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Prof David A Palmer


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

3917 2051

HKU Scholars Hub
Personal Website
Personal Website
Prof David A Palmer
  • Dr David A Palmer is a Professor jointly appointed by the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences and the Department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong, which he joined in 2008. After completing his Ph.D. at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (School for Advanced Research, Université Paris PSL), he was the Eileen Barker Fellow in Religion and Contemporary Society in the Department of Sociology of 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.

    Palmer’s interdisciplinary research and teaching is situated at the intersection of sociology and anthropology, and is informed by scholarly traditions in history, religious studies and Sinology. He is best known for his award-winning books The Religious Question in Modern China (Joseph Levenson Award of the Association for Asian Studies and PROSE award of the American Publishers’ Association, co-authored with V. Goossaert) and Qigong Fever: Body, Science and Utopia in China (Francis L.K. Hsu Award of the Society for East Asian Anthropology), both of which have become essential reading for studies on contemporary Chinese society and religion. His latest book Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality (co-authored with E. Siegler) was published in 2017 by the University of Chicago Press. He has also published numerous articles, journal issues and edited volumes on Chinese religion, civil society, Daoism, the Bahá’í Faith, and modern and transnational religious movements. His writings have been published or are forthcoming in journals such as Current Anthropology, American Anthropologist, Economy and Society, The Journal of Asian Studies and Modern Asian Studies.

    He leads the “Asian Religious Connections” research cluster at the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, where he directs a GRF grant on Daoism, Ethnic Identity and State Socialism: the Lanten Yao on the China-Vietnam-Laos Borderlandand a CRF grant on “Infrastructures of Faith: Religious Mobilities on the Belt and Road.”

  • 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)

    • Chinese religion, Daoism and ethnicity in southern China and Southeast Asia

    • Inter-Asian religious circulations

    • Civil society, governance and subject formation

    • Anthropology of ethics and moralities

    • Comparative and historical sociology

    • Asian assemblages of science and religion

  • Infrastructures of Faith: Religious Mobilities on the Belt and Road. Project Coordinator, Hong Kong Collaborative Research Fund (CRF), 2019-2022.

    Daoism, Ethnic Identity and State Socialism: the Lanten Yao on the China-Vietnam-Laos Borderland. PI, Hong Kong General Research Fund (GRF), 2018-2021.

    Chinese Modernity and Soft Power on the Belt and Road. PI, RGC Research Fellowship, 2021-2025.

    Religious Cosmopolitanism in China, 1895-1927. PI, Hong Kong General Research Fund (GRF), 2021-2023.

    Knowledge Exchange Project:

    A Values-Based Evaluation Framework for Humanitarian Education Programmes. Co-PI with Marie Harder (HKU Faculty of Social Sciences ExCEL3, Fudan University, Brighton University and a major social service agency in Hong Kong), 2017-2020.

    Teaching Development Projects:

    New Approaches to Religious Pluralism in Asia: India-China-Indonesia. PI, United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, 2016-2019; in collaboration with the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies and the Asian Centre for Cross-Cultural Studies (Chennai, India).

    Deepening Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts: Religion in National and International Affairs in China and India. Project Co-Director, ASIANetwork Faculty Enhancement Program, Andrew Mellon Foundation/Hong Kong America Center (2018)

    Religious Life in the Chinese World. Undergraduate textbook and website. Project initially funded by the Henry Luce Foundation and managed by the HKAC (2007-2013).

  • HK Research Grants Council RGC Research Fellowship, 2021-2025.

    HK Research Grants Council Humanities and Social Sciences Prestigious Fellowship, 2019

    Edward Bruner Prize for the best book in the Anthropology of Tourism by the American Anthropological Association (Anthropology of Tourism Interest Group); HKU Faculty of Social Sciences Outstanding Research Output Award –  Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality.

    Levenson Award for the best book on Modern China by the Association for Asian Studies; 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

  • Authored books:

    Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality (University of Chicago Press, 2017, co-authored with Elijah Siegler)

    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; released in paperback 2020).

    Edited books:

    The Civil Sphere in East Asia, ed. by Jeffrey Alexander, David A. Palmer, Agnes Ku and Sunwoon Park (Cambridge University Press, 2019).

    Chinese Religious Life (Oxford University Press, 2012; Chinese edition (中國人的宗教生活) 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. Available in Open Access

    Selected journal articles:

    The Bahá’í Faith and Covenantal Pluralism: Promoting Oneness, Respecting Difference (with Temily Tavangar) The Review of Faith & International Affairs, 19:2, 29-39, DOI: 10.1080/15570274.2021.1917138

    Ethics of the Heart: Moral Breakdown and the Aporia of Chinese Volunteers” (with Rundong Ning). Current Anthropology 61:4 (2020): 395-417.

    Chinese NGOs at the Interface between Governmentality and Local Society: An Actor-Oriented Perspective” (with Qing Liu). China Information, published online Sept 2020, DOI: 10.1177/0920203X20942094

    Black Bloc against Red China: Tears and Revenge in the Trenches of the New Cold War”. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 10:2 (2020).

    Cosmology, Gender, Structure and Rhythm: Marcel Granet and Chinese Religion in the History of Social Theory.” Review of Religion and Chinese Society 6 (2019): 160-187.

    Guanyin’s Limbo: Icons as Demi-Persons and Dividual Objects” (with Chip Colwell and Martin Tse). American Anthropologist. Published online first, 23 Aug. 2019.

    “Neo-Socialist Governmentality: Managing Freedom in the Peoples’ Republic of China” (with Fabian Winiger). Economy and Society 48:4 (2019), pp. 554-578

    “The Cosmopolitan Moment in Colonial Modernity: The Bahá’í Faith, Spiritual Networks and Universalist Movements in early Twentieth Century China” (with Zhaoyuan Wan). Modern Asian Studies. Published online first, 2019.

    Spirituality, Transcendence, and the Circulatory History of Modern Asian Religion” (Review Essay). Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 78:1 (2018), pp. 171-180.

    “Occulting the Dao: Daoist Inner Alchemy, French Spiritism and Vietnamese Colonial Modernity in Caodai Translingual Practice” (with Jeremy Jammes). Journal of Asian Studies 77:2 (2018), 405-428.

    Transnational Sacralizations: When Daoist Monks Meet Spiritual Tourists.” Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 79: 2 (2014), 169-192.

    From ‘Congregations’ to ‘Small Group Community Building’: Localizing the Bahá’í Faith in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China.” Chinese Sociological Review 45: 2 (2013), 78-98.

    Gift and Market in the Chinese Religious Economy”. Religion 41:4 (2011): 1-26.

    Chinese Redemptive Societies and Salvationist Religion: Historical Phenomenon or Sociological Category?” Journal of Chinese Theatre, Ritual and Folklore / Minsu Quyi 172 (2011), pp. 21-72.

    China’s Religious Danwei: Institutionalizing Religion in the Peoples’ Republic.” China Perspectives 2009/4, pp. 17-31.

    Modernity and Millenialism in China: Qigong and the Birth of Falun Gong”, Asian Anthropology 2 (2003), pp. 79-110.

    Selected book chapters:

    The Civil Sphere in the Cultural and Political Transformations of Modern East Asia”, in Jeffrey Alexander, David A. Palmer, Agnes Ku and Sunwoong Park (eds.), The Civil Sphere in East Asia. Cambridge University Press, 2019, pp. 1-17.

    Three Moral Codes and Micro-Civil Spheres in China,” in Jeffrey Alexander, David A. Palmer, Agnes Ku and Sunwoong Park eds., The Civil Sphere in East Asia. Cambridge University Press, 2019, pp. 126-147.

    The Resurrection of Lei Feng: Rebuilding the Chinese Party-State’s Infrastructure of Volunteer Mobilization” (with Rundong Ning), in Elizabeth Perry, Gzegorz Eckiert and Xiaojun Yan eds., Ruling by Other Means: State-Mobilized Social Movements. Cambridge University Press, 2020.

    Secularization, Sacralization and Subject Formation in Modern China” (with Fabian Winiger), in Peter van der Veer and Kenneth Dean eds., A Secular Age in Asia?  Palgrave MacMillan, 2018, pp. 83-105.

    Religion, Spiritual Principles and Civil Society,” in Ben Schewel and Geoff Cameron eds., Religion and Public Discourse in an Age of Transition: Reflections on Baha’i Practice and Thought. Guelph, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2018.

    Is Chinese (Lack of) Religion Exceptional?” In Ryan Hornbeck and Justin Barrett, eds. Homo Religiosus and the Dragon: Cognitive Studies of Religion in China. Springer Academic Publishers, 2017.

    Daoism and Human Rights: Integrating the Incommensurable”. In Joseph Tham, Kai Man Kwang & Alberto Garcia eds. Religious Perspectives on Bioethics and Human Rights. Springer Academic Publishers, 2017, pp. 139-144.  DOI: 978-3-319-58431-7_12

    Religiosity and Social Movements in China: Divisions and Multiplications”, in Gilles Guiheux & K. E. Kuah-Pearce (eds.), Social Movements in China and Hong Kong: The Expansion of Protest Space.ICAS/Amsterdam University Press, 2009, pp. 257-282.

    Heretical Doctrines, Reactionary Secret Societies, Evil Cults: Labelling Heterodoxy in 20th Century China”, in Mayfair Yang (ed.), Chinese Religiosities: the Vicissitudes of Modernity and State Formation.Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008, pp. 113-134.

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