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A15 Patriotic Monotheists

Creating patriotic monotheists: a socialisation perspective on Islam and Christianity in Contemporary China

Koordination: Gotelind Müller-Saini


Bilingual slogan from a classroom in Kunming, endorsing “love for the state and love for religion.” (c) Roberta Tontini.

Bilingual slogan from a classroom in Kunming, endorsing “love for the state and love for religion.” (c) Roberta Tontini.

Technically approachable as “western teachings” for their provenance from China’s western regions, both Islam and Christianity simultaneously qualify as being alien to the country’s traditional culture and incongruent with China’s more recent Marxist ideological orientation. What then explains the growing appeal and noticeable escalating popularity of Islam and Christianity in China in spite of their foreignness and potential friction with local patterns of governance? Relatedly, what does it mean to be a “patriotic monotheist”?

Our research project unpacks this paradox by investigating educational sources and popular media associated to Islam and Christianity. The study sheds light on undertheorized dynamics of religious revival in contemporary China while problematizing the tension between “love for the state and love for religion” that underpins the Chinese notion of ai-guo ai-jiao. In so doing, we explore the convergence of religious faith and patriotism and the ongoing reinvention of western religiosity as an indigenous force to ultimately argue for its potential function as a legitimizer of local authority structures.

The steady revival of Protestant, Catholic and Islamic monotheisms in China despite their foreign origins and potential friction with indigenous cultural paradigms inspired us to study the roots and logic behind this increasing appeal. Hence, “Creating Patriotic Monotheists – Islam and Christianity in Contemporary China” explores the shift in popular and elite perceptions that made the official definition of western monotheisms in China transition from widespread skepticism to acceptance. Simultaneously, our research unveils the progressive association of pious religiosity and model citizenship that undergirds the concept of ai-guo ai-jiao, i.e. “love for the state and love for religion.”

Our work draws primarily on textual sources, including patriotic handbooks on Christianity and Islam employed in the teaching curricula of religious professionals, and magazines meant to inform the average devotee about religious affairs. Here, by juxtaposing instructional and popular media, the study expands the concept of religious “education” beyond the realm of traditional school learning to encompass aspects of religious training relevant to the in-formation of patriotic fellows.

The project included three extensive sessions of fieldwork in China and has been funded by the DFG through Heidelberg’s Excellence Initiative from May 2013 to April 2016. Its core findings await publication in the form of a monograph, titled after the project itself, as well as peer-reviewed articles. In addition, the project already hosted the publication of a monograph on Chinese Islam, i.e. Muslim Sanzijing. Shifts and Continuities in the Definition of Islam in China (BRILL 2016); the book chapter “Tianfang Sanzijing. Changes and Exchanges in the Chinese Reception of Islamic Law” (EUP 2016); as well as “Islamic Law in China” (OISO 2015).


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Gotelind Müller-Saini


Roberta Tontini


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