HERROU Adeline

Regional fields


Thematic fields

religious anthropology, ethnology of monasticism, social organisation and kinship, anthropology of texts


Shaanxi, Daoist religion, Quanzhen monks, ritual kinship, asceticism, immortality, transmission of canonical texts, monasticism

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Burning incense, Shaanxi, 2000 (photo A. Herrou)

Adeline Herrou is an ethnologist and sinologist. She has approached the study of contemporary Chinese society through research on Daoist monasticism. Her doctoral thesis in ethnology, entitled “La vie entre soi. Les moines taoïstes aujourd’hui en Chine”, under the direction of Brigitte Baptandier, was based on a long field study in a small Daoist monastery in south Shaanxi, central China. It examines the particulars of community life in the Quanzhen order in the 1990s, in the midst of a religious revival that followed the long ban on all religions under Mao (defended in 2001 at the University of Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense).

After joining the CNRS in 2002, she undertook ethnographic investigations in other monasteries, including several large temples such as the Louguantai, the Baixiangong, the Huashan in Shaanxi and the Baiyunguan in Beijing. She is developing two primary themes of study. The first concerns how Daoist monks in China borrow from the family model to conceive and organise their community, reinventing this model, which can be adapted almost ad infinitum. The second concerns their very complex relationship with scholarship, the texts being, in this context, at the heart of a certain consubstantiality between monks. By drawing ethnographic portraits of several monks, mixing past life stories with the description of an ordinary present day, she explores their way of life and their various activities, which are meaningful in themselves, but are also meaningful when viewed as part of a series, as they link together day to day.

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Quanzhen Daoist monk,
Shaanxi, 2005
(photo A. Herrou)

She is more particularly interested in two generations of monks: those who belonged to the first class of young monks educated at the Daoist school in Beijing in the 1990s, and the old monks who entered religion before the Liberation of 1949, who were forced to return to a lay existence under the Cultural Revolution, but returned to religious life in the early 1980s, making it possible for the community to reform and resume its traditions. To enhance her understanding of the Chinese religious landscape, she also studied Daoist masters of the Zhengyi order (who are not monks) at the Baiyunguan temple in Shanghai. She has also explored the theme of “Wisdom in Urban Development”, as celebrated by the Chinese during Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

From a comparative perspective, she initiated a collective, multidisciplinary examination of monks throughout the world, aiming to show the similarities between monks that, in different traditions and geographic areas, leave the world behind in order to dedicate themselves to a religious life that could be characterised as extreme. This focused on the relationship between “monasticism and kinship” and that between “monasticism and erudition”.

With Anna Poujeau, she currently coordinates the seminar «Figures de moines et autres ascètes ou renonçants» (“Figures of monks, ascetics and other renunciants”) at the LESC. Since January 2013, she coordinates the collective program ANR Shifu “Elder Masters and Young Generations of Religious Specialists in China Today: Ethnographic Fieldwork on Daily life and Anthropology of Social Change” (funded by the French National Research Agency, ANR France).

Principal publications

  • 2013, A world of their own: Daoist monks and their community in contemporary China (Dunedin FL, Three Pines Press).
  • 2012, Daoist monasticism at the turn of the twenty-first century. An ethnography of a Quanzhen community in Shaanxi province, in D. A. Palmer and Liu Xun (eds), Daoism the twentieth century. Between eternity and modernity (Berkeley and London, University of California Press): 82-120.
  • 2011, Portraits croisés de He, Ran et Zhou, moines au temple Baiyunguan de Pékin, in J. Massard-Vincent, S. Camelin and C. Jungen (eds), Portraits. Esquisses anthropographiques (Paris, Petra): 59-84.
  • 2011 eds (with A. Poujeau), Savoirs monastiques. Érudition et ascèse [special issue], Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 154 (April-June).
  • 2011, Networks and the “cloudlike wandering” of Daoist monks in China today, in A. Chau (ed.), Religion in Contemporary China. Revitalization and innovation (London, Routledge): 108-132.
  • 2009 eds (with G. Krauskopff), Moines et moniales de par le monde. La vie monastique au miroir de la parenté (Paris, L’Harmattan).
  • 2008, Quand les moines taoïstes se mettent en texte, in B. Baptandier and G. Charuty (eds), Du corps au texte. Approches comparatives (Nanterre, Société d’ethnologie): 43-74.
  • 2007, La communauté des moines taoïstes en Chine. Une parenté rituelle fondée sur des textes, in C. Jacob (ed.), Les Lieux de savoir, vol. I (Paris, Albin Michel): 179-199.
  • 2005, La vie entre soi. Les moines taoïstes aujourd’hui en Chine (Nanterre, Société d’ethnologie) [Recherches sur la Haute Asie].


Publications available at the Éric-de-Dampierre library


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Mis à jour le 8 July 2016

Chargée de recherche, CNRS, habilitée à diriger des recherches
[Associate Research Professor CNRS, accredited to direct research]