chapter  8
18 Pages

Professionalization of clergy in China


After being strongly suppressed throughout most of the Maoist era, religious belief and practice have revived with remarkable vigor during the reform era in the People’s Republic of China (Overmyer 2003). As the expansion began to build momentum in the 1980s there was a pressing need for more religious personnel – “clergy.” No such religious leaders had been trained since the 1950s and religious communities had to rely on elderly – and often overworked and exhausted – priests, ministers, monks, and imams. Along with the rebuilding of places of worship, the government allowed the re-establishment of religious training institutes – “seminaries.” Each religious tradition now has dozens of such seminaries, registered with the government. However, there are also many more, less formally organized places for training of religious leaders that are registered with the government.1 The government has been encouraging the officially registered seminaries to reform traditional methods of training. The reforms (which have as yet only partially been carried out because of lack of resources) aim at producing a more professionalized clergy. The effects of such professionalization are similar to what happened when seminary training was professionalized in Europe and the United States in the mid-twentieth century. To get a sense of what these effects have been and will be in China, it may be useful first to take a look back at the consequences of religious professionalization in the West.