Well, they might not be. But if they are, it’s probably because of this: Since the late 1980s I’ve been interested in how people and governments interact. Over the years, this thread has run through most of my work. 

Starting in the late 1980s, I traveled regularly from West Berlin into East Germany. I saw how civil society groups in the east, especially under the umbrella of the Protesant church, created space for other groups that helped topple the communist regime. In the 1990s, I returned to China (after my first stay, from 1984 to 1985) and saw growing tensions between civil society and the government–a seesaw battle that continues today.

My experiences in China led to my first major project, on civil society in China, which resulted in the 2004 book Wild Grass. Then came a look at the roots of Islamism in Europe, again, examing the interaction of independent religious actors and the state. I wrote a book on that, A Mosque in Munich.

In the 2010s, I wrote extensively on urbanization in China, especially the possibility for individual initiative in the face of a government-orchestrated campaign to move people off the lands. 

Since about 2011, I’ve devoted most of my time writing a third book, on China’s search for values. Again, what interests me are the tensions between government efforts to create value systems and individual’s own actions. 

If you click on the individual projects, you can see a more complete discussion of each, and a list of related articles. I also occasionally include lists of recommended readings and notes from the field.

I have a few other projects in the works and will share them on this site when they mature. In the meantime, I would genuinely appreciate any feedback–postive or negative–on these projects. They’re still works in progress so any ideas or critiques would be helpful.

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