Becky Hsu is assistant professor of sociology at Georgetown University. Her research interests include China, religion, economic sociology, organizations, and public sociology. She has examined efforts to solve poverty in rural China, paying attention to the moral understandings embedded in NGO organizational structures and government programs, as well as those held by recipients. She has published articles on how to estimate the number of Muslims worldwide, international religion data methodology, religion and economic development, and faith-based organizations in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the International Scope Review. She received a B.A. in Sociology with 'cum laude' and distinction in the major from Yale University, M.A. with distinction and PhD from the sociology department at Princeton University.

Check out Georgetown College's feature on Becky's research

Current Research

Becky is investigating how people define happiness in China today. As the 2012 UN World Happiness Report shows, happiness indexes and surveys are increasingly adopted as a measure of good governance around the world. And yet, definitions of happiness vary. Inspired by Habits of the Heart: Individual and Commitment in American Life by Robert Bellah, Richard Madsen, William Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven Tipton, the examination of moral life in the United States, she has put together a research team to do something similar in China: understand how ordinary Chinese define "the good life."

This project has Richard Madsen (UCSD), Deborah Davis (Yale University), and Anna Sun (Kenyon College) as project co-leaders; ethnographers include Cheris Chan (Hong Kong University), Jay Chen (Academia Sinica), James Farrer (Sophia University), and Alison Denton Jones (Harvard University); other top scholars in comparative methods, history, and philosophy on the team are Jose Casanova (Georgetown University), Haiyan Lee (Stanford University), and Jiyuan Yu (SUNY Buffalo/Shandong University). It is administered through the Asian Studies Program within the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown.

"The Concept of Fu in Contemporary China: Searching for Well-Being, Purpose, and the Good Life in an Age of Anxiety"

Executive Summary

The Chinese concept of fu is frequently translated "happiness." But like the Greek eudaimonia, fu connotes more than hedonistic satisfaction; it is the well-being associated with achieving a "good" life-one of virtue, honor, and purpose. What constitutes this goodness, however, is not a static understanding. Over the past thirty years, the Chinese government has replaced its Maoist blueprint with a new hybrid of market-socialism. The country has become wealthy, and most citizens enjoy modest levels of material security. Above certain levels, however, this additional wealth is not equating with increased happiness.

Rapid societal change and unreconciled modern values serve to moderate otherwise expected increases in happiness, particularly when confounded by powerful economic and geopolitical interests. In response, many Chinese anxiously search among multiple moral strands to discover how to live a purposeful and virtuous life. For all their good intentions and eager funding, surveys on happiness have tended to measure more mood than fu. This results in generally policy-moot findings that cannot address the problem of cultural variation in our understanding of what makes a life a good one.

We will draw on in-depth interviews and participant observation in three metropolitan areas, as well as published texts, in order to capture the more robust, animating, and foundational aspects of happiness. Since when people evaluate their lives, they do so in relation to orienting categories, our study centralizes moral understandings in the comprehension of happiness. Concrete outputs include a book, an edited scholarly volume, journal articles, media outreach, and new survey designs to change dominant social-science research paradigms for happiness. The research will lead to improved surveys on happiness worldwide, advanced policy understanding for the common good of all, and the promotion of mutual understanding between the United States and China.



A Direct Line: Helping the Rural Chinese Poor. Manuscript complete.

Despite growing awareness of and concern for the world's very poor, the ordinary American has little meaningful contact with these oft-overlooked populations. We do, however, tend to donate confidently to international organizations, in the hopes of making a difference. However, our understanding of what actually happens when organizations try to assist the poor is geographically uneven. The work of international organizations in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Latin America has been widely recognized and debated, but efforts in China have gone virtually uninvestigated.

This is an analysis of how an international organization goes about its efforts to help people in the poor inland regions of China, who barely live above subsistence, too remote to migrate to the coastal factories that have fueled the growth of the Chinese economy. Drawing on extensive field research, this book explores both the satisfying successes and the frustrating failures of NGO-villager interactions in southwestern China. It investigates the clash of differing norms and priorities, and means of measuring value. It contrasts the ideologies of NGO policy makers and donors with the real-life experiences of local administrators, field workers, and of course the villagers themselves. At the same time, the book explores the surprising connections between the economic and social context of the villages and the outcomes of poverty-alleviation efforts there. I reveal the difficulties of administering help, exploring the realities on the ground in rural China.

Peer-Reviewed Articles (Selected)

2014. Hsu, Becky. "Alleviating Poverty or Reinforcing Inequality? Interpreting Microfinance in Practice, with Illustrations from Rural China." British Journal of Sociology 65(2): 245-265.

2014. Hsu, Becky, Conrad Hackett, and Leslie Hinkson. "The Importance of Race and Religion in Social-Service Providers." Social Science Quarterly 95(2): 393-410.

2011. Grim, Brian and Becky Hsu. "Estimating the Global Muslim Population: Size and Distribution of the World's Muslim Population." Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 7(2).

2008. Hsu, Becky, Amy Reynolds, Conrad Hackett, and James Gibbon. "Estimating the Religious Composition of All Nations: An Empirical Assessment of the World Christian Database." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47(4):678-693.

2004. Wuthnow, Robert, Conrad Hackett, and Becky Hsu. "Effectiveness and Trustworthiness of Faith-Based and Other Service Organizations: A Study of Recipients' Perceptions." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 43:1-17.
  • Winner, Distinguished article award, ASA Sociology of Religion Section

Other Publications

2013. Hsu, Becky. American Sociological Association, Section for Sociological Practice and Public Sociology Summer Newsletter 2013. ŇAn Encounter with Positive Psychology and an Argument for Practicing Sociology.Ó

2011. Hsu, Becky. "Eritrea" in Wade Clark Roof and Mark Juergensmeyer, eds., Encyclopedia of Global Religion. Oxford: SAGE Publications.

2011. Hsu, Becky. "How Culture Matters in Poverty Alleviation Efforts: Microcredit and Confucian Ideas in Rural China" in Kathleen Odell Korgen, Jonathan White, and Shelley White, eds., Sociologists in Action. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge/SAGE.

2011. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. "The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010-2030." Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

2010. Hsu, Becky. "Microcredit" in The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, ed. George Ritzer. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

2009. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. "Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Muslim Population." Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.
  • Cited in The New York Times, The Economist, CNN, BBC

2006. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. "Spirit and Power: A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals." Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.


February 6, 2013: With a member of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music and students from my Global Inequalities and Social Justice class (Neesha Tambe, Jescinta Izevbigie, and Citlalli Alvarez) and my son Zachary (6 months old) after concert at the World Bank.

March 22, 2012: At the World Bank after a World Water Day event with students from my Global Inequalities and Social Justice class (Nicholas Adams, Kaylee Walsh, Chloe Forman, and Alexa Gasbarrino).


SOCI-001 Introduction to Sociology

SOCI-202 Sociological Theory

SOCI-220 Global Inequalities and Social Justice


March 26, 2012 - The Office of the Executive Vice President for Health Sciences and Executive Dean announced that my project with Leslie Hinkson and Brian McCabe, and in collaboration with colleagues from the School of Medicine, School of Nursing & Health Studies, and the HOYA Clinic, are among the three interdisciplinary pilot projects funded by the initative. As the announcement states: "The new initiative stems from the University's ongoing commitment to identify ways in which our research and scholarship can make contributions to the betterment of human health, locally and globally."

We will be investigating how people access health resources and information through religious congregations in Washington DC, whether through social networks or directly from religious institutions themselves, and how that plays a role in reducing health disparities.

Research: Creation of a Multidisciplinary Diabetes Education and Medication Therapy Management Service (DEMTM)


MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and Georgetown School of Medicine: Alex Montero, MD, Jose Delgado, MD, Eileen Moore, MD, and Adam Wolk, MD

School of Nursing & Health Studies: Patricia Cloonan, PhD, and Jonathan Puhl, PhD

Department of Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences: Leslie Hinkson, PhD, Brian McCabe, PhD, and Becky Hsu, PhD

HOYA Clinic in Southeast Washington, DC

See launch of the initiative on April 18, 2012

See earlier announcement of the initiative

See Georgetown Initiative to Reduce Health Disparities website

Interview by Georgetown University Forum

March 23, 2012

The Georgetown University Forum interviewed me about my research into happiness in China, NGOs, microfinance, and poverty reduction. The Georgetown University Forum is a program highlighting the research and expertise of the Georgetown University faculty. The program airs internationally via National Public Radio, Armed Forces Radio Network, Voice of America, and other syndicated broadcast networks. The host, Dr. Carole Sargent, works for the Office of the Provost.

Listen to the podcast:

(coming soon)

Interview by Peter-Christian Brondum

March 16, 2012

Peter-Christian Brondum, a Danish associate professor in political science and history at Oregard Gymnasium in Denmark, interviewed me for a book project that includes video clips of interviewed American professors on the website. He working together with Danish Washington-based journalist, Annegrethe Rasmussen, on the book.

Watch the video:

(coming soon)

Contact Information

bh297 @ georgetown.edu