Mapping Religious Diversity in Modern Sichuan

A Spatial and Social Study of Communities and Networks

Project Impact

Aim, Objectives, Scholarly Impact and Innovation of the Project

The project’s main aim is to map religious community networks and their interactions in Sichuan from a historical point of view, focusing mostly on the nineteenth and twentieth century, and comparing these results to studies on contemporary religious activity.

Concentrating on Sichuan as a specific case study will allow us to use the time at our disposal to build a case that will also work as a model for a larger scale longer-term project. This project has several objectives.

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, and thus 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.

Globally, this research will produce

(4) the basis of conceptual paradigms on religious diversity and community networks that can be applicable to non-Chinese areas, and thus will become also,
(5) academically and socially relevant on a global scale

The impact of this study will be manifold

First of all, it is the first attempt to take an in-depth look at the rich religious history of Sichuan, mapping different areas of religious activity in urban areas, in the countryside and on religious mountains. This will not only be an important regional study in itself, but also a point of comparison for the more detailed religious histories that already exist for the coastal urban centres and regions.

Secondly, the decision to focus not on separate religious traditions but on socio-religious networks will reveal a complexity that is not always taken into account: the interaction of distinct communities within the same religious tradition or between different traditions; the shared spaces and ritual performances; the worship of shared divinities; the exchanges of textual materials; the wide-ranging transmission of practices.

Then, the specific attention to gender relations within religious communities, and how different religious communities communicate through gendered networks (for example connections between nuns of different religious traditions) will be an important contribution to the small but growing number of studies of gender in Chinese religions.

Finally, the application of Digital Humanities techniques to visualize and better understand the complexity of religious life and exchanges in Qing and Republican Sichuan will provide a needed religious perspective to the growing field of Chinese digital humanities, while at the same time contributing a historical perspective to the mapping of contemporary Chinese religions.

Knowledge Dissemination
Scholarly Output and Teaching Contribution

The results of this three-year project will be presented at a final conference and later published into at least one monograph and a special issue of an international peer reviewed journal. Further presentations and publications might be organized in connection with related projects.

We have also mapped and visualized the different religious networks that have emerged so far from our study by using tools of Digital Humanities (Leaflet mapping software).

Finally, we want to include a teaching component. Besides offering digital results Open Access, we want to turn the results found in the field, theories and concepts employed in our research, and the challenges that we met during our data collections into teaching material for graduate students interested in the dynamics of religious and ethnic diversity in China and in a more global context.