The goal of the Cultural Psychology of Religion Research Initiative is to encourage collaborative research initiative between the East and West. We seek to advance understanding of psychology of spirituality and religion as practiced in Chinese communities around the world. We will facilitate research which examines the cultural context of psychological dimensions of Confucianism, folk religions, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, and Christianity. We hope scholarly exchange will lead to greater social harmony in China and mutual awareness between East and West.
While the discipline of psychology in China is over a century old, psychological understandings of thinking and personality are apparent in the writings of Confucius (551-479 BCE), Mencius (468-312 BCE), and Lao-Tze (4th BCE). For these great thinkers, the structure of the psyche was considered alongside moral philosophical issues of good and evil, and the psychology of morality was seen as inextricably connected with the structure of the individual and the health of society. Although Confucianism is not generally considered a religion, the interrelation of psychology and morality is evident in Confucius’s sayings.
As a science, Chinese psychology emerged concurrently with American psychology. Yuanpei Cai studied with the German experimental psychologist, Wilhelm Wundt, and returned to China to become president of Peking University, where he established the Institute of Psychology. Daqi Chen established the first experimental laboratory in China at Peking University (1917). However, during the Cultural Revolution (1949-1965), the discipline of psychology was considered bourgeois and suffered a major setback. The teaching of and research in psychology was stopped entirely between 1966 and 1976. During these years political ideology and the psychological theories of the former Soviet Union dominated Chinese psychology. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s psychology departments were reestablished in the major universities and the Chinese Psychological Society was reorganized. In 1980 there were only 5 departments of psychology in all of China, but over the past three decades this number has mushroomed to 200, with some 2,000 masters level students and 100 doctoral candidates. In 2004, the Chinese Psychological Society proudly hosted the International Congress of Psychology. Another recent, and perhaps more significant development in Chinese psychology, is the increasing demand for indigenous approaches that address Chinese psychological concerns, as opposed to imported approaches from the West. Chinese psychological concerns include national suicide rates, the impacts of one-child policy, the rapid economic growth, divorce, urbanization and families, Internet addiction, and religion.
China’s five officially recognized religions are Taoism, Confucianism, Catholicism, Christianity and Islam. Recent research by Tong Shijun and Liu Zhongyu indicate that there are some 300 million Chinese who identify themselves as religious/spiritual, the highest estimate to be published to date. Adherents to one of the five major religions account for 67.4 percent of this religious population. Two hundred million people are Buddhists, Taoists, or worshippers of legendary figures such as the Dragon King and God of Fortune, accounting for 66.1 per cent of the religious persons. Twelve percent of all spiritual believers, or 40 million people, are Christians. In response to questions which addressed the role of religion, 24.1 percent of the religious group agreed that religion "shows the true path of life" and 28 percent agreed that it "helps cure illness, avoid disasters and ensure that life is smooth." The research also indicated that there has been an increase in younger believers since 2000 and 72 per cent said they are happier as believers. Clearly religion is important to some 25 per cent of Chinese society (Tong and Liu, 2005); however, systematic study of religion from a psychological perspective is largely absent in Chinese universities.
In 1940, Chen Wenyuan wrote the first text integrating religion and psychology in China, entitled Religion and Personality. By the late 1980s Chinese scholars were writing texts describing Soviet and Western approaches to psychology and religion. Several Western textbooks on the psychology of religion were translated and published in China. Chinese psychologists began studying the psychological functions of worship, the personal usefulness of religion, the necessity of religion for survival, and the attitudes of youth toward religion. Chen Biao wrote on Erickson’s religious psychology (2003) and is currently writing a history of Western approaches of psychology to religion. A promising young scholar, Liang Liping (2004), has conducted a comparative study of Buddhists and Christians in terms of gender, psychological factors, and cultural background (which she presented at the first Fuller conference on psychology of religion in China). Nonetheless, Chen Yongsheng, a leading Chinese psychologist of religion, along with Liang Henghao and Lu Liqing, describe the current state of psychology of religion research as follows: “On building the discipline of psychology of religion, Chinese scholars have not discovered the central stream so far, and therefore it seems that the achievements are scattered and lack a solid foundation” (2006, p. 156).