China Studies Academic Seminar: Overnight Urbanisation and Religious Change in Southern Jiangsu



Professor Robert Weller
Department of Anthropology, Boston University


Rapid urban expansion in wealthy parts of China has led to the resettlement of many villagers into high-rise buildings, making earlier forms of material and cultural life impossible. At the same time, large-scale urban reconstruction has displaced many old city neighbourhoods. One result is
that the territorially-based religion described in much of the anthropological and historical literature has become increasingly untenable as the entire ecosystem surrounding it has grown unstable. This talk examines what appears to be an especially creative zone for religious innovation: the expanding urban edge. The cases come from various cities in southern Jiangsu and focus on ghost attacks, a spirit medium network, and innovations in the forms and objects of temple worship. Theoretically, the paper thinks about ecosystems in the broadest sense of complexly articulated systems, drawing on ecosystem dynamics to enhance how we can understand change.