Prof. CAO Nanlai (曹南來)

Ph.D. ANU; M.A. Fordham; B.A. Peking.

Visiting address
Phone: +852 34425601

Author IDs

Willing to take PhD students: yes


Nanlai Cao is a sociocultural anthropologist concerned with the intersection of religion, culture, and political economy. Much of his work explores the everyday practice of religion in China and the Chinese diaspora with a focus on the relationship of religious life to local and national institutions of governance and state-managed economic globalization. His research is interdisciplinary and has involved extended fieldwork conducted in the US, China, France and Italy. It has been published in Global Networks, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review, and The China Journal, among other outlets.

Using religion as a lens onto broader process of sociocultural change and continuity, his first book, Constructing China’s Jerusalem: Christians, Power, and Place in Contemporary Wenzhou (Stanford, 2010; Chinese edition, HKU Press, 2013), examines ethnographically how mass participation in Christianity in coastal southeast China articulates and sustains notions of place, class, gender and citizenship in the reform era. He is also author of a Chinese language book Wenzhou Christians and the Grassroots Globalization of China, published by the Chinese University Press. Collaborating with researchers from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, he coedited Religion and Mobility in a Globalizing Asia: New Ethnographic Explorations (Routledge, 2013), Chinese Religions in China and Italy (special issue of Religioni e Società 2018), Chinese Religions Going Global (Brill, 2020), and edited Chinese Religions on the Edge: Shifting Religion-State Dynamics (special issue of The China Review 2018).

Nanlai was an elected member of the executive council of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (2017-2019). Prior to City U., he worked at the University of Hong Kong and Renmin University of China.

Selected publications

Cao, N. 2023. “Merchants and Missionaries: Chinese Evangelical Networks and the Transnational Resacralization of European Urban Spaces” Global Networks: A Journal of Transnational Affairs 23 (3): 541-556.

Cao, N. 2021.  “China’s Intensified Private Commercial Engagement in Africa”, AsiaGlobal Online Journal, November.

Cao, N. 2018  “Chinese Religions on the Edge: Shifting Religion-State Dynamics," The China Review 18(4): 1-10.

Cao, N. 2017. Wenzhou Christians and the Grassroots Globalization of China (in Chinese). Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press

Cao, N. 2017. “Spatial Modernity, Party Building, and Local Governance: Putting the Christian Cross-removal Campaign in Context,” The China Review 17(1): 29-52.

Cao, N. 2013. “Elite Christianity and Spiritual Nationalism” Chinese Sociological Review (formerly Chinese Sociology and Anthropology).

Cao, N. 2013.  “Renegotiating Locality and Morality in a Chinese Religious Diaspora: Wenzhou Christian Merchants in Paris, France” The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 14 (1): 85-101.

Cao, N. 2013. “Gender, Modernity, and Pentecostal Christianity in China” in Global Pentecostalism in the 21st Century, Robert Hefner, ed. Indiana University Press, pp. 149-175.

Cao, N. 2010. Constructing China’s Jerusalem: Christians, Power, and Place in Contemporary Wenzhou. Stanford: Stanford University Press 

Cao, N. 2009. Raising the Quality of Belief: Suzhi and the Production of an Elite Protestantism. China Perspectives/Perspectives chinoises (in English and French) 4: 54-65.

Cao, N. 2008.  Boss Christians: The Business of Religion in the “Wenzhou Model” of Christian Revival. The China Journal 59: 61-87. (German version published in China heute 161: 33-46)

Cao, N. 2007.  Christian Entrepreneurs and the Post-Mao State: An Ethnographic Account of Church-State Relations in China’s Economic Transition. Sociology of Religion 68 (1): 45-66.         

Cao, N. 2005.  The Church as a Surrogate Family for Working Class Immigrant Chinese Youth: An Ethnography of Segmented Assimilation. Sociology of Religion 66 (2): 183-200.

Editor or Editorial Membership

  Editorial board: Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review (Oxford U P), 2015-

  Editorial board: Religioni e Società (Italian journal in the sociology of religion), Pisa, Roma, 2020-

  Editorial board: New Directions in the Anthropology of Christianity Series, Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2021-

  Managing editor, Renmin University Religion Digest, 2014-2023

  Editorial board: Study of Christianity, Religious Culture Press (Beijing), 2019-

  Editorial board: Chinese Anthropological Review, Zhejiang University, 2021-


2023  Best Article Award, International Society for the Sociology of Religion/Société Internationale de Sociologie des Religions (for “Merchants and Missionaries", Global Networks 23: 541-556)

2017 Chercheur Résident (Research Fellow in Residence), Institut d’Etudes Avancées de Nantes, France

2017  Residential fellowship, International Center for the Sociology of Religion (Rome), Italy

2016  Jack Shand Research Award, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion

2009   President’s Prize for Best Dissertation on an Asian subject, Asian Studies Association of Australia              

2007  Sir Raymond Firth Award (for the most promising PhD thesis), ANU

2007  Joseph Fichter Research Award, Association for the Sociology of Religion

2005  Constant H. Jacquet Research Award, Religious Research Association

2003 & 2006  Robert J. McNamara Student Paper Award, Association for the Sociology of Religion

Research Interests/Areas

migration & diaspora, religion & social change, Chinese globalization, China-Africa engagements, ethnography