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Karrie Koesel to testify before Congressional-Executive Commission on China

University of Notre Dame Associate Professor of Political Science Karrie Koesel will testify at 10 a.m. Tuesday (Sept. 13) before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China’s hearing “Control of Religion in China through Digital Authoritarianism.”

University of Notre Dame Associate Professor of Political Science Karrie Koesel will testify at 10 a.m. Tuesday (Sept. 13) before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China’s hearing “Control of Religion in China through Digital Authoritarianism.”

Koesel was invited to offer her expertise by Sen. Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), respectively chair and co-chair of the commission. The hearing will be accessible via this link.

Koesel will testify on the People’s Republic of China’s current and long-term strategies for asserting party control over religion, especially through sinicization, which calls on religious believers to integrate party loyalty into all aspects of religious life. She will also offer recommendations for how Congress and the Biden administration can effectively advocate for freedom of religion in China.

Earlier this week, The Associated Press reported on the tribulations of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church that fled China as the state increased crackdowns on unofficial Christian churches. While the 61 members of the congregation have been outside mainland China for the past three years, members of their families who remain have been harassed and threatened with the “confiscation of state benefits or the closure of their businesses if the congregants didn’t return to China.”

The article notes that people in China are allowed to worship at Christian churches approved by the Communist Party. “However, in recent years, [independent, unregistered] house churches have come under heavy pressure, with many prominent ones shut down. Unlike previous crackdowns, such as Beijing’s ban of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement it labels a cult, the authorities have also targeted some believers not explicitly opposed to the Chinese state.”

Koesel was quoted in a 2018 Washington Post article on the persecution of religious groups under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s regime, noting that the state sees religious practices differently than the practitioners themselves.

“Some of these groups are growing very quickly, and that makes the government very nervous,” Koesel said. “It’s not because they’re challenging the state, but the state sees religion as an existential threat. That’s why they’re increasing political education.”

Koesel’s research focuses on religion and politics, dictatorship and democracy, political education and propaganda and contemporary Chinese and Russian politics.  She is the author of “Religion and Authoritarianism: Cooperation, Conflict and the Consequences” and co-editor of “Citizens & the State in Authoritarian Regimes: Comparing China & Russia.” 

Koesel, who holds a concurrent appointment in Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs, is a fellow in the Public Intellectual Program for the National Committee on US-China Relations. She served as a member of the International Diffusion and Cooperation of Authoritarian Regimes (IDCAR) research network; an associate scholar of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University; and a researcher for the Under Caesar’s Sword Project at Notre Dame.

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