This project aims at discussing dynamics and paradigms of religious diversity in Sichuan in the Qing and Republican period.

Historians of China have been increasingly interested in this extremely creative, if chaotic, period of time as central for the creation of Chinese modernity. Religion has only recently been part of the discussion, as publications and conferences have attested, but already provides an important lens through which to consider societal, political and cultural changes.

For this project, rather than concentrate on coastal areas or large urban centres as has been done in the majority of recent publications, we wish to focus on a lesser known and studied but extremely influential geographical area of China: Sichuan. Our aim is the study of religious diversity through the analysis of communities and networks, with a specific interest in interactions between rural/urban, public/private, religious/lay communities and spaces. Project participants will take into account not only the five officially recognized religions (Buddhism, Daoism, Protestantism, Catholicism and Islam) but also other religious manifestations that do not fit into these neat categories, like Confucio-Daoist traditions, philanthropic organizations, new religious movements, spirit writing communities. Further, we will try to address these different religious groups not as separate entities, but often in conversation with each other, and we will pay specific attention to gender relations in these exchanges. We will try to highlight interactions and the permeability of religious borders, and how ‘space’ is in itself an active agent in the formation and development of those relationships and networks. Finally, we plan to produce a digital mapping of these networks in free open access so to be used for teaching and research.

Locally, this project will enhance (1) theories and methods for the study of Chinese (and local Sichuan) practices of religious and ethnic inclusion through the conceptual categories of ‘network’ and ‘space’; (2) the understanding of the dynamics in the binaries urban and rural settings, private and public sphere, female and male communities that define the historical background to the contemporary religious landscape in Sichuan province; this will contribute to the fields of Chinese religious regionalism and spatial studies of religion; (3) the use of digital technologies to mark-up textual materials, produce GIS maps of the locations and geographical networks of religious communities; finally, (4) concentrating on Sichuan as a specific case study will also allow us to use the time at our disposal to build a case that will work as a model for a larger scale longer-term project. Globally, this research will produce (5) the basis of conceptual paradigms on religious diversity and community networks that can be applicable to non-Chinese areas, and thus will become also academically and socially relevant on a global scale.