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Adam Chau: Religious Subjectification and Social Transformation in Contemporary China

Adam Chau (Senior Lecturer, University of Cambridge)

Religious Subjectification and Social Transformation in Contemporary China

Tuesday, 3 October, 5-7 pm

50 George Square, Project Room (1.06), University of Edinburgh

In contemporary China, especially in urban areas, many sociopolitical processes are at work in which individual citizens participate actively in molding themselves into certain forms of subjects, with profound implications for people’s religious lives and the broader religious landscape. As a consequence, the individual has come forth as an increasingly salient unit of religious engagement, threatening to conflict with and even replace the household or the community as the prime mover of Chinese religious life, especially in urban China. More and more religious forces are interpellating the individual into particular religiously-informed lifestyles all the while the individual is becoming more and more predisposed to embracing such lifestyle. I will examine some prominent examples of such processes of religious subjectification: 1) conversion to Christianity and becoming spiritual dependents (guiyi, particularly strong in lay Buddhism); and 2) ‘karmateering’ (volunteering for karmic merits) and other forms of volunteering associated with religious beliefs. But equally important to my analysis is an understanding of the long-term impact of many other kinds of subjectificatory forces at work in modern and contemporary China that are not directly related to religion but help predispose individuals to certain forms of religious subjectification.

Adam Yuet Chau (PhD in Anthropology, 2001, Stanford University) is University Senior Lecturer in the Anthropology of Modern China in the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Cambridge, and a Fellow at St. John’s College. He is the author of Miraculous Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China (Stanford University Press 2006) and editor of Religion in Contemporary China: Revitalization and Innovation (Routledge 2011). He is currently working on projects investigating the rise of the 'religion sphere' (zongjiaojie) in modern China; the idiom of hosting (zuozhu) and forms of powerful writing (“text acts”) in Chinese political and religious culture. More information on Dr Chau’s work can be found at