Rethinking Models of Science and Religion: Science as Religion in Contemporary China
Eriberto P. Lozada Jr.
Dept. of Anthropology, Davidson College
(paper given at the 2004 AAA Annual Meeting/Society for East Asian Anthropology Meeting in Berkeley, CA)
With the ideological shift from “scientific socialism” to a market-based economy, the Chinese state has been active in promoting science in all areas of social life, as seen in the state’s classification of cultural practices as “religious,” “superstitious,” or “scientific.” As a result, scientism — an idealization of science that reifies and universalizes scientific precepts into cultural dogma — has become a defining characteristic of contemporary Chinese culture. Based on fieldwork conducted in a rural Guangdong Catholic village from 1993-1999 and in urban Shanghai from 1998-2001, this paper will examine how people in China have reconciled science and religion in ways that contradict both a supposed incompatibility or incommensurability between science and religion — key perspectives of the discourse emerging from the developing Western canon in science and religion. Science has become closely linked with economic development and state projects of modernization in rural China. With the penetration of transnational capital and media, rural China has become global in ways that have juxtaposed contradictory cosmologies and cultural claims of authority. Scientism has become the underlying ideology of the economic and social stratification in postsocialist Chinese society, an ideology that reflects Habermas’ perspective of science as a specific form of political domination.