skip to primary navigationskip to content

Modalities of Doing Religion in China. Dr Adam Yuet Chau

One of my scholarly and outreach ambitions is to stop people from asking the 

question: How many religions are there in China? It would be preferable for them

 to ask instead: How do people do religion in China? In examining the ways in which Chinese people have been engaged in religious activities historically as well as today I have identified five ‘modalities of doing religion’. These five modalities of doing religion are: (1) discursive/scriptural, involving mostly the composition and use of texts and engaging in religious discourse; (2) personal-cultivational, involving a long-term interest in cultivating and transforming oneself; (3) liturgical, involving elaborate ritual procedures conducted by ritual specialists; (4) immediate-practical, aiming at quick results using simple ritual or magical techniques; and (5) relational, emphasising the relationship between humans and deities (or ancestors) as well as among humans in religious practices. This new way of looking at religious life can be used, with some modifications of course, in understanding how people ‘do religion’ in other societies and historical periods as well.

I have so far published on this particular theme in the following works:

2006. Miraculous Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China. Stanford: Stanford University Press. (See especially Chapter 4)

2009. ‘做宗教’的模式 (Modalities of Doing Religion). 温 州 大 学 学 报•社 会 科 学 版第22 卷第5 期 2009 年9 月 (Journal of Wenzhou University Social Sciences Vol 22, No 5 Sep, 2009: 18-27.

2011. ‘Modalities of Doing Religion’, in Chinese Religious Life, edited by David A. Palmer, Glenn Shive and Philip Wickeri; Oxford University Press, pp. 67-84. [Article anthologised in Critical Readings on Religions of China (four volumes), edited by Vincent Goossaert, Brill, 2012]

2011. ‘Modalities of Doing Religion and Ritual Polytropy: Evaluating the Religious Market Model from the Perspective of Chinese Religious History’, Religion, Vol. 41, No. 4 (special issue on ‘Beyond the Religious Market Model’ edited by Christian Meyer and Thoralf Klein), pp. 547-568. [PDF of article]

2014. ‘“做宗教”的模式’. 宗樹人、夏龍、魏克利主編,《中國人的宗教生活》. 香港:香港大學出版社, pp. 63-81. (A Chinese translation of ‘Modalities of Doing Religion’ in Chinese Religious Life [see above])

2014  "關係/來往的'做宗教'模式: 以臺灣'媽祖遶境進香'為例" (Relational Modality of Doing Religion: The Case of the Mazu Pilgrimage in Taiwan). In 〈研究新視界: 媽祖與華人民間信仰國際研討會論文集〉王見川, 李世偉, 洪瑩發主編 (Mazu and Popular Religion, edited by Wang Chien-Chuan, Li Shi-Wei and Hung Ying-fa), Boyang Publishers 博揚文化, pp. 57-77.