Brian J Grim*
Washington D.C, May 31, 2015 (Alochonaa): The New York Times reports that new Chinese security laws elevate the party and stifle dissent in a new tougher line that Mao would approve of. The new law, released in draft form this month, says security must be maintained “to realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
Of course, the devil’s in the details. But given a rash of recent government actions to impose its supremacy over culture, in particular, religion, China’s economic success is under threat.
This conclusion is based on a new study which I authored, The Modern Chinese Secret Sustainable Economic Growth: Religious Freedom & Diversity.
The study’s findings – published in this summer’s edition of The Review of Faith & International Affairs – will be surprising to the half of China’s population for whom religion is not a significant part of life. To the other half, they will make some sense, but still may be surprising. The reason is twofold. First, those who do not practice religion often tend to have their closest personal and social connections with people like themselves. Accordingly, people who do not encounter religion on a day-to-day basis may consider it to be an insignificant factor. Second, even those practicing a faith may not be aware of the connections between faith, freedom, and business because there has been very little research looking at the connections.
New research, however, finds close and logical connections between faith, freedom, and business., which I review in the article. First, I look specifically at the unrecognized role the religions of Chinese people play in creating a workforce ready for success. This includes the role of a relative, but incomplete, rise in religious freedom since the time of the Cultural Revolution on the 1960s and 1970s, when all faiths were outlawed and suppressed. It also includes a surprising finding from recent research that Chinese Christianity may be a special source of economic growth.
Second, I examine how the freedom to have faith is an unrecognized power to the economy, including an ally in the fight against corruption. Next, I look at a by-product of China’s gradual move to religious freedom—religious diversity— and how this is an added source of innovation for economic growth not only in China, but also in Asia more generally. Indeed, China is one of the world’s most religious and religiously diverse countries, and Asia is the world’s most religiously diverse region.
I then take up the most sensitive question of whether China should further deregulate religious freedom—including in light of recent violence in the western province of Xinjiang—and what that means for sustaining China’s economic growth. Throughout the article, I stress that the issues faced by China are not exclusive to it but are part of a growing global set of issues faced by all nations.
I conclude with the observation: “Perhaps just as China has radically deregulated its economy with successful outcomes, further deregulation of religion may be one way to help keep China’s economic miracle alive.”
*Brian J. Grim is president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and a leading expert on the socioeconomic impact of restrictions on religious freedom and international religious demography. He is an associate scholar with the Berkley Center’s Religious Freedom Project and an affiliated scholar at Boston University’s Institute on Culture, Religion & World Affairs. Prior to becoming the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s president in 2014, Grim directed the largest social science effort to collect and analyze global data on religion at the Pew Research Center. He also worked for two decades as an educator in the former Soviet Union, China, Central Asia, Middle East, and Europe. He is author of numerous articles and books, including The Price of Freedom Denied (2010) published by the Cambridge University Press .
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