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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Each grade refers to a cohort of students who are enrolled in the same year. Students should complete the three grades consecutively.
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 (http://www.gov.cn/gzdt/2010-08/03/content_1670245.html).
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.
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.
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).
Bahr, Howard M. 1970. Aging and religious disaffiliation. Social Forces 49(1): 59–71.
Baker, Joseph O. 2012. Public perceptions of incompatibility between “science and religion”. Public Understanding of Science 21(3): 340–353.
Barker, Eileen. 1984. The making of a moonie: Choice or brainwashing?. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Breen, Richard, and Kristian B. Karlson. 2013. Counterfactual causal analysis and nonlinear probability models. In Handbook of causal analysis for social research, ed. Stephen L. Morgan, 167–188. New York: Springer.
Bruun, Ole. 2003. Fengshui in China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Dawkins, Richard. 2006. The god delusion. New York: Bantam.
Dawson, Lorne I. 1998. The cultural significance of new religious movements and globalization: A theoretical prolegomenon. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37(4): 580–595.
Durkheim, Emile.  1995. The elementary forms of religious life. Thousand Oak, CA: Sage Publications.
Ecklund, Elaine Howard, and Jerry Z. Park. 2009. Conflict between religion and science among academic scientists? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 48(2): 276–292.
Edgell, Penny. 2005. Religion and family in a changing society. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Evans, John H. 2013. The growing social and MORAL conflict between conservative protestantism and science. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 52(2): 368–385.
Evans, John H., and Michael S. Evans. 2008. Religion and science: Beyond the epistemological conflict narrative. Annual Review of Sociology 34(1): 87–105.
Feuchtwang, Stephan. 1989. The problem of ‘superstition’ in the People’s Republic of China. In Religion and political power, ed. Gustavo Benavides, and Martin W. Daly, 43–68. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Goossaert, Vincent, and David A. Palmer. 2011. The religious question in modern China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Gould, Stephen Jay. 1998. Leonardo’s mountain of clams and the diet of worms. New York: Harmony Books.
Grim, Brian J., and Roger Finke. 2011. The price of freedom denied: Religious persecution and conflict in the 21st century. NY: Cambridge University Press.
Hall, David D. 1997. Lived religion in America: Toward a history of practice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Harris, Sam. 2004. The end of faith: Religion, terror and the future of reason. NY: Norton and Co.
Hout, Michael, Claude S. Fischer, and Mark A. Chaves. 2013. More Americans have no religion: key finding from the new general social survey. Working Paper. http://christianityinview.com/faithsurvey/gss2012.pdf.
Hu, Anning, and Fenggang Yang. 2014. Trajectories of folk religion in deregulated Taiwan: An age-period-cohort analysis. Chinese Sociological Review 46(3): 80–100.
Leamaster, Reid, and Anning Hu. 2014. Popular Buddhists: The relationship between popular religious involvement and Buddhist identity in contemporary China. Sociology of Religion 75(2): 234–259.
McGuire, Meredith B. 2008. Lived religion. Faith and practice in everyday life. New York: Oxford University Press.
Melton, Gordon J. 2004. Toward a definition of new religion. Nova Religio 8: 73–87.
Miller, Alan, and Rodney Stark. 2002. Gender and religiousness: Can socialization explanations be saved? American Journal of Sociology 107(6): 1399–1423.
Mooney, Chris. 2005. The republican war on science. New York: Basic Books.
Nedostup, Rebecca R. 2010. Superstitious regimes: Religion and the politics of Chinese modernity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Overmyer, Daniel. 2001. From ‘feudal superstition’ to ‘popular beliefs’: New directions in Mainland Chinese studies of Chinese folk religion. Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 12: 103–126.
Qu, Haiyuan. 2002. New religions in Taiwan. Twenty First Century 73: 103–113.
Rubin, Donald B. 1987. Multiple imputation for nonresponse in surveys. NY: Wiley.
Russell, Bertrand. 1997. Religion and science. NY: Oxford University Press.
Scheitle, Christopher P. 2011. US college students’ perception of religion and science: Conflict, collaboration, or independence? A research note. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 50(1): 175–186.
Stark, Rodney, and William S. Bainbridge. 1985. The future of religion: Secularization, revival and cult formation. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Weber, Max. 1946. The social psychology of the world religions. In From Max Weber: Essays in sociology, ed. Hans H. Gerth, and Wright C. Mills, 267–301. New York City: Oxford University Press.
Yang, Fenggang, and Anning Hu. 2012. Mapping Chinese folk religion in Mainland China and Taiwan. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 51(3): 505–521.
Yang, Fenggang. 2012. Religion in China: Survival and revival under communist rule. New York City: Oxford University Press.
We are grateful to acknowledge the research fund of the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Fudan University, Shanghai, China.
About this article
Cite this article
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). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-015-0208-3
- Urban China