For decades, religion journalists around the world have found few reliable resources on the religious demography of China. As a new Pew Research Center report explains:
The challenges facing independent researchers include not just the Chinese government’s tight control of information and the Communist Party’s skepticism toward religion, but also linguistic and conceptual differences between religion in East Asia and other regions.
Since its founding, the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) has had a strong collegial connection with the scholars at the Association of Religion Data Archives. The IARJ also has close working relationships with researchers who work for Pew and a part of our 2023 redesign of the IARJ website will include occasional updates from the Pew staff about especially important new resources on global religion.
Our first featured resource is an August 30, 2023, report from Pew titled: Measuring Religion in China—Many Chinese adults practice religion or hold religious beliefs, but only 1 in 10 formally identify with a religion
Pew Communications Manager Achsah Callahan provided the IARJ several helpful connections for journalists who want to use this data in their reporting:
Access the full report for free: https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2023/08/30/measuring-religion-in-china/
A summary of report findings is also available in Mandarin: https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2023/08/PF_2023.08.30_religion-china_translation.pdf
How can journalists contact someone to interview about this report? Pew recommends that journalists speak with Conrad Hackett, associate director of religion. To request an interview, please email Gar Meng Leong (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Achsah Callahan (email@example.com).
For journalists, in particular, Pew explains the methodology and scope of this report:
This report aims to explain the challenges of measuring religion and religious trends in China. Since Pew Research Center, like other non-Chinese organizations, is not allowed to conduct surveys in China, in this report we analyze surveys conducted by academic groups in China, including the Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS), the China Family Panel Studies (CFPS), the China Labor-force Dynamics Survey (CLDS) and the World Values Survey (WVS). We also analyze Chinese government data, which is primarily released by China’s State Council and the National Religious Affairs Administration (formerly known as the State Administration for Religious Affairs), and data from state-run religious associations, such as the China Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (CCC and TSPM) and the Islamic Association of China.
In this report, we explain how religion in China—and in East Asia more broadly—is distinct from religion elsewhere. Questions that measure Abrahamic forms of religion (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are not sufficient to describe the breadth of religious beliefs and customs in East Asia. To capture the Chinese religious landscape as fully as possible, we consider a wide range of survey questions. For example, we present findings from questions about cultural beliefs and practices that also have spiritual or religious elements, such as grave-site visits and belief in fengshui. Throughout the report, we include Chinese terms because translations to English are often imprecise or incomplete. The Key terms section explains words and phrases that appear in the report’s Overview. A complete glossary can be found in Appendix A.
For context, we provide a summary of the recent history of the Chinese government’s policies toward religion. Refer to the Methodology for technical details, as well as a discussion of why surveys by Chinese universities may or may not be trustworthy. Read the section on current scholarship to understand other reasons why social scientists may shy away from research on religion in contemporary China. This report is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, a broader effort by Pew Research Center to measure religious change and assess its impact on societies around the world. The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation fund the Global Religious Futures project.