Internet Christianity and the Boundary of Civil Society in China

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 8:30 AM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Francis Khek Gee LIM , Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

This paper examines whether religion, through a case study of online Christianity, contribute to the development of civil society in China. We discuss how the global interconnectedness of the Internet influences the Christians in China and the diaspora, in terms of communicating their faith, building their communities and furthering their cause. Herbert  (2011: 633) has noted that electronic media has enabled ‘wider circulation of religious symbols and discourses across a range of social fields, which tends (even in secularized societies) to move religion out of the differentiated religious sphere to which it is notionally confined in liberal versions of modernity and into various contested public spheres’.  If this was the case, the Internet and social networking sites may very well challenge many governments’ concern to keep the secular and religious spheres separate in their attempt to maintain social harmony in multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies. Our paper investigates if users of the Internet and social media for religious purposes in China see their activity as contributing to the development of civil society. We proposed two hypotheses:  one, while physical spaces can be defined by worshippers and the modern secular state as either sacred or profane spaces, such boundaries are not distinct in online spaces, such as blogs, Internet forums, and social networking sites; and two, to the extent that Internet users engage in social (e.g. religious) and political discourses, boundaries between the social and political domains established by the modern secular state are constantly being blurred and transcended. The answers accrued from this line of enquiry is highly significant in that they can reveal the diverse motivations behind the users’ participation in online religious activities, and hence allow us to analyse the different ways online religious groups  relate to the party-state authority as the latter engages in the regulation of religion.