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Investigating the Connection Between Science and This-Worldly Oriented Superstition: A Research Note on the Case of School Adolescents in Urban China


Most studies on the religion–science connection have been conducted in a Judeo-Christian context where other-worldly rewards are often emphasized. This research note examines how scientific orientation and scientific knowledge interact with people’s this-worldly oriented superstition by presenting a case study of school adolescents in urban China, an institutional environment where religions are on average more superstitious relative to Christianity. Empirical results suggest that both scientific orientation and scientific knowledge have a significantly negative effect on superstition, and their effects are independent from each other. The implications with regard to the state regulation of religions in China and to the potential epistemological conflict for spirituality seekers in other nations are discussed.

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  1. 1.

    Here, we are not arguing that Christianity is entirely other-worldly oriented. On the contrary, we are aware of and acknowledge that certain aspects of Christian religiosity, such as the lived religion tradition, can be primarily this-worldly focused (Hall 1997; McGuire 2008). However, relative to the Eastern religious traditions, we argue, Christianity, on average, reveals a stronger extent of other-worldly orientation. This point of view received support from empirical studies in China (e.g., Hu and Yang 2014). The detailed theoretical distinction between this-worldly and other-worldly orientations in religions, however, goes beyond the scope of this research note.

  2. 2.

    In Chinese society, a large number of people follow folk religion (Yang and Hu 2012), and superstition has always been a core component in this type of religious activities, such as fortune telling or fengshui practices (Feuchtwang 1989; Nedostup 2010). Besides, superstitious elements have been found in many institutionalized religions in Chinese society (Leamaster and Hu 2014). Although superstitious practices were harshly suppressed during the socialist regime, they witness a revival in the Reform Era (Yang 2012). For the sake of notion consistency, we use the term “superstition” throughout this research note, to denote the religious or spiritual practices and beliefs mainly aimed toward this-worldly rewards, such as a good fortune. We use this term in a value-neutral fashion without assuming its ideological implications in Chinese society (Overmyer 2001).

  3. 3.

    Again, this statement does not mean that other-worldly religions are absent in Chinese society. However, most native Chinese religions are this-worldly oriented and several major institutional religions in China (e.g., Buddhism and Catholicism) have introduced considerable magical elements into their theologies. These facts determine that the average level of this-worldly orientation in China should be higher than that in a Judeo-Christian society.

  4. 4.

    The word “magic” has been widely used by sociologists of religion to refer to this-worldly orientation. In this research, we do not make a nuanced distinction between magic and superstition.

  5. 5.

    Each grade refers to a cohort of students who are enrolled in the same year. Students should complete the three grades consecutively.

  6. 6.

    According to the statistics released by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, the gross enrollment rate of junior high school is 99 percent in 2009 (

  7. 7.

    The wording of the questionnaire made it clear that the taboo here refers to the prohibition of an action for the sake of avoiding supernatural punishment. Thus, this taboo is different from the morality-based taboo often used by social scientists.

  8. 8.

    The OLS model is applied to this research because the generalized linear model such as the logistic model has problem in comparing coefficients across nested models. One solution proposed in methodological studies is the OLS model (Breen and Karlson 2013), which is also called the linear probability model in the econometric literature.

  9. 9.

    We did not report the descriptive results for the latent variables because the default result of the exploratory factor analysis is that these two latent variables follow a standard normal distribution (with zero mean and unity variance).


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We are grateful to acknowledge the research fund of the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Fudan University, Shanghai, China.

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Correspondence to Anning Hu.

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Hu, A. Investigating the Connection Between Science and This-Worldly Oriented Superstition: A Research Note on the Case of School Adolescents in Urban China. Rev Relig Res 57, 575–586 (2015).

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  • Superstition
  • Science
  • Adolescents
  • Urban China