Visual Religious Anthropology in China: A Formation, Documentation and Research Program

From January 2013 on, the Xu-Ricci Dialogue Institute is sponsoring a program that aims at fostering the development of visual religious anthropology in Chinese context. Visual religious anthropology is about documenting and understanding the religious psyche of a community or an area according to the following principles and ways of proceedings:

- Photographing and/or filming the visual expressions of the religious psyche, notably: objects, clothes, rituals and architectures.

- While doing so, entering into meaningful interaction with the research target: dwelling in the group for some time before starting the documenting process; making actors film or photograph themselves and let oneself being guided by their reactions and wishes; sometimes, associating with the target group for the realization of the final product.

- Paying attention to trans-denominational circulation of religious symbols, objects and feelings: place of production of religious objects; role of shops and places alternative to traditional places of worship; focus on communal inventiveness in the creation of new religious objects and spaces.

During the last two years we have already encouraged the students of our religious studies department to enter into such approach, with fieldworks in Shanghai or other places of China. We have also produced a pilot documentary on the rituals of some ethnic minority groups of southwest China.

We have been progressively designing a program that can help us (a) to form our students to a more empathic and phenomenological understanding of religious and spiritual phenomena’s; (b) to document the greater Shanghai’s religious landscape, in its diversity; (c) to come with events and realizations that illustrate the interest of the approach and give increased confidence in all participants in the program; (d) to represent a real contribution to the knowledge of religions in China today.

The program as we propose it is based on four pillars:

1) From June 2013 till June 2014, working with international photographers on “Shanghai as a sacred space”

2) Program of exhibits and one international conference

3) One summer training program

4) Help to students’ fieldwork project

As the program develops, this website will give regular updates on the activities taking place and the fruits of the research undertaken.