Higher Education

, Volume 74, Issue 4, pp 635–649 | Cite as

Religion and the cultivation of citizenship in Chinese higher education

  • Zhenzhou ZhaoEmail author


A growing body of research has documented the escalating popularity of religion among student populations in China’s higher education settings. Despite the changes sustained by China’s religious policies throughout the post-Mao era, the state has not abandoned its long-standing approach of cultivating citizenship through Marxist–Leninist-oriented political education. The rising popularity of religion on university campuses thus reflects a complex interplay between religion and the state in the education sector. This study explores the meaning of religion as constructed in this setting by comparing (a) the political education curriculum, (b) the academic discussions of religious issues and the challenges faced by political education scholars and (c) the daily life discourse embedded in the voices of university teachers. The findings suggest that the manipulated meaning of religion in the political education arena accommodates the agenda of building a modern, secular state, but it fails to construct a cohesive and coherent understanding of religion. The state’s interpretation of religion leaves space for curriculum and policy implementers to renegotiate the meaning of religion in practice.


University Citizenship Political education Religion Diversity 



Financial support for this study was provided by the Start-up Research Fund (RF13/2012-2013R) from the Education University of Hong Kong. The author is grateful to Miss Li Caihong's assistance and all the informants who gave time to be interviewed in the project. The author also thanks two anonymous reviewers for their valuable insights.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social SciencesThe Education University of Hong KongHong KongChina

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