Thinking through Conceptual Problems on Chinese New Religious Groups
Although literature on religious culture in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is steadily growing, in the West there is still surprisingly little knowledge on the concrete circumstances of religious life in most parts of this vast country. Western research tends to focus on Fujian, the situation in the biggest cities such as Shanghai, monastic Buddhism, and different forms of Christianity and Islam. We also learn much about the religious culture of officially recognized ethnic minorities. Chinese-language research is certainly richer, but even when we include this material, we still lack the empirical data to make any generalizations with sufficient confidence. What is true of religious culture in general is even more true of new religious groups (cults or sects, as they are often labeled). As these new groups lack the necessary legal freedom to practice their religions, very little of this suspected diversity is visible to the observer. Even the police may not be fully aware of what is going on—perhaps fortunately for the groups in question. The reason for this lack of information should be self-evident: it is the absence of substantial religious freedom.
KeywordsReligious Group Chinese Communist Party Conceptual Problem Religious Diversity Popular Belief
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