Do religious cleavages in China lead to civil unrest?
Harris Mylonas, author of The Politics of Nation-Building, has been on a rampage publishing derivative literature from this new thesis-book. He published "Whither Nation-Building?" on e-IR and "Revisiting the Link: Political Religion in Democratizing Countries" in Harvard International Review (Spring 2013). In the latter article, Mylonas explores "the relationship between religious cleavages and political violence" (48).
For some, religious cleavages and political violence are naturally correlated, but Mylonas argues that the correlation is not as tenable as it might logically sound. Mylonas reviews the literature and shows that religious diversity fails to increase the likelihood of civil war when we take into account the country's wealth; nor does state discrimination against religious or linguistic groups trigger uprisings. But if we add different variables to the mix, we see a clearer picture of causal relationships.
Mylonas distinguishes between "religious diversity" and "politically mobilized religious differences," where the former is religious heterogeneity as a characteristic of almost all countries and the latter a subset of cases where this religious heterogeneity is linked with political goals. In sum, Mylonas argues "that the degree of congruence between national and religious identity within state boundaries largely accounts for the variation in the salience of religion in public life" (51). He posits three hypotheses:
Hypothesis 1: In countries where the vast majority of the population shares the same national and religious identity, religion is less likely to be an important cleavage and religious conflict less likely to take place.
Hypothesis 2: Religion is more likely to be an important cleavage in countries where there is an official religion of the state and there are also significant religious minorities.
Hypothesis 3: Religion is more likely to be an important cleavage in countries where there is an official religion of the state and discrimination against religious minorities.
A final layer to add to this discussion is overlapping cleavages versus crosscutting cleavages. Overlapping cleavages refer to societies "where religion coincides with ethnicity, class, region, or caste, rendering the cleavage an intense one," whereas crosscutting cleavages are societies where different group identities share a religion (51).
So how might this apply to China? (Note: I focus primarily on Xinjiang as my knowledge of Tibet is considerably lower)
Hypothesis 1 requires a qualifier to account for China. China has a Han majority population, which could affirm the "vast majority" descriptor. And this Han majority is largely atheistic or follow a loose syncretic religion of ancestor worship, Buddhism, and Daoism that lacks political salience. Yet religion is still "an important cleavage" with violent consequences in Xinjiang and Tibet.
China better fits the mold when its two major autonomous regions (Xinjiang, Tibet) are considered separately due to China's federalism. For example, if Xinjiang is considered separately, hypothesis 1 no longer applies. Xinjiang lacks a "vast majority" since the influx of Han migrants has forced Uyghur population to lose majority status, though they remain dominant.
Consider autonomous regions separately: If we don't consider the autonomous regions separately, the case for hypothesis 2 in China at large, still holds, but less so. The examples of Uyghurs and Tibetans will still apply. But you also have the Hui who have assimilated quite well and the cleavage is arguably not as significant.
Redefine "official religion of the state": But you might say it doesn't matter whether autonomous regions are considered separately because the hypothesis does not apply to China. China lacks an "official religion of the state". But I would posit that Communism could be the religion of the state since you cannot join the Chinese Communist Party without affirming communism and hence embracing atheism (at least nominally, as there are many cases of Uyghur members of the CCP in Xinjiang who secretly still engage in Islamic practice). This is not taking into account the fact that some argue communism as a philosophy should also be considered a religion. Hence "official religion of the state" should also be qualified. Perhaps the language of ideology or religio-ideology might be more fitting, with the marked characteristic that this state ideology precludes religious minorities.
Rephrase "religious minorities": "Religious minorities" might be replaced with Mylonas's own nomenclature of religious "non-core groups". This creates the flexibility Mylonas himself advocates in The Politics of Nation-Building; namely, minorities sometimes hold the reins of power in a country. Think of Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime or the Alawites in Syria. Uyghurs are not the religious minority in Xinjiang, but could perhaps be considered the religious non-core group.
With these three changes, Mylonas's hypothesis 2 will account more readily for China's situation. The autonomous region qualifier removes the case of the Hui and focuses on Xinjiang specifically. By using the categories religio-ideology and religious non-core group, the "important cleavage" of religion in China's Xinjiang region aligns with having an "official religion of the state" and "discrimination against religious minorities".
The changes I recommend in hypothesis 2 apply just the same to hypothesis 3.
I've made these recommendations keeping in mind that all three hypotheses deal in probability. China could be removed as an outlier case, but I believe it readily fits in Mylonas's framework if the language is more elastic. In summary, Mylonas's three hypotheses apply more readily to the case of China when parameters and definitions are clarified. These alteration recommendations are made with China in mind. I do not know how this reformulation might or might not fail to account for other country samples.