CRCS E-Newsletter 普度微言 No. (14), October 31, 2015.
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Current Affairs
Media appearances by Dr. Fenggang Yang Media appearances by other CRCS members
  • Dr. Carsten Vala was interviewed by the Christian Science Monitor: Xi Jinping state visit: China's arrest of southern Christians intensifies, on September 25, 2015.
  • Dr. Ting Guo discussed the demolition of churches in China: FGM Fears, Freediving, China. BBC World Service, August 5, 2015.
Christianity Buddhism and Daoism Islam Other news items of interest
Center Updates
[This area includes reports of recent and near future events, activities and programs of our center and center affiliated fellows.]
Dr. Fenggang Yang delivering his presidential address at the 2015 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.
  • October 2-14. The CRCS broadcasted a series of live streaming videos of Dr. Fenggang's interviews with Pastor Wang Yi (interviews conducted in Chinese). Visit the CRCS media page for links to all the videos.
  • October 23-25. The CRCS had a strong presence at the 2015 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Dr. Fenggang Yang delivered his presidential address. He also organized a presidential panel entitled, "Christianity and other Religions in the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong." Dr. Carsten Vala served as program chair for the conference. Dr. Jonathan Pettit delivered a presentation, as did CRCS student research assistants Yun Lu, Yunping Tong, and Joey Marshall. See this blog from Religion News Service to learn more about SSSR 2015.
  • October 29. The CRCS hosted a talk by Benoît Vermander entitled, "Shaping and Reshaping Shanghai’s Religious Space."
  • November 3. Dr. Fenggang Yang will present the keynote address, "Chinese Christianity at the Crossroads," at an event sponsored by the Windsor Park Center for Lifelong Learning entitled "Christianity in China Today."
Staff highlight: Dr. Ting GUO

CRCS Postdoctoral Fellow
Specialization: mechanism of identity formation, politics and religion

CV | | Contact | More information
Ting Guo is a Postdoctoral Fellow of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society. Trained in Religious Studies and Anthropology, she has taught at the School of Divinity, Edinburgh and worked for the Study of Freedom at St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford prior to joining CRCS at Purdue.
She is interested in critical theories of religion, religion and culture (food, cinema and art), and the broad constitution of religion as a site of study in societies experiencing rapid social change. In the past she has collaborated with the Rhodes Trust, Oxford’s Asian Studies Centre and Taipei Representative Office in the U.K. for workshops and conferences on the interdisciplinary study of nationalism and identity. 
She is currently working on: a co-authored book on food, immigration and memory to be published in Taiwan in 2016, a monograph based on her PhD thesis on the meaning of being human in the Digital Age (awarded the Edinburgh Innovative Initiative Grant), and a new project on left-wing Christians in Republican Shanghai. 
As an active academic and writer, she contributes for BBC Chinese, OpenDemocracy, Los Angeles Review of Books and other media platforms, and writes a column on food and religion, and another on antiques for《故事:寫給所有人的歷史》. She can be reached at @tingguowrites and
Featured interview: Ryan Hornbeck on Religion and Cognition
Dr. Ryan Hornbeck is a cognitive anthropologist who studies moral cognition and spiritual experiences in online games such as Chinese World of Warcraft. In this interview with CRCS editorial assistant Joey Marshall, Dr. Hornbeck discusses his ongoing research and responds to the question, "Is religion innate?"
Listen to the full audio interview here.
Featured interview
Guest: Ryan Hornbeck
Interviewer: Joey Marshall

Note: This is an abbreviated transcript featuring only a few key questions and responses. To hear the full audio recording, visit this link.

JM: You use the words “species-typical” to talk about behaviors and cognitions that seem to be part of what makes us human. So I’m wondering about religion in general. Is religion natural? Is it innate? These are big questions. Can you speak to this?
RH: Let’s see, is religion innate? I guess that’s a pretty loaded word. Certainly there are people within cognitive anthropology who believe that religion is developmentally natural. So, whether there is something in human minds that is going to developmentally push us in these directions no matter what, or whether it’s a matter of minds interacting with environments in very similar ways from culture to culture. People get caught up in whether they want to call it “innate” or “developmentally natural.” But yes, humans gravitate toward certain cross-culturally recurrent forms of religious expression. The clearest example is belief in afterlife. It doesn’t matter where you are, whether you’re a Christian in America or whether you’re in China. The idea that death is not the end of it, that something happens, is an extraordinarily natural one. Cognitive science has given us some tools to figure out why this is so. One idea in cognitive science is that humans are very unique in being able to read minds, such as imagining what other people are thinking or wondering about. Like I think, “he’s thirsty” or I think “he’s mad at her.” And this is a pretty unique capacity. Other animals are not good at this, and if they can do it, they can’t do it very well. Obviously this is a foundation of our existence as a cultural species. Now, it doesn’t seem to have followed the same developmental path as other parts of our mind that we use to reason about living objects. We understand – children understand – that when someone dies, their biological functioning ceases. They no longer need to go to the bathroom; they no longer eat pizza. Children don’t seem to understand that, when someone dies, their mental life ceases. If a child’s friend dies, do [they] still play basketball? No. Do they still go to the bathroom? No. Do they still love their mother? Yes! These psychological functions seem to persist after death, and this tool that we have of thinking about other people’s minds continues to produces inferences. It continues to produce ideas about other people’s mental states even after they’ve died. So, from a cognitive science perspective, this makes something like afterlife belief quiet natural, because you have all these intuitions about all these people’s mental lives that persist after death. A concept that can collect those and structure them and make sense of them – like an afterlife concept – is almost a cultural default.
JM: Now, I’m very much intrigued by this naturalness of religion idea – or even the idea that beliefs like the afterlife are natural or easy to come by as a human. But a critic might raise the point of China specifically and say, “Well, there are over a billion people in China, many of whom are presumably atheist.” And I’m wondering how you would respond to this criticism. So, does the predominance of what is ostensibly atheism in China challenge the notion that religion, or something about religion, is natural?
RH: For cognitive scientists studying religion, we break religion down piecemeal. So, one could make plenty of arguments that there are atheists in China and that people aren’t religious., But do they still reason about what their ancestors think of them? Do they still give money to Buddha hoping that they might get something out of that? There are plenty of dimensions in China operant that are more relevant to the subscales of religiosity that we study. So one of the things we looked at what afterlife belief and teleological reasoning in China. And for the most part they have performed about the same as what we found in America and elsewhere.

Listen to the rest of recording on our website.

Ryan Horbeck holds a DPhil (2012) and an MA (2007) in Anthropology from the University of Oxford, and a BA from Washington University (2003). He is a co-PI (along with Justin Barrett) on a Templeton World Charity Foundation grant entitled, “Is Religion Natural? The Chinese Challenge.” His book in progress is entitled, Pure War: Moral Cognition and Spiritual Experience in Chinese World of Warcraft. More information about Dr. Ryan Hornbeck is available here.
Featured media
Video: Study abroad in China 2016!
2016 Study Abroad Promotional Video
This video, created by CRCS Associate Director Dr. Jonathan Pettit, promotes our study abroad program, which will take place in May 2016. Anyone can apply for this trip. Visit or email for more information.
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