, and considerations for the improvement of anthropology of Buddhism.

The second day will include two panels dedicated to the analysis of critical analytical concepts that are fundamental in the specific study of religion in modern China and Taiwan. The first part of the discussion will investigate how Chinese traditional concepts in religion (just to mention a few, jia , jielü 戒律 , jing , li ) have been transformed and so adapted to the new historical period, and question whether their academic theoretical understanding has been influenced by their application in practice in the religious field. The afternoon panel will consider mostly how Western concepts (religion, science, modernity, globalization, sector-ization and venue-ization, ecology etc.) have been introduced in the Chinese academic discourse on religion, have been gradually sinified or have brought similar Chinese native ideas back to the surface.

Finally, there will be a roundtable, titled ‘The Global Relevance of the Study of Religion in Modern China and Taiwan,’ on how analytical and theoretical concepts that developed within the specific micro context of the study of Chinese religions could be applied to the study of religion in other societies, including Western societies.

Conclusions of this conference will have impact on the study of religion in modern China and Taiwan, but also the more comprehensive Chinese and Taiwanese studies, and the macro academic field of theory and methods in the study of religion.

This conference is linked to the new research project Critical Concepts and Methods for the Study of Religion in ModernChina and Taiwan , which is hosted at the Centre for the Study of Religion and Culture in Asia, University of Groningen, and is coordinated by Stefania Travagnin.

More details and the conference schedule will be available soon.

Last modified:07 April 2021 11.45 a.m.

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