Research Overview

The various sub-studies in Mapping Religious Diversity in Modern Sichuan all, in different ways, reveal the centrality of Sichuan in their narrative, the importance of intra- and inter- religious networks, and the texts, rituals, spaces, images which result from these interactions. These studies, taken as a whole, begin to trace the contours of a complex and unique religious landscape influenced by migration, ethnic diversity, and the lack of strong political control that allowed for wider experimentation.

Each researcher will conduct several three yearly ethnographic and archival researches in Sichuan, study either or both inter-religious and intra-religious community networks, and consider role and rule of space in the creation and development of those community networks.

Religious communities are analysed in different ways; for instance by tradition (intra-religious networks):

1.) Buddhism is studied by Annabella Pitkin (Tibetan Buddhism), Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa (Tibetan and Han Buddhism), Stefania Travagnin (Han Buddhism)
2.) Muslim communities by Yuan-lin Tsai
3.) Catholics by Lars Peter Laamann
4.) Protestant Christians by Jeffrey Kyong-McClain
5.) Daoism in connection with also Confucian and popular cults by Chien-chuan Wang, Jiechen Hu, Elena Valussi and Volker Olles
6.) Sichuan native popular cults by Zhang Chongfu.

There will be studies of communities as they conduct the joint practice of more traditions (inter-religious networks): Stefania Travagnin will do a research of the community living in a micro-space and practicing five beliefs, while Elena Valussi, Chien-chuan Wang, Jiechen Hu,  and Volker Olles will look at religiously hybrid communities, such as  Daoist-Confucian syncretic practice, Daoist-Buddhist practices, and popular spirit-writing movements.

Wu Hua will devote part of his research  to unveil the official legal framework wherein those communities and networks took shape and practiced: this will offer the official and political landscape vis-à-vis the concrete religions and religious practices on the ground.

The study of religion on the ground often makes a distinction between lived religions in the city and rural religions. Accordingly, this project aims at highlighting dynamics of religious communities in urban areas (Yuan-lin Tsai, Annabella Pitkin, Lars Peter Laamann, Zhang Chongfu), others will look at practices in rural settings (Chien-chuan Wang, Jiechen Hu), and finally some researchers will consider both rural and urban settings in comparative perspective (Stefania Travagnin, Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa, Elena Valussi, Volker Olles).

Our research also shows attention to the role of women in these religious communities. Stefania Travagnin will investigate the agency of women in creating female Han Buddhist but also inter-religious networks; Elena Valussi will research the transmission of self-cultivation texts for women and their use by contemporary Daoist nuns; Annabella Pitkin will focus on distinctive experiences of Tibetan Buddhist women.

Religious identity often interacts and even overlaps with ethnic distinction. Being a study on Sichuan, some of the sub-projects will develop a discussion of religious diversity in dialogue with the discourse of ethnicity.

For instance, Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa highlights tension as well as inclusion practices between Han and Tibetans, whereas Yuan-lin Tsai will discuss dynamics between the Hui 回 minority and Han majority in Chengdu, and the Hui minority and in the Yi 彝 in Xichang 西昌.

A major objective of this research project is looking at the creation of new religious identities in the formation and reproduction of networks, revealing identity markers of those religious communities, and analysing how those new networks and identities developed from the late Qing through the Republican period, in certain cases also until today.

Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa will focus on ‘networks in representation’, therefore detect Sino-Tibetan hybrid networks as shaped in various forms of literature and material culture, and finally assess the relations between networks in representation and networks on the ground.

Annabella Pitkin will maplineage networks’ (namely lineages of teacher-student connection, called transmission lineages) in Tibetan Buddhism, with specific attention to representation of Tibetan Buddhist identity and trans-regional networks (and therefore connecting to Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa’s research), and the relevance of women in Tibetan Buddhist Chengdu (and therefore connecting to Stefania Travagnin and Elena Valussi).

Stefania Travagnin will map religious education networks’ looking at various centres, figures and curricula in Han Buddhism from the late Qing up to the end of the twentieth century, and also relating Sichuan to key institutions in Nanjing. She will conduct research on ‘women’s networks’, by looking especially at intra-religious networks (namely, Han Buddhist communities in several areas in Sichuan).

In connection with Annabella Pitkin and Stefania Travagnin, Elena Valussi will analyse ‘Daoist women’s networks’, with special attention to the Daoist female alchemy (nüdan 女丹) and textual tradition in Chengdu and Sichuan and with a follow up analysis of current female intra religious networks in Daoist communities.

Volker Olles will also chart and discuss inter-religious networks, by looking at partnership between Confucian and Daoist teaching in the formation of the Liumen 劉門 school.

Jiechen Hu and Chien-chuan Wang too will look at inter-religious networks, but with attention to ‘spirit-writing networks’: Jiechen Hu will analyse trans-regional dimensions of the Wenchang 文昌 spirit-writing altar in Sichuan during the Qing; Chien-chuan Wang will also study a spirit-writing movement (fuluan yundong 扶鸞運動) but looking at the Longnü 龍女 temple (Dingyuan 定遠) and the Shuquanhui 十全會 community on Mt. Wuyun 五雲山 (Daxian 達縣), and explaining how these communities contributed to the emergence of Sichuanese-born popular religious movements like the Xiantiandao 先天道, Shenyutang 聖諭堂 and Tongshanshe 同善社 in the Republican period.

Finally, Elena Valussi will consider these ‘hybrid networks’ only in Sichuan, while Jiechen Hu, Chien-chuan Wang, Stefania Travagnin and Yuan-lin Tsai will also consider the relation and tension between regional and trans-regional networks, and put Sichuan in dialogue with practices and networks in Zhejiang, Hubei, Guandgong, Jiangsu, Guizhou and Yunnan.