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The Concept of Religion in Modern China: A Grassroots Perspective

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Modern Chinese history offers scholars plenty of reasons to abandon the state-imposed neologism of ‘religion’. For its popularization in the late 19th century marked the start of multiple cycles of violence against ‘superstition’, its ideological twin. To the contrary, this article explores how ‘religion’ (zongjiao) is deployed by ordinary people in contemporary Southern Fujian. Through three case studies I demonstrate that ‘religion’ has become part of the ways ordinary people in contemporary Southern Fujian harmonize their conflicting ritual practices and ideas about the world. A more narrow and exclusive deployment of ‘religion’ by scholars, followed by policy makers, may augment the realms of ‘culture’ and ‘superstition’, the latter of which has in particular been subject to coercive action in China. Being aware of the nefarious consequences of deploying ‘religion’ outside the Western world since the 19th century, scholars today have a responsibility to premeditate the outcome of narrowing down the range of practices, architecture, clergy, communities, and objects currently associated with ‘religion’.

Affiliations: 1: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Faculty of Theology


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