Seeking meaning: Overseas Chinese students' conversion to Christianity
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AbstractIn recent years, the number of Chinese students studying in the United States has been increasing dramatically. The number of Chinese students who converted to Christianity in the U.S. has also risen a lot. The aim of this research is to find out why there are so many Chinese students choosing to believe in Christianity and how they become Christians in the end. The data of this research are drawn from participant observation, interview, and content analysis. Results focus on three topics related to overseas Chinese students’ religious lives. The first topic is the Chinese students’ knowledge and impression of Christianity before they were in touch with the religion. Almost all Chinese students had little to no knowledge of Christianity beforehand. Despite their limited knowledge, their impressions of Christianity were quite different: strange and unfamiliar, skeptical and cautious, favorable and encouraging. The second topic is the social network. On the one hand, a social network, especially the interpersonal bond between religious group members and potential recruits, plays an initial but crucial role in recruitment; on the other hand, the religious community helps Chinese students adapt to a new social environment materially, psychologically, and socially by providing different kinds of social services. Although the social network plays a very important role during the course of Chinese students’ conversion to Christianity, it still cannot be regarded as the main reason why Chinese students become Christian. The third topic is an attempt to discover the main reason why Chinese students convert. Under the broader contexts of the huge social and cultural difference between China and the United States, and the life stage of “emerging adulthood” where the Chinese students are at, the Chinese students realize their current meaning system is not comprehensive enough for them to interpret the challenges and uncertainties brought by these two contextual factors. While searching for meaning and seeking certainties amid the puzzling ambiguities, the Chinese students find Christianity, both as a comprehensive meaning system and an interpretive framework, that brings meaning and certainties to the lives of the Chinese students and saves them in both spiritual and emotional ways.