JI Zhe: sociology as the only religion

- through Sophie Solere

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Professor of sociology at Inalco, JI Zhe, who has been living in France for twenty years, directs the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies on Buddhism (CEIB) which he co-founded in 2016.

Born in 1974 in Northeast China, J.I. Zhe began university studies in Shanghai, where he graduated in sociology in 1997 from Fudan University. In 1999, this Francophile decided to continue his student career in France, while most of his classmates then chose to go to the United States. “I had a long-standing interest in sociological studies carried out in France. I had begun to translate into Chinese texts by Émile Durkheim, of which The Elementary Forms of Religious Life “, he launches by way of explanation. In Paris, at the turn of the century, he continued his studies at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, where he defended his thesis in 2007. This focuses on three groups Chan (Zen), founded in the 1980s, which sought to reform Buddhism to adapt it to modernity: the Chan Bailin temple, rebuilt under the post-Maoist regime, the Modern Chan society founded in Taipei in an urban environment and Plum Village, an international Buddhist centre, located in the Dordogne. Religion, modernity and temporality, published in 2014 by Editions du CNRS, shows how these three actors attempt to juggle “a modern temporality turned towards the future and inclined to accelerated change, and a religious temporality essentially referring to an imperative of continuity”.

“I had a long-standing interest in sociological studies carried out in France. I had begun to translate texts by Émile Durkheim into Chinese. »

Having become a doctor in sociology, he now focuses his research on the reconfiguration of religion in the modern and contemporary Chinese world under the effect of planetary upheavals, in particular on the revival of Buddhism, but also of Confucianism, in the post-Maoist era. . He also works, he says, on secularism and secularization in China, on the relationship between politics and religion, and on the sociological and anthropological theory of religions.

Teacher at Inalco

Is he a Buddhist? “Sociology is my only religion”, is having fun the one who, after two years of postdoctoral work at the Societies, Religions, Secularism Group, then a year of research at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Nantes, became in 2010 a teacher in the China Department of the National Institute of Oriental Languages ​​and Civilizations (Inalco). Buddhism, however, continues to carve out the lion's share of its schedule. This, especially since he has been directing, since 2016, the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies on Buddhism (CEIB) which he co-founded. It is up to him, supported by the CEIB office, to prepare and implement his program, to take care of the day-to-day administrative and financial management of the institution and to ensure its funding.

“I am delighted to have settled in France, to have been able to start there and then deploy my career there. I feel at home there”, continues the teacher-researcher who says he feels a lot of gratitude towards France, which was kind enough to welcome him twenty years ago, despite being of foreign origin. . “I was lucky to receive a lot of support in the national university world,” he insists, with a smile.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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