The Rise of Protestantism in Post-Mao China

Speaker: Dr. Yanfei Sun (Zhejiang University, China)

Room: 8 3F2 Buccleuch Place

Based on fieldwork in a Chinese county, this talk seeks to explain why Protestantism has experienced explosive growth in post-Mao China, but not before. This talk identifies six institutional features of Chinese Protestantism vital to its rapid growth, but it does not make a simple institutional argument. Instead, it contends that each of these institutional features is a double-edged sword: each can facilitate or impede the spread of Protestantism depending on the context. Protestantism flourished in the post-Mao era because the Maoist state had dissolved the locally entrenched social/cultural resistance to Protestantism and because the post-Mao state’s market-oriented economic reform has created an environment conducive to the expansion of Protestantism. Theoretically, this talk makes a claim that the effect of any religion’s institutional features on its growth is contingent on the sociopolitical context of the religion, and that the state is the most powerful actor creating and shaping that context.

About the speaker:

Dr. Yanfei Sun is currently associate professor at the Department of Sociology, Zhejiang University, Yanfei Sun received her PhD in sociology from University of Chicago in 2010. Between 2010 and 2013, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Society of Fellows of Columbia University. She has served as a visiting professor at Harvard University and University of Chicago. Her broad research interest concerns both religion and politics, but particularly the relationships between the two. She is writing a book that examines the transformation of the religious landscape in modern China based on ethnography and archival work. She is also researching on a transnational lay Buddhist movement as it traverses mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other societies.