Robert Weller

Center Associate; Professor of Anthropology, Boston University

Robert Weller

Bio

Dr. Robert Weller’s (魏樂博) 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.

Selected Publications

Books

  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 1994: Resistance, Chaos and Control in China: Taiping Rebels, Taiwanese Ghosts and Tiananmen. Macmillan Press and University of Washington Press. 
  • 1996: Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China. Editor, with Meir Shahar. University of Hawai’i Press. 
  • 1999: Alternate Civilities: Chinese Culture and the Prospects for Democracy. Westview. Paperback edition, 2001. 
  • 2005: Civil Life, Globalization, and Political Change in Asia: Organizing Between Family and State. Editor. Routledge (paperback edition, 2007). 
  • 2006: Discovering Nature: Globalization and Environmental Culture in China and Taiwan. Cambridge University Press. 
  • 2008: Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity (2nd author, 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 “Да здравствует ритуал!” in Historical Psychology and Sociology of History, 2009(2):171-183.) 
  • 2012: Rethinking Pluralism: Ritual, Experience, and Ambiguity (2nd author, with Adam Seligman). New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • 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. 
  • 2018: Religion and Charity: The Social Life of Goodness in Chinese Societies (1st author, with Chien-yu Julia Huang, Keping Wu, and Lizhu Fan). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • 2019: How Things Count as the Same: Memory, Mimesis, and Metaphor (2nd author, with Adam Seligman). New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • 2019: Testing the Margins of Leisure: Case Studies on China, Japan, and Indonesia (4th editor, with R. Wagner, C. Yeh, and E. Menegon). Heidelberg: Heidelberg University Publishing
  • 2020: It Happens Among People: Resonances and Extensions of the Work of Fredrik Barth (2nd editor, with Keping Wu). New York: Berghahn Books. 
  • 2020: Symposium: The Achievement of David Martin (with Adam B. Seligman). Special issue of Society 57(2). 

Recent Articles and Publications

  • 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. 
  • 1987: Symposium on Hegemony and Chinese Folk Ideologies. Editor, with Hill Gates. Special issues of Modern China, 13, nos. 1 and 3. 
  • 1996: Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China. Editor, with Meir Shahar. University of Hawai’i Press. 
  • 2005: Civil Life, Globalization, and Political Change in Asia: Organizing Between Family and State. Editor. Routledge (paperback edition, 2007). 
  • 2012: “The Dynamics of Religious Philanthropy in Lukang.” 宗教人类学[Anthropology of Religion], 3:246-264. 
  • 2013: “Taiwan and Global Religious Trends.” Taiwan Journal of Religious Studies [台灣宗教研究] 12:9-34. 
  • 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: “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. 
  • 2013: “Chinese Communist Thought on Religious Diversity.” In Joachim Gentz and Perry Schmitt-Leukel, eds., Religious Diversity in Chinese Thought. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, pp. 171-186. 
  • 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. 
  • 2013: “Governing Religion with One Eye Closed.” Blog entry on the Immanent Frame, Social Science Research Council. 
  • 2013: “对话宗教与世俗化 [Dialogue on Religion and Secularization].” Dialogue with Wu Yungui, Fan Lizhu, and Zheng Xiaoyun, 世界宗教文化 [Religious Cultures of the World], 2013 no. 2. 
  • 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. 
  • 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” (1st author, with Adam Seligman). Review of Religion and Chinese Society 1:29-47 
  • 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. 
  • 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). Translated as “全球宗教变迁与中国两个社区的民众.” 民俗研究 5:34-43, 2017. 
  • 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. 
  • 2017: “Shared Fictions and Informal Politics in China.” In Vivienne Shue and Patricia Thornton (eds.), To Govern China: Evolving Practices of Power. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 154-173. 
  • 2017: “Chronicles of China’s Spiritual Revival.” Review of Ian Johnson, The Souls of China. In Current History 16:244-246. 
  • 2017: “当代中国民间宗教要’接地气’.” Interview, in 民俗研究 5:29-33. 
  • 2018: “La Confianza, el Regalo y el Otro: Desafíos Contemporáneos al Intercambio Generalizado [Trust, the Gift, and the Other: Contemporary Challenges to Generalized Exchange]” (second author, with Adam Seligman). In Juan Carlos Scannone, ed., Sociedad Civil y Bien Común: Hacia una Nueva Articulación del Mercado, el Estado y la Sociedad Civil [Civil Society and the Common Good: Toward a New Articulation of Market, State and Civil Society], vol. 1. Córdoba, Argentina: Universidad Católica de Córdoba, pp. 315-338.
  • 2019: Testing the Margins of Leisure: Case Studies on China, Japan, and Indonesia (4th editor, with R. Wagner, C. Yeh, and E. Menegon). Heidelberg: Heidelberg University Publishing.
  • 2019: “Introduction” (4th author, with R. Wagner, C. Yeh, and E. Menegon). In R. Wagner et al., eds., Testing the Margins of Leisure: Case Studies on China, Japan, and Indonesia, Heidelberg: Heidelberg University Publishing, pp. 1-9 (open access at https://heiup.uni-heidelberg.de/heiup/catalog/book/550). 
  • 2019: “Leisure, Ritual, and Choice in Modern Chinese Societies.” In R. Wagner et al., eds., Testing the Margins of Leisure: Case Studies on China, Japan, and Indonesia, Heidelberg: Heidelberg University Publishing, pp. 89-105.
  • 2020: Symposium: The Achievement of David Martin (with Adam B. Seligman). Special issue of Society 57(2). 
  • 2020: It Happens Among People: Resonances and Extensions of the Work of Fredrik Barth (2nd editor, with Keping Wu). New York: Berghahn Books. 
  • 2020: “Philanthropy and the Religious Life of Goodness in China” (1st author with C. Huang and K. Wu). In Stephan Feuchtwang (ed.), Handbook on Religion in China. Cheltenham: Edgar Elgar, pp. 34-53. 
  • 2020: “Introduction” (1st author with Keping Wu). In Keping Wu and Robert P. Weller (eds.), It Happens Among People: Resonances and Extensions of the Work of Fredrik Barth. New York: Berghahn Books, pp. 1-16. 
  • 2020: “Cosmologies in the Remaking: Variation and Time in Chinese Temple Religion.” In Keping Wu and Robert P. Weller (eds.), It Happens Among People: Resonances and Extensions of the Work of Fredrik Barth. New York: Berghahn Books, pp. 61-81. 

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