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David Palmer

Dr David A Palmer

Associate Professor

+852 3917 2051

9.01, 9/F., The Jockey Club Tower, Centennial Campus


Dr David A Palmer is an Associate Professor in the department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong, which he joined in 2008. A native of Toronto, he graduated from McGill University in Anthropology and East Asian Studies, then obtained his MPhil in Psychology and Ethnopsychiatry at the Georges Devereux clinic for migrant families of the University of Paris-VIII.

After completing his PhD in the Anthropology of Religion at the Institute for Advanced Research in Paris (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Sorbonne), he was the Eileen Barker Fellow in Religion and Contemporary Society at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and, from 2004 to 2008, director of the Hong Kong Centre of the French School of Asian Studies (Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient), located at the Institute for Chinese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

He has published several award-winning books articles, journal issues and edited volumes on Chinese religion, modern Daoism, the Baha’i Faith, and modern religious movements.

His current research projects focus on local ritual traditions, transnational religious movements, and on faith-based volunteering and NGOs in the Chinese world and Southeast Asia.

He leads the “Rethinking Spirituality and Religion in Asia” research cluster at the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, and the “Spiritual Values in the Third Sector” knowledge exchange project of the HKU Faculty of Social Science’s ExCEL3 third sector capacity building initiative.

Courses taught

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PhD Anthropology of Religion
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Sorbonne, Paris)

MPhil Clinical Psychology / Medical Anthropology
University of Paris-VIII

BA Anthropology and East Asian Studies
McGill University (Montreal, Canada)

Research interests

Sociocultural anthropology
Religion and spirituality
Civil society
Social development
Society and traditional culture in contemporary China

Current research

Volunteerism in Contemporary China: Moral Discourse and Social Spaces (Principal Investigator). General Research Fund, Hong Kong Research Grants Council, 2010-2013.

Religious Movements in Modern China. Principal Investigator. Research grant of the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China, 2007-2009.

Religion and Public Life in China. Co-Investigator (PI: Dr. Glenn Shive), Henry Luce Foundation grant, 2006-2010

Honours and recognitions

Levenson Award for the best book on Modern China by the Association for Asian Studies and the PROSE Award for the best academic book on religion by the American Publishers’ Association – The Religious Question in Modern China

Francis L. K. Hsu award for best book on East Asian Anthropology by the American Anthropological Association (Society for East Asian Anthropology) – Qigong Fever: Body, Science and Utopia in China

Selected publications


The Religious Question in Modern China (University of Chicago Press, 2011, co-authored with Vincent Goossaert).

Qigong Fever: Body, Science and Utopia in China (Columbia University Press, 2007).

Chinese Religious Life (Oxford University Press, 2012; Chinese edition at the Hong Kong University Press, 2014), co-edited with Glenn Shive and Philip WIckeri.

Daoism in the 20th Century: Between Eternity and Modernity (University of California Press, 2012), co-edited with Xun Liu

Book manuscripts in preparation:

Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality, co-authored with Elijah Siegler

Public Altruism in China: Volunteering, Individualization and Civil Society, co-authored with Ning Rundong

See all publications in HKU Scholars Hub →