Saturday, November 09, 2013


When folks find out I'm planning to spend next academic year in China, most ask why with some combination of surprise, confusion and alarm. Depending on my mood and who the interlocutor is, I give different reasons, or at least different constellations of reasons. The main reason is of course academic - the recent resurgence of religion in China is important for the global study of religion, including the theory of religion, as also of modernity and secularism. But I have also long been fascinated by Christianity in China, which seems to me an important chapter in the future of Christianity. (This is one reason why there's a copy of a page from a recent Chinese edition of Job in my book.) I'm curious even about the Three-Self Patriotic Movement 三自爱国运动, the officially sanctioned Protestant church in China. The three-selfs - self-government, self-support and self-propagation - were enforced by the communists in 1951, severing all connections with western Christian organizations. They actually go back to the mid-19th century, but indigenization was turbocharged in the second half of the 20th century.

What, I wonder, will it be like to worship with these Christians?

Above: collage of church entries in rural central China by Yuanming Cao.

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