Purdue University Graduate School

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A Content Analysis of the Representation of Atheism and Religion in Chinese News Media: 1978-2011

posted on 2019-08-14, 18:05 authored by Jun LuJun Lu
This dissertation aims to fill in the lacuna left by previous research of empirical and systematic examination of atheism vis-à-vis religion in China. Moreover, I intend to reckon with the puzzling discrepancy between high proportion of self-identified atheists and high percentage of religious believers and practitioners among mainland Chinese. Through quantitative content analysis of the representation of atheism and religion in the official newspaper, the People’s Daily, and the commercialized newspaper, Southern Weekend, and comparing and contrasting the representation of two particular religions, namely, Buddhism and Christianity in the People’s Daily, I demonstrate that as the tonal uses, interplay of secularization and desecularization trends over time, and framing of religions effectuate the configuration and reconfiguration of the relative meanings and locations of atheism and religion in the symbolic realm of media representation in reform-era China, the transfiguration reveals to the audience the discursive instability and fluidity underlying the concepts of “atheism” and “religion.” I argue that the Chinese party-state’s pragmatism and commercialized media’s commitment to modern journalism are among the major enabling factors for the discursive practices of the news media that we see. As atheism and religion are both embraced and contested, albeit differentially, in symbolic representation by the news media, it facilitates the Chinese’s self-identification as an atheist and simultaneously believing/behaving as a religionist, in spite of the apparent logical incongruity in the double-identity.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Sociology

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Fenggang Yang

Additional Committee Member 2

Daniel V. A. Olson

Additional Committee Member 3

Rachel L. Einwohner

Additional Committee Member 4

Jack Spencer

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