October 14, 2022

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

VSU’s Fanhao Nie Named a Public Religion Research Institute Fellow

Dr. Fanhao Nie




VALDOSTA — Dr. Fanhao Nie’s ongoing work in the areas of anti-Asian racism and Asian American mental health recently earned him a fellowship with the nonprofit, nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).

Through the PRRI’s Religion and Renewing Democracy initiative, which seeks to increase understanding of the role of religion in public life at a time when America is facing immense challenges, Nie will join scholars from Washington College, Portland Seminary, and Allegheny College in educating and empowering people in the area of religious, racial, and ethnic pluralism. This includes expanding research he began nearly two years ago.

Responding to the significant increase in anti-Asian incidents during the global health crisis known as COVID-19, Nie applied for and won a Jack Shand Research Grant from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in 2021. He then used racism measures specifically designed for Asian Americans to survey Asian American adults across the United States to learn more about their racial, religious, and mental health experience during the pandemic.

“The survey results suggest that racism, particularly subtle racism, was associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress for this sample of Asian American adults,” shared Nie, an associate professor of sociology at Valdosta State University. “Negative religious coping — questioning God, feeling abandoned by God or one’s own religious group, etc. — may exacerbate this deleterious subtle racism effect on mental health. More specifically, Asian Indians, compared to other Asian ethnicities, were particularly at risk for the harmful effects of negative religious coping on mental health.”

Nie said the PRRI fellowship will allow him the opportunity to conduct follow-up surveys and promote public and political awareness of the mental health tolls on Asian Americans during the pandemic.

“Longitudinal research is crucial to understand causal direction,” he added. “Does perceived racism cause Asian Americans to adopt negative religious coping, which in turn damages their mental health? Or do mental health problems lead Asian Americans to negative religious coping, which in turn affects if and how racism is perceived? The knowledge of causal direction and structural pathways of racism, religious coping, and mental health may better inform the public in pushing for policy changes to better protect Asian Americans and promote community cohesion.”

In the coming months, Nie expects to “conduct in-depth interviews with selected survey respondents to better understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind racism and religious coping — why certain types of religious coping methods are adopted over others, whether or not there has been any change of religious coping strategies for racism before vs. after the pandemic, and why Asian Indians are particularly more vulnerable to the deleterious mental health effect of negative religious coping than other Asian ethnicities.”

Nie plans to collaborate with community organizations such as the Stop AAPI Hate Coalition to deliver his research findings to a broader public audience, stimulate public discussions, and direct more media attention to the racial, religious, and mental health struggles of Asian Americans both during and after the pandemic. He also has an interest in working with the Asian American religious community to turn their religious collectivism into collective social actions to combat Asian hate and improve mental health.

“I hope that my research will serve to stimulate public interest in Asian Americans’ ongoing battles against racism, religious struggles, and mental illness during this challenging time so that social changes may be possible,” he shared.

Nie joined the faculty of VSU’s Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice in 2018. He enjoys teaching SOCI 3000: Social Statistics because it empowers his students to scientifically examine social problems and facilitate change.

The PRRI offers a number of workshops to help academic sociologists better engage the public in moral, political debates based on sociological insights, and Nie anticipates that these trainings will have a positive impact on his teaching this fall and in the future.

“These trainings are directly relevant to my teaching of SOCI 3200: Applied Sociology,” he noted. “One of the main goals of SOCI 3200 is to help students develop skills in applying sociology in areas such as civic engagement, service learning, political advocacy, and social change.”

Nie said his PRRI experience will also introduce him to a host of national data.

“The PRRI frequently releases national data to the public covering a variety of popular social topics, such as immigration policies, abortion, elections, etc.,” he added. “I plan to incorporate some of the data in my teaching of Social Statistics. I hope that this data will stimulate students’ research interest for conference presentation or publication.”

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About the Public Religion Research Institute:

With a focus on independent inquiry and academic rigor, the Public Religion Research Institute explores and illuminates America’s changing cultural, religious, and political landscape. Its mission is to help journalists, scholars, thought leaders, clergy, and the general public better understand debates on public policy issues and the important cultural and religious dynamics shaping American society and politics.