My research to date includes two constellations of projects. Empirically, one focuses on Buddhism in contemporary Chinese societies, while the other investigates Americans’ involvement in the nonprofit and voluntary sector. Whether studying China or the US, religion or nonprofits, my research agenda grows out of my broad intellectual commitment to recovering the strategic cultural action surrounding key institutions of our “modern,” globalizing societies. Far from being icing on the cake of social life, my research aims to show that the cultural dimensions of these institutions play central roles in the construction of basic sociological categories such as social status, civic behavior, collective identities, and state structures.
Guided by cultural and institutional lenses, my two sets of projects share three essential sociological concerns that guide my research in the broad areas of religion and organizations. First, I explore how discourses about religion and “nonprofit-ness” are used strategically by actors on the ground to negotiate the global field of modernity. Second, I develop new frameworks for understanding religious and organizational affiliation as dynamic processes of boundary and narrative creation. Third, I investigate the link between voluntary organizations and civic activity. What is it about participating in some voluntary organizations (including religious organizations) that generates “civic dividends?” Cutting across these substantive areas, my work also includes the investigation of research methods, especially qualitative.