Prof. Dr. Mayfair Yang

Prof. Dr. Mayfair Yang

Cultural Anthropology

Fon: +49 (551) 4956 - 234
Fax: +49 (551) 4956 - 170
yang(at)mmg.mpg.de

Mayfair Yang received her Ph.D. in Anthropology at University of California, Berkeley, with Ph.D. advisors Profs. Jack Potter, Paul Rabinow, and Robert Bellah. She has been a Professor in the Anthropology Department at University of California, Santa Barbara, and is now a Professor in Religious Studies Department and East Asian Studies Department there.  Yang was Director of Asian Studies at the University of Sydney in Australia, and has been visiting scholar at the University of Michigan, University of Chicago, Harvard University, Academia Sinica in Taiwan, Beijing and Fudan Universities in China, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. She is the author of Gifts, Favors, & Banquets: the Art of Social Relationships in China, and editor of Chinese Religiosities: Afflictions of Modernities & State Formation, and Places of Their Own:  Women’s Public Sphere in Transnational China. Her forthcoming book is: Re-enchanting Modernity: Ritual Economy & the Sprouts of Religious Civil Society in Wenzhou, China (Duke University Press).  She has published in many journals: Cultural Anthropology; Current Anthropology; Comparative Studies in Society & History; Annales; Public Culture; Journal of Asian Studies; China Quarterly; Theory, Culture and Society; 《中国人类学评论》 (Chinese Review of Anthropology); 《学海》 (Sea of Scholarship); and 《社会科学论坛》 (Social Science Analyses). She is also working on a second, more theoretical book on Wenzhou religiosity and politics.

Synopsis of book: Re-Enchanting Modernity:  Ritual Economy and the Sprouts of Religious Civil Societies in Wenzhou, China

This is an ethnography of the varieties of popular religious practice found in contemporary rural and small-town Wenzhou: shamanism, Chinese geomancy, divination, deity worship, popular Daoism and Buddhism, and the popular Confucianism of ancestor-worship and lineage organizations. I develop several arguments. First, these re-invented religious practices work to construct an indigenous form of Chinese civil society through their promotion of local identities and non-state organizations, that together have re-territorialized the space of the secularizing state formation that dramatically expanded in 20th century Chinese modernity. Second, I also suggest that scholars of rural China who have examined the rebirth of market economy have neglected the importance of an indigenous Chinese “ritual economy,” which includes ritual expenditures such as funerals, ancestor sacrifices, donations to temples and ancestor halls, and temple-constructions.  This intertwining of ritual and market economies extends far back to the Song Dynasty commercialization and urbanization of China a thousand years ago.  The fact that China experienced a commercial development that entailed a religious economy in its past, serves as a rebuke to the 20th century notion, imported from the modern West and adopted by Chinese modernist reformers and revolutionaries, that China can only modernize and industrialize by destroying its religious heritage.  I also develop a critique of the imposition of Max Weber’s thesis on the Protestant ethic to explain Chinese economic development, arguing that it neglects an important indigenous folk religious logic that runs counter to the accumulation logic of modern secular capitalism.  Third, I also examine the masculine gendered agency of patrilineal lineage organizations on the one hand, and the predominant female gendered agency of religious practice and activism on the other.  Fourth, I discuss at length the potentialities and actualities of a religious environmentalism in rural China based on ethnographic findings and a comparative dimension with Christian-informed environmentalism.