• Professor of Anthropology, Boston University
  • rpweller@bu.edu
  • http://www.bu.edu/anthrop/people/faculty/r-weller/
  • Boston University Department of Anthropology | 232 Bay State Road, #105 | Boston 02215

Research interests: China and Taiwan in comparative perspective, religion and philanthropy in China

Dr. Robert Weller’s work concentrates on China and Taiwan in comparative perspective. His actual research topics, however, are eclectic—running from ghosts to politics, rebellions to landscape paintings. Perhaps what unites everything is an interest in finding the limits to authority in all its settings.

Dr. Weller’s earliest work began with the problem of religious meaning and authority: Who has the power to impose an interpretation? Could you impose one across a land as vast and a history as long as China’s? His first book (Unities and Diversities) examined this through arguments about whether China had a single unifying set of religious ideas; his conclusion was that control over meaning was too limited and multiple to create unity. His second book (Resistance, Chaos, and Control) used very different material—it compared cases of resistance. The analysis hinged on the unusual moments where it becomes possible to impose a unified interpretation. This appears to be the crucial process in converting “cultural resistance” (like smoking in the high school bathroom) into a political movement. He continues to have an interest in the limits to interpretational authority, especially through one of its most extreme forms—silence.

A second broad area of interest has been the problem of culture change in its global context, with all its flows and stoppages, appropriations and resistances. His book on the environmental consequences of changes in the understanding of “nature” (Discovering Nature) examines the ways that Western ideas entered China and interacted with indigenous understandings to create something new. His work on civil society (Alternate Civilities) similarly looks at the influx of ideas about governance and social organization and their long-term consequences, arguing that something like a civil society can be built without looking quite like any place in the West.

That interest in the relationship between state and society has continued through his edited book on nongovernmental organizations and political change in Asia. It also informs one of his current major projects, an examination of the new role of religions in delivering a wide range of secular services to people in Chinese societies—building hospitals, offering scholarships, providing emergency aid, taking care of the elderly, and so on.

Dr. Weller’s other major research endeavor right now is a more theoretical exploration of ritual. A 2008 book, Ritual and Its Consequences, argues that all societies have a tension between a ritual aspect (what you do makes you who you are) and a sincere aspect (what you do is only the reflection of who you are). Modernity, it argues, has embraced the sincere side in a way that is historically unusual and that creates inherent social problems.

Chinese Name: 魏樂博


Books and Edited Works:

2015 江南地区的宗教与公共生活 [Religion and Public Life in China's Lower Yangzi Region]. Editor, with Lizhu Fan. Shanghai: Shanghai People's Press.

2012 Rethinking Pluralism: Ritual, Experience, and Ambiguity. With Adam Seligman. New York: Oxford University Press.

2008 Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity. With Adam Seligman, Michael Puett, and Bennett Simon. New York: Oxford University Press. (Italian translation, 2011, Rito e modernità: I limiti della sincerità, Armando Editore. Russian translation of ch. 1 as "Даздравствует ритуал!" in Historical Psychology and Sociology of History, 2009(2):171-183).

2006 Discovering Nature: Globalization and Environmental Culture in China and Taiwan. Cambridge University Press.

2005 Civil Life, Globalization, and Political Change in Asia: Organizing Between Family and State. Editor. Routledge (paperback edition, 2007).

1999 Alternate Civilities: Chinese Culture and the Prospects for Democracy. Westview. Paperback edition, 2001.

1996 Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China. Editor, with Meir Shahar. University of Hawai'i Press.

1994 Resistance, Chaos and Control in China: Taiping Rebels, Taiwanese Ghosts and Tiananmen. Macmillan Press and University of Washington Press.

1987 Unities and Diversities in Chinese Religion. Macmillan Press and University of Washington Press.

1987 Symposium on Hegemony and Chinese Folk Ideologies. Editor, with Hill Gates. Special issues of Modern China, 13, nos. 1 and 3.

1982 Power and Protest in the Countryside: Studies of Rural Unrest in Asia, Europe and Latin America. Editor, with Scott E. Guggenheim. Duke University Press. Paperback edition, 1989.


Articles and Chapters:

i.p. "华人的宗教性慈善与社会资本的限制 [Chinese Religious Philanthropy and the Limits on
Social Capital]." 宗教人类学[Anthropology of Religion].

2015 "‘善’与‘恶’界限的多重性:中国道德体系中的包容性及其后果 [The Multiple Borders
of Good and Evil: Tolerance in the Chinese Moral Order]." 宗教人类学 [Anthropology of
Religion], 6:18-39.

2015 "Global Religious Changes and Civil Life in Two Chinese Societies: A Comparison of Jiangsu and Taiwan." Review of Faith & International Affairs 13(2):13-24 (also online
at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15570274.2015.1039305).

2015 "导演:大江南地区的宗教与社会的变迁 [Introduction: Religion and Social Change in Greater Jiangnan]." In Robert P. Weller and Lizhu Fan (eds.), 江南地区的宗教与公共生活 [Religion and Public Life in China's Lower Yangzi Region]. Shanghai: Shanghai People's Press, pp. 1-17.

2015 "The Gains and Losses of Scaling Up in Chinese Religious Philanthropy." In Keping Wu and Michael Feener, eds., Religion and Development in China: Innovations and Implications. Singapore: Asia Research Institute.

2014 "The Politics of Increasing Religious Diversity in China." Daedalus 143 (2), Spring 2014, pp. 1-10.

2014 "Pluralism and Chinese Religions: Constructing Social Worlds through Memory, Mimesis, and Metaphor" (with Adam Seligman). Review of Religion and Chinese Society 1:29-47 (also online at http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/22143955/1/1). Translated as "多元
主义与中国宗教:通过记忆、摹拟与隐喻建构社会世界" in Fenggang Yang, Shining Gao,
and Xiangping Li, eds., 田野歸來——中國宗教和中國社會研究, vol. 1, 台灣基督教文藝出版

2014 "Beyond Globalization and Secularization: Changing Religion and Philanthropy in Lukang, Taiwan." In Thomas Jansen, Thoralf Klein, and Christian Meyer, eds., Globalization and the Making of Religious Modernity in China: Transnational Religions, Local Agents, and the Study of Religion, 1800-Present. Leiden: Brill, pp. 136-155.

2013 "Taiwan and Global Religious Trends." Taiwan Journal of Religious Studies [台灣宗教研究] 12:9-34.

2013 "Chinese Communist Thought on Religious Diversity." In Joachim Gentz and Perry SchmittLeukel, eds., Religious Diversity in Chinese Thought. Palgrave-Macmillan.

2013 "The Religious Dynamics of Region and Nation Across the Strait." In Wen-hsin Yeh (ed.), Mobile Horizons: Dynamics Across the Taiwan Strait. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, pp. 124-146.

2013 "中国的多重全球化与自然概念的多样性 [Multiple Globalizations and Diversities of Nature in China]." In 苏发祥 [Su Faxiang] and 郁丹 [Dan Smyer Yu] (eds.), 中国宗教多元与生态可续性发展研究 [Religious Diversity and Ecological Sustainability in China], Beijing: 学苑出版社 [Academy Press], pp. 3-20. Translated as “Globalizations and Diversities of Nature in China.” In James Miller, Dan Smyer Yu, and Peter van der Veer (eds.) Religion and Ecological Sustainability in China. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 147-163, 2014.

2012 "Responsive Authoritarianism and Blind-Eye Governance in China." In Dorothy J. Solinger and Nina Bandelj (eds.), Socialism Challenged, Socialism Vanquished: China and Eastern Europe, 1989-2009, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 83-99.

2012 "The Dynamics of Religious Philanthropy in Lukang." 宗教人类学[Anthropology of Religion], 3:246-264.

2012 "Religion, Ritual, and the Public Good in China." In Fenggang Yang and Joseph Tamney (eds.), Confucianism and Spiritual Traditions in Modern China and Beyond, Boston: E. J. Brill, pp. 329-349.

2011 "Religion and Environment." In David Palmer, Glenn Shive and Philip Wickeri (eds.), Religion in Chinese Society: Communities, Practices and Public Works. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 124-138. Chinese translation, “中國的宇宙論與自然環境.” In 中国人的宗教生活. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2014.

2010 "The Possibilities and Limitations of Spiritual Capital in Chinese Societies." In Peter L. Berger and Gordon Redding (eds.), The Hidden Form of Capital: Spiritual Influences in Societal Progress. London: Anthem Press.

2010 "Religion: The Dynamics of Religious Growth and Change" (co-authored with Yanfei Sun). In Joseph Fewsmith (ed.), China Today, China Tomorrow: Domestic Politics, Economy, and Society. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 29-50.

2010 "中国的宗教仪式和公益 (Chinese Ritual and the Public Good)". In Shining Gao and Fenggang Yang (eds.), 从书斋到田野:宗教社会科学高峰论坛文集(上)From the Armchair to the Field: Selected Articles from the Beijing Summit on Chinese Spirituality and Society, vol. 1. Beijing: Zhongguo Shehui Kexue Chubanshe, pp. 170-183.

2008 "Responsive Authoritarianism." In Bruce Gilley and Larry Diamond (eds.), Political Change in China: Lessons from Taiwan. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner, pp. 117-133.

2008 “Charisma in Motion: The Compassion Relief Movement in Taiwan, the United States, Japan, and Malaysia” (co-authored with Julia Chien-yu Huang). In Sherman Cochran and David Strand (eds.), Cities in Motion. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, pp. 272-294.

2008 "Asia and the Global Economies of Charisma." In Pattana Kitiarsa (ed.), Religious
Commodifications in Asia. London: Routledge, pp. 15-30.

2007 "Within and Beyond the Market: Religions, Moralities, and Philanthropies in Chinese Societies." In Jonathan B. Imber (ed.), Markets, Morals & Religion. New Brunswick: Transaction, pp. 231-246 (expanded version of "Religions and Philanthropies," listed below).

2006 "Religions and Philanthropies in Chinese Societies." Society 44(1):42-49.

2006 "Market Development, Political Change, and Chinese Cultures." In Lawrence Harrison and Jerome Kagan (eds.), Developing Cultures: Essays on Cultural Change. London: Routledge, pp. 215-233.

2006 "Market Development, Political Change, and Taiwanese Cultures." In Lawrence Harrison and Peter L. Berger (eds.), Developing Cultures: Case Studies. London: Routledge, pp. 119-137.

2005 "Introduction: Civil Institutions and the State." In Robert P. Weller (ed.), Civil Life,
Globalization, and Political Change in Asia: Organizing Between Family and State. London:
Routledge, pp. 1-19.

2005 "Civil Associations and Autonomy under Three Regimes: The Boundaries of State and Society in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China." In Robert P. Weller (ed.), Civil Life, Globalization, and Political Change in Asia: Organizing Between Family and State. London: Routledge, pp. 76-94.

2004 "Authority, Locality, and the Possibility of Alternate Civilities in China and Taiwan." Korea Observer 35(3):361-390.

2004 "Worship, Teachings, and State Power in China and Taiwan." In William Kirby (ed.), Realms of Freedom in Modern China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 285-314. Reprinted in Vincent Goossaert (ed.), Critical Readings on Religions of China, vol. 3. Leiden: Brill, 2012:791-820.

2003 "The Transformation of Chinese Civil Associations in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South China" (with Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao). In David Schak and Wayne Hudson (eds.), Civil Society in Asia. Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 160-179.

2003 "Afterword: On Global Nation-States and Rooted Universalisms." European Journal of East Asian Studies 2(2):321-328.

2002 "The Human Dimensions of Pollution Policy Implementation: Air Quality in Rural China" (with William P. Alford, Leslyn Hall, Karen R. Polenske, Yuanyuan Shen, and David Zweig). The Journal of Contemporary China 11:495-513.

2001 "Dangdai Huaren Chengshi Shehui de Minjian Zuzhi: Taibei, Xianggang, Guangzhou, Xiamen de Bijiao Fenxi [Civil Associations in Contemporary Chinese Urban Societies: A Comparative Analysis of Taibei, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Xiamen]" (with Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao, Hsin-chi Kuan, Kim Man Chan, Qiu Haixiong, Lü Dale, Yang Guozhen, and Huang Shunli). PROSEA East Asia Research Paper No. 10, Academia Sinica. Reprinted as Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Occasional Paper No. 123, March 2002.

2000 "Living at the Edge: Religion, Capitalism, and the End of the Nation-State in Taiwan." Public Culture 3:477-498. Reprinted in Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff (eds.), Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001, pp. 215-239.

2000 "From State-Owned Enterprise to Joint Venture: A Case Study of the Crisis in Urban Social Services" (with Jiansheng Li). China Journal 43:83-99.

1999 "Identity and Social Change in Taiwanese Religion." In Murray Rubenstein (ed.), Taiwan: A New History. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, pp. 339-365.

1999 "Daoismus und die Möglichkeit einer chinesischen Zivilgesellschaft." In Josef Thesing and Thomas Awe (eds.), Dao in China und in Westen: Impulse für die moderne Gesellschaft. Bonn: Bouvier, pp. 139-157.

1998 "Culture, Gender and Community in Taiwan's Environmental Movement" (with Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao). In Arne Kalland and Gerard Persoon (eds.), Environmental Movements in Asia. London: Curzon, pp. 83-109.

1998 "Horizontal Ties and Civil Institutions in Chinese Societies." In Robert W. Hefner (ed.),
Democratic Civility: The History and Cross-Cultural Possibility of a Modern Political Ideal.
New Brunswick: Transaction, pp. 229-247.

1998 "From Heaven-and-Earth to Nature: Chinese Concepts of the Environment and their Influence on Policy Implementation" (with Peter K. Bol). In Michael B. McElroy, Chris R. Nielson, and Peter Lydon (eds.), Energizing China: Reconciling Environmental Protection and Economic Growth. Cambridge: Harvard University Committee on Environment, pp. 473-499. Reprinted in Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong (eds.), Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans. Cambridge: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 1998, pp. 313-341.

1998 "Zongjiao yu 'Xin Taiwan Rentong': Yixie Chubu Sisuo [Religion and New Taiwanese Identities: Some First Thoughts]." Hong Kong Journal of Social Sciences No. 11:73-82. English version in Harvard Studies on Taiwan: Papers of the Taiwan Studies Workshop, vol. 3, pp. 225-232, 2000.

1998 "Merit and Mothering: Women and Social Welfare in Taiwanese Buddhism" (with Chien-Yu Julia Huang). Journal of Asian Studies 57(2):379-396. Korean translation in Taeman pulgyo ŭi 5 kaji songgong kodŭ 대만불교의 5 가지성공코드 [Five Reasons for the Success of Taiwanese Buddhism], Seoul: Pulgwang Publishers, 2012.

1998 "Divided Market Cultures in China: Gender, Enterprise, and Religion." In Robert W. Hefner (ed.), Market Cultures: Society and Morality in the New Asian Capitalisms. Boulder, CO:Westview, pp. 78-103. Reprinted and abridged in S. Sheck and J. Haggis, Development: A Cultural Studies Reader. Blackwell, 2002.

1996 "Introduction: Gods and Society in China" (with Meir Shahar). In Meir Shahar and Robert P. Weller (eds.), Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, pp. 1-36.

1996 "Matricidal Magistrates and Gambling Gods: Weak States and Strong Spirits in China." In Meir Shahar and Robert P. Weller (eds.), Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, pp. 250-268 (revised version of 1995 article).
1995 "Antecedents of an Environmental Movement in Taiwan" (co-authored with Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao and Lester W. Milbrath). Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 6(3):91-104.

1995 "Matricidal Magistrates and Gambling Gods: Weak States and Strong Spirits in China." Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 33:107-124.

1994 "Cultural Legacies and Development: A View from East Asia." In Janos Matyas Kovacs (ed.), Transition to Capitalism? The Communist Legacy in Eastern Europe. New Brunswick: Transaction, pp. 309- 317.

1994 "Capitalism, Community, and the Rise of Amoral Cults in Taiwan." In Charles F. Keyes, Laurel Kendall, and Helen Hardacre (eds.), Asian Visions of Authority. University of Hawai'i Press, pp. 141-164.

1992 "Tradition und Modernisierung in Sudostasien." Transit 3:206, 210-215.

1991 "Using the Old to Build the New (Taiwan)." Optima 38:12-17.

1987 "Historians and Consciousness: The Modern Politics of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom." Social Research 54:731-755.

1987 "Hegemony and Chinese Folk Ideologies" (with Hill Gates). Modern China 13:3-16.

1987 "The Politics of Ritual Disguise: Repression and Response in Taiwanese Religion." Modern China 13:17-39.

1987 "Popular Tradition, State Control, and Taiping Christianity: Religion and Political Power in the Early Taiping Rebellion." In Li Chi-fang (ed.), Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Church and State in China, Tamsui University, Department of History.

1985 "Bandits, Beggars and Ghosts: The Failure of State Control over Religious Interpretation in Taiwan." American Ethnologist 12:46-61. Reprinted in Maxine Weisgrau and Morton Klass (eds.), Beyond the Boundaries of Belief: Contemporary Issues in the Anthropology of Religion. Westview, 1999.

1984 "Ideology, Organization and Rebellion in Chinese Sectarian Religion." In Janos M. Bak and Gerhard Benecke (eds.), Religion and Rural Revolt, Manchester University Press.
1984 "Social Contradiction and Symbolic Resolution: Practical and Idealized Affines in Taiwan." Ethnology 23:249-260.

1982 "Sectarian Religion and Political Action in China." Modern China 8:463-483.

1982 "Introduction: Moral Economy, Capitalism, and State Power in Rural Unrest" (with Scott Guggenheim). In Power and Protest in the Countryside, Duke University Press.
1981 "Affines, Ambiguity, and Meaning in Hokkien Kin Terms." Ethnology 20:15-29.

Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies