Chinese secularism, education, and urban aspiration among religious youth: an ethnographic study of Pentecostal college students in contemporary China (completed)

Ke-hsien Huang

This project was an attempt to link concerns about Chinese Pentecostals to examining how Peter van der Veer’s conception of “the syntagmatic chain of religion-magic-secularity-spirituality” works on the ground in contemporary Chinese educational contexts. Through the fieldwork proposed here, I aimed to specifically analyze how Pentecostal college students navigate themselves through the interweavement of their urban aspiration, a secular modernity “with Chinese characteristics”, and their “precarious” religion challenged by the secularist, atheist educational system.

All of the above situations make Pentecostal college students a group of spectacular research subjects, to empirically observe the theoretically inspiring concepts of “secular modernity with Chinese characteristics” and “the syntagmatic chain of religion-magic-secularity-spirituality”, which can then be further elaborated upon with ethnographic details. The role of education, as an important media of Chinese secular modernity, were examined as well as its potential impact on the future of Pentecostal or, more generally, of religious development in China.

My major field site was Fuzhou and Xiamen of Fujian Province, where up to one thousand TJC college students with campus fellowships live. In addition, Taiwan will be included in this fieldwork, due to its distinct historical trajectory. Although the KMT government in Taiwan shared Confucian secularism and many institutional arrangements of education and religious regulation with the CCP in China, the former did favor Christianity much more than the latter due to the different international relationships with the West (particularly the U.S.) since 1949. Preliminarily, I examined if the Taiwanese trajectories had a different orientation as compared to the Chinese ones, as well as the determining factors for the differences/similarities found. 


Asad, Talal. 2003. Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Palo Alto, CA:   Stanford University Press.

Appadurai, Arjun. 2004. “The Capacity to Aspire: Culture and the Terms of Recognition” In Culture and Public Action., edited by Rao, Vijayendra and Michael Walton. Palo Alto, CA:  Stanford University Press.

Goossaert, Vincent and David Palmer. 2011. The Religious Question in Modern China. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

van der Veer, Peter. 2014. The Modern Spirit of Asia: The Spiritual and the Secular in China and India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


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