The flourishing of religion in post-mao china and the anthropological category of religion

Andrew B. Kipnis*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    50 Citations (Scopus)


    In his provocative critique of Geertz's 1966 definition of religion, Talal Asad (1993) suggests that the very project of defining the category of religion is rooted in the historical rise of Western secularism in societies formerly dominated by Christianity. In post-Mao China, there has been an explosion of activities that might be categorised as religious in the Geertzian sense, including church attendance, temple building, qi gong practice, pilgrimage, and geomancy. This paper examines two such activities, the participation of women in a Protestant church in rural Shandong and the recent protest by members of the Fa Lun Gong (Buddhist Law Qi Gong) society in Beijing, and asks what their emergence in a post-Maoist communist state tells us about the historical processes that frame the possibility of defining religion. Working with theories of religious participation from Geertz, Asad, Tambiah, and Feuchtwang, the paper develops a conception of ‘symbolic participation’ to illuminate the flourishing of religious practice in post-Mao China.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)32-46
    Number of pages15
    JournalThe Australian Journal of Anthropology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2001


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