Robert P. Weller

Robert P. Weller is Professor of Anthropology and Research Associate at the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs at Boston University. His most recent book is Rethinking Pluralism: Ritual, Experience, and Ambiguity (with Adam Seligman, 2012), which focuses on ways in which we can live with the ambiguities that necessarily accompany our need to categorize, and on the implications of this for how we can live with difference. Earlier books include Discovering Nature: Globalization and Environmental Culture in China and Taiwan (2006) and Alternate Civilities: Chinese Culture and the Prospects for Democracy (1999). His present research examines the role of religion in creating public social benefits in Chinese communities in China, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

Posts by Robert P. Weller:

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Governing religion with one eye closed

Everyone in China knows that official religious policy has only a nominal relationship to religious practice. The complaint comes from temple managers who are unable to register their temples, from Christian pastors tired of running their churches underground, and just as loudly from the atheist state itself and the Communist Party officials charged with enforcing the policy. Why does China continue to promote religious policies that do not fit reality and that satisfy no one?

In contrast to its religious policy, China has not been frozen at all in other policy realms. In the economy, for example, the past few decades have seen the rapid move from the agricultural responsibility system, a spurt in collective township and village enterprises followed by a general privatization, and the successful resolution of the government’s fiscal crisis in the 1990s. There are arguments about whether policy makers were leading or only following these developments, but either way they have shown a nimble ability to adapt—”to cross the river by feeling their way from stone to stone,” to borrow a phrase that Deng Xiaoping was fond of using. In the river of religion, however, they are still searching for the next stone.

Read the rest of Governing religion with one eye closed.