Community, word and wonder: discerning key elements in the faith inquiry of Chinese international students

PhD thesis

Teagle, L. 2023. Community, word and wonder: discerning key elements in the faith inquiry of Chinese international students. PhD thesis Middlesex University / Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS) School of Law
TypePhD thesis
TitleCommunity, word and wonder: discerning key elements in the faith inquiry of Chinese international students
AuthorsTeagle, L.

The internationalisation of British universities has led to increased opportunities for cultural, social and religious transnational collaboration and interchange on campus. Amid the growing discourse on international student issues within the academy, including the engagement and apparent interest in Christianity among Mainland Chinese students, research on their actual interaction with Christianity in Britain remains scarce and limited in scope.

This qualitative study involved participant-observation of Christian activities for international students, literature produced by faith-based organisations, and in-depth interviews with 25 ethnically Chinese students, of which 18 were from Mainland China. Analysed using a grounded theory methodology, the data reveals the wider motivating factors behind Chinese students’ involvement in Christian activities organised by multi-ethnic British churches, beyond socio-cultural and linguistic interests. Within the faith inquiry process, students’ emerging beliefs are shaped by participation in Christian community groups, study of Bible texts, and numinous experiences. The iterative and progressive interaction of these elements contributes to a process of ‘ordinary theologising’ involving both the emergence of nascent theological understandings, and the deconstruction of some existing beliefs. Significant influences which shape the process include relational learning within the Christian community, Chinese approaches to religious practice, and encounters with the transcendent.

Using an emergent framework incorporating ‘ordinary theology’ (Astley 2002) and modalities of Chinese religion (Chau 2019), the findings show that Chinese students are active agents in a process of theological construction which has hitherto remained under-examined. Beyond socio-cultural motivations, their nascent theologising – including conversion, for some – leads to clarity of inhabited Christian beliefs, despite internal dissonance and expectations of interpersonal conflict.

The findings of this study are pertinent to understandings of faith exploration and belief change, specifically among international students, and more broadly, within migrant communities. It makes a unique contribution to original knowledge within the field of Practical Theology as an empirical study of biblically-centred activities for inquirers from non-Western, non-Christian backgrounds.

Sustainable Development Goals16 Peace, justice and strong institutions
Middlesex University ThemeCreativity, Culture & Enterprise
Department nameSchool of Law
Business and Law
Institution nameMiddlesex University / Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS)
Collaborating institutionOxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS)
PublisherMiddlesex University Research Repository
Publication dates
Online20 Mar 2024
Publication process dates
Accepted07 Sep 2023
Deposited20 Mar 2024
Output statusPublished
Accepted author manuscript
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