Conversion to Civil Society

Lida V. Nedilsky’s Converts to Civil Society is a sociological study of civil society in contemporary Hong Kong. But the use of the religious term “convert” is not accidental. Nedilsky argues that Christian conversion in Hong Kong opens up possibilities for other forms of voluntary association, both religious and non-religious.

“Through distinct religious channels, individuals developed the skilled necessary to extend beyond their private religious selves and take a place in the public square” (8). Even in secular modern societies, religion persists and the “arsenals” of symbolism and association they provide, not to mention the “phone lists, treasuries, and meeting rooms” they offer, can harness religious institutions to public service.

Many NGOs, for instance, have religious roots, representing “an innovation of religious life and religious expression, developed by entrepreneurs responding to the demands of the religious marketplace” (102).

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