University Senior Lecturer in the Anthropology of Modern China, AMES
Fellow and Director of Studies (AMES), St John's College
Social and cultural transformations in contemporary China; Chinese religions, especially their social aspects; hosting as an idiom of social practice in Chinese religion and politics; forms of powerful writing; the Indonesian Chinese returnees (yin’ni guiqiao 印尼归侨) in China and Hong Kong.
As an anthropologist of Chinese religion, my scholarship is aimed at three different audiences: those scholars and students in socio-cultural anthropology, Chinese Studies and religious studies. The confluence of these three scholarly areas (i.e. socio-cultural anthropology, Chinese Studies and religious studies) is particularly productive, allowing me to synergise topical foci and theoretical approaches from diverse sources and disciplinary traditions. One of my scholarly and out-reach ambitions is to stop people from asking the question: How many religions are there in China? I would like them to ask instead: How do people 'do religion' in China?
In the mid- and late 1990s I conducted long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Shaanbei (northern Shaanxi Province, in the Yulin and Yan’an prefectures) on the cultural, social and political aspects of the revival of popular religion in rural China during the reform period. The results of that research have been published in a monograph (Miraculous Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China; 2006, Stanford University Press) and a series of journal articles and book chapters. In the past few years I have done some sporadic short-term fieldwork research in Taiwan on temple festivals. A number of research questions interest me, from the more traditional question on the social organisation of temple festivals (e.g. the idiom of rotational hosting of festivals amongst a cluster of communities) to questions on the relationship between ritual and technology, the ways in which these festivals exemplify a particular kind of sociality, the inter-meshing and articulation of multiple socio-cultural forms, etc.
Whatever else religion might be, I have found it useful to conceive religion as a social technology. It produces particular kinds of subjectivity (and sometimes not) and mobilise communal energy. One’s relationship to God (or deities, spirits, etc.) is but one idiom amongst many through which people ‘do religion’. I have also found it fruitful to compare and contrast ways of doing religion in different religious cultures. For example, I am examining the intriguing question of why it is the case that while in Chinese religious culture people host spirits (deities, ancestors and ghosts) in Christianity people are hosted by God.