Digital Religion in China: A Comparative Perspective on Buddhism and Christianity's Online Publics in Sina Weibo

Yanshuang Zhang


The proliferation of social media in China has provided traditional religious authorities with multifarious digital features to revitalise and reinforce their practices and beliefs. However, under the authoritative political system different religions pick up the new media to varying degrees, thereby showing different characteristic and style in their social media use. This paper examines the public discourse about Buddhism and Christianity (two of the great official religions in China) on China’s largest microblogging platform-Sina Weibo, and seeks to reveal a distinct landscape of religious online public in China. Through a close look at the social media posts aided by a text analytics software- Leximancer, this paper comparatively investigates several issues related to the Buddhism and Christianity online publics, such as religious networks, interactions between involved actors, the economics and politics of religion, and the role of religious charitable organizations. The result supports Campbell’s proposition on digital religion that religious groups typically do not reject new technologies, but rather undergo a sophisticated negotiation process in accord with their communal norms and beliefs. It also reveals that in China a secular Buddhism directly contributes to a prosperous ‘temple economy’ while tension still exists between Christianity and the Chinese state due to ideological discrepancy. The paper further points out the possible direction for this nascent research field.


Digital Religion; Social Media; Buddhism; Christianity; Online Publics; Sina Weibo; China

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