A study of the role of religious organizations in the Kwun Tong community


Delaney, S. Joan.

TitleA study of the role of religious organizations in the Kwun Tong community
PublisherSocial Research Center, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Publication DateAugust, 1973

Religious institutions

Kwun Tong

Abstract/ Concluding Remarks:

In the data gathered on Kwun Tong religious organizations we find that a variety of organizations - Buddhist, Christian and Catholic - are engaged primarily in catering to the religious needs of believers who constitute a small percentage of the total population of the area. Beyond this, the Christian-Catholic groups engage in a variety of activities which bring them into contact with the general population of Kwun Tong. This contact is with all age groups; however, contact with adults tends to be on an individual basis rather than through group activity. Few activities or services are provided for people who work in Kwun Tong, and live elsewhere.


Through the religious organization's contact with the general population and owing t o the fact t hat the religious administrator usually occupies a dual role as religious leader and head of an organization, it might be supposed that the religious organizations in co-operation with other non-religious organizations in Kwun Tong are a strong link in the development of a community system. However, the data revealed that there is a lack of contact between most religious organizations and other groups in Kwun Tong and that intra-community activity is decidedly weak.


From the above we are led to conclude that the greatest strengths of the religious organization- their contact with large numbers of the general population and the dual role of their administrators are under-utilized because of the lack of contact with other organizations in the area. The reasons for this situation will be suggested later in the paper.


Turning to the inter-community activities between Kwun Tong religious organizations and the wider society, we find that most of the organizations are relatively independent in finance and policy-making and therefore, they are free to respond to local needs as they view them.


Going beyond Hong Kong society, many of the administrators mentioned the connections which the organization had to international headquarters thus providing a definite links to a wider culture. For some, this contact was great since they had studied and travelled abroad and they could read in an international language, English. For those who had not had the opportunity to study or travel abroad and who did not feel adequate in English, exposure to a wider culture and different ideas would only be though whatever other contact they had with the international headquarters. This might be in the form of translated writings, overseas visitors, or locally arranged seminars.


Before going on to attempt an explanation for the weak intra-community activity on the part of the religious organizations in Kwun Tong, we can examine the possible ways in which religious organizations are known to affect the life of the community in order to evaluate those in Kwun Tong. Religious organizations are traditionally seen as

a. Providing a place for individual and group worship

b. Providing recreational enjoyment

c. Providing educational experiences

d. Performing health and welfare functions

e. Providing a social structure of officials in various relationships to members

f. Influencing the social process either in promoting change or in contributing to stability in the community.


In looking over the data, we see that religious organizations in Kwun Tong are concerned with items "a" to "e", but for a variety of reasons item “f”- influencing the social process – does not appear to be a conscious concern of most of the religious organizations in Kwun Tong. It appears that the majority of the crowns do not see themselves in this role hence very little activity is consciously structured to fulfill this function.


It is apparent that the administrators give considerable time to religious functions - the indigenous groups spending almost all of their time on this activity with Christian-Catholic groups also emphasizing it heavily. Added to this is the fact that the juricidal framework of most religious organizations is concerned primarily with a specific Group of people - those who live and worship in a given geographical area, Added to this is the fact that the number of believers are relatively small, so we can assume that the administrator has fairly close contact with this group in a very influential way since he is ministering to their spiritual needs on an individual or small group tasis.


Going a step further, we can consider the role of the religious organization in providing recreational enjoyment. As mentioned earlier, people in Kwun Tong have been resettled and ties to the religious group may be very important as a place to feel at home. Parish social activities are important for meeting new friends, providing new experiences and enabling different age groups to co-operate. In a densely populated area such as Kwun Tong, this well may be seen as one of the most significant activities of the religious organization. Coming now to the final way in which religious organizations function and the one with which this study would be most concerned is the influence that the religious organization has on influencing change or promoting stability in the community. One reason why this poses a problem is owing to the lack of agreement concerning the role of the religious organization in relation to the social process. The problem centres on the question of whether the religious organization's main concern is to be with development (with all its remifications) or with evangelization. While very few religious leaders would exclude one in favour of the other, the degree of emphasis is by no means clear or universally accepted.


What needs to be kept clearly in mind is that the organization being studied is not an economic, or a social, or medical, organization, but a religious organization and religious activity by the very nature of the group will be very important aspect of the organization in the eyes of religious officials and their followers if not in the eyes of the social scientists and the general public. Secondly, it appears obvious from the data that a certain dicotomy exists between much of the theorizing about the role of the religious organization in modern society and the actual practice in the field , There seems to in inverse ratio operating-the higher the level of theory, the greater the discrepancy between what is advocated and what is happening. International religious conferences advocate high level programmes of community development and local religious leaders spend most of their time preparing sermons and visiting parishioners.


Having revealed this dicotomy in Kwun Tong, perhaps it is time to look again at the role of the religious organization in the community. Given that most religious system and in particular, Christianity, value the individual, it can be expected that most of those engaged in work in the religious organization will have this basic orientation towards the individual and his religious needs. While one cannot ignore other human needs, it would seem that there will always be a tendency to prefer to deal with people individually rather than collectively. While the role of the religious organization can be viewed as one more social unit promoting a community system, it may be more profitable to examine the contribution it makes to a community by providing a place where an individual can find understanding and support in an impersonal urbanized society. What then can we expect of the religious organization in relation to the development of a community system in Kwun Tong? As we have pointed out above, believers are a small proportion of the population and religious activitie s are considered important on the part of the administrators so we can conclude that religious organizations of all types are important for the religious-social function they provide to approximately 5% of the population of the area. If the trends in conversion to various religious continue at the present rate, this portion of the population will continue to remain small.


The religious organizations will more than likely continue to be in contact with a fair proportion of the general population through medical, social welfare and educational services. Probably more efforts will be made to reach the workers of the area, but unless the attitude and activity of the administrators change, these contacts rill tend to be seen as service to the individual rather than intra-community activity to build up a community system in Kwun Tong.


The inter-community links, especially those beyond Kwun Tong and Hong Kong will probably continue to be strengthened and expanded as more and more communication between various parts of the world through visits, conferences and extension of the written word occur. If it is accepted that the religious organization of today has a role to play in co-operating with other civic groups in the area in order to strengthen the community system, then it is through these links to the wider culture that one must look for the means of changing the attitude of the administrators who by their dual role, their contacts with the general population and their influence with their followers would enable the religious organization to be an important force in influencing the social process in Kwun Tong.

NoteThis paper is produced for the Kwun Tong Industrial Community Research Programme.
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