FRAL - Appel Franco-allemand en sciences humaines et sociales

Religious Text Production and Identity Formation in China, 17th to 21st centuries – ChinaText

Submission summary

This project is based on the massive production of religious texts in the modern (1600-1900) and contemporary (post-1900) Chinese world, which is now largely available but unexplored. Tens of thousands of religious books printed in late imperial and modern China have become available over the last twenty years through voluminous collections of reprints, as well as through libraries around the globe digitizing their collections, but they have so far have been employed as primary sources by scholars to a limited extent only. This textual production continues unabated in the present, albeit in vastly different political, social, and technological settings. The impact of digital text production and dissemination on these textual cultures has barely been begun to be studied.
This project uses a broad definition of religious texts: it includes not only doctrinal, hagiographical, and ritual material written or edited by Buddhists, Daoists, Confucians, and other religious figures, but also other genres that are not associated with any institution, yet circulate widely, such as: morality books; stories about gods, heroes, and miracles; self-cultivation manuals; and, since the late 19th century, periodicals and new media. These texts deal with all aspects of social and cultural life and are a major element in the production of cultural values and worldviews.
We now have a tool for identifying and documenting this literature:, an international collaborative project, in which the two PIs are core founders. This wiki-based open-access database maps all Chinese religious texts: data input by collaborators is growing daily. We are now at the stage of using it for producing knowledge; specifically, the present project will use it to understand the contours, contents, and impact on society of this literature. To that end, we need a more comprehensive understanding of the various religious groups and traditions advocating their worldview and identity through printed and digital material.
Our fundamental research question is: How do the modern and contemporary Chinese texts define religious identities and affiliations (Daoist, Buddhist, Confucian, sectarian, and various emic terms) and how do these identities evolve and relate to each other between 1600 and the present? The research programme of the project comprises a collaborative aspect (CRTA) and four tasks assigned to each of the project participants (the two PIs, one postdoc, and one doctoral student). The French team will focus on historical aspects and the production of religious texts in late imperial times, while the German team will focus on the contemporary digital production, but because so many texts and ideas are found in both contexts, they will work closely together. This cooperation is also needed to answer central questions of textual continuity and innovation in religious identity formation from the age of print to the digital age.

Project coordination

Vincent Goossaert (GSRL)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


UL Universität Leipzig

Help of the ANR 522,417 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: June 2023 - 36 Months

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