Expanding Cities and Transforming Religions in Contemporary China

Rapid urban expansion in wealthy parts of China has led to the resettlement of many villagers into high-rise buildings, making earlier forms of social organization impossible. At the same time, large-scale urban reconstruction has displaced many old city neighborhoods. The result is that the territorially based religion described in much of the anthropological and historical literature has become increasingly untenable. Instead we see an expansion in other forms of religiosity less tied to place. 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. The conclusion compares these changes in popular religion with developments in other religious traditions as China urbanizes.