A Democracy by Any Other Name

Christian Perspectives of Civic and Faith Identity under Non-Democratic Governments Based on Church Discussions in Post-Umbrella Movement Hong Kong


This doctoral thesis explores how Hong Kong (HK) Christians conceptualise (1) democracy, (2) rights, and (3) faith and civic identity in light of protest movements from 2013 onwards. This thesis identifies two broad categories: pro-establishment Christians (PEC) and pro-democracy Christians (PDC), who generally see each other as incompetent and perhaps lacking in reason. Through an analysis of ethnographic field observations, qualitative primary and secondary interviews, and archival materials from selected published HK theologians and pastors, this thesis suggests a potential first step for HK Christian communities to understand each other on their ideas of public engagement, grounded in language informed by their faith. This thesis proposes using a tool, such as Jens Zimmermann’s incarnational humanism, to enable HK Christians to better grant personhood and rationality to those who disagree. This thesis features the lived theology of average, non-clerical HK Christians, making their voices prominent in this research. After summarising HK Christians’ interactions with social movements between 1966 and 2016 (Chapter 2), this thesis analyses the theology of representative PEC, Daniel Ng and Paul Kwong, and representative PDC, John Chan and Lap-yan Kung, to set the stage for later sections (Chapter 3). This thesis then analyses field observations and qualitative data with the aim of studying HK Christians’ use of democracy, rights, and civic identity, compared with HK Christians’ (lack of) use of theological concepts (Chapter 4). Finally, this thesis introduces incarnational humanism, a possible framework for HK Christians to understand ‘the other’ (Chapter 5). HK Christians wrestle with ideas of liberal democracy, decoloniality, and authoritarianism, which are issues of increasing global importance. This research, utilising tools from theological ethics, social anthropology, and area studies, intends to stimulate further discussions on these issues with those outside of HK.

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Image Credit: Ann Gillian Chu

You can read more about my motivations to study Hong Kong Christians’ attitude towards protests and my struggles in the PhD journey in an interview I gave with The Centre for Religion and Public Life at the University of Leeds.

Research Interests: Theological Ethics, Political Theology, Theological Anthropology, Hong Kong Studies

Supervisors: John Perry, Mario Aguilar