Vancouver Sun: Douglas Todd, ‘We Must Stand On Guard for Canada’

In the Vancouver Sun, Douglas Todd has given the Canadian public a fascinating discussion piece on the limits of liberal multicultural democracy. I’m quoted in the piece, so I thought I might offer a few critical reflections in light of what Todd says.

Todd’s piece takes its departure from what he describes as the rise of ‘religious extremists’ and what Immigration Minister Jason Kenney calls ‘homegrown religious radicals’ due to contemporary Canadian migration policy. Interviewing Liberal politician Ujjal Dosanjh and the Laurier Institute’s Farid Rohani, Todd finds these liberals of colour are themselves concerned that new migration trends to Canada are bringing more forms of abusive patriarchy within families, opposition to interracial and interreligious marriage, refusal to fit into the unspoken secular sartorial code in Canadian workplaces, and homophobic discrimination. On that last point, Todd reaches out in collegial fashion and quotes me: ‘Both Rohani and Dosanjh are aware of widespread anti-homosexual beliefs among many religious immigrants, which can lead to actual discrimination. And University of B.C.-trained scholar Justin Tse has cited the strong degree to which many Chinese Christian immigrants find Canada’s human rights laws regarding homosexuality “ridiculous.”’ The main point of the article, in turn, is that Canadian liberal democratic values are under strain from these new migrations and thus needed to be guarded more carefully. What’s smart about the article is that Todd seldom quotes from white Canadian public figures; all of the quotes are from people of colour, including me.

In many ways, Todd represents me fairly well. The attitude that Canadian human rights legislation is ‘ridiculous’ is a direct reference to my dissertation, which was cited in the South China Morning Post saying the same thing – that many of conservative Cantonese evangelicals with whom I spoke in Vancouver felt that Canadian human rights legislation was ‘ridiculous.’ That this is what my dissertation actually finds among conservative Cantonese evangelicals in Vancouver means that I feel very well-quoted and thankful that Todd has reached out yet again in a such a fine showing of collegiality.

But because this is a discussion piece, I also feel that I’m allowed to register a bit of collegial dissent from Todd’s conclusions. This is because I think Todd and I, while recognizing each other as colleagues in the public forum, are working on two fundamentally different social projects.

Gérard Bouchard (left) and Charles Taylor (right) listen intently.

While Todd makes the case that Canada has to guard its liberal multicultural democratic values, my project is to interrogate why it is that some migrants — in my case, some (but not all) Cantonese-speaking Protestants — were opposing the very liberal things that Todd wants to guard. I don’t pass judgment; I ask why. This is because the social (and arguably, political) thrust of my academic project is in many ways informed by Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor and his call for mutlicultural societies to practice the ‘politics of recognition.’ What this means is that various communities in the modern world have taken on certain identities that they don’t want to be unrecognized or misrecognized; misrecognition, in fact, can be viewed as an insult. What we have to do, Taylor proposes, is to recognize the other — to get past simple disagreements to understand precisely how the other’s identity is formed and how that othered identity is in fact part of the ‘we’ in this society. Taylor himself has put that into political practice: at a time when controversy erupted in the mid-2000s over head-coverings in Quebec (as Todd notes about Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values, it’s still under contestation), Taylor teamed up with Gérard Bouchard to form a commission to get every voice possible on the record about the practice of multiculturalism/interculturalism in Quebec, including all the nasty stuff people wanted to say about the hijab, niqab, and sundry. The result was a report titled Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation, in which Taylor and Bouchard painstakingly detail the problems with interculturalism in Quebec, report on every possible voice that they heard during their time on the commission, and propose that what’s needed is an open secularism, a sort of society where religion is not excluded but in fact included in everyday public deliberations.

In many ways, that’s what that section in my dissertation on Cantonese evangelicals in Vancouver calling Canadian human rights legislation ‘ridiculous’ is trying to do. To stop at that assertion of ‘ridiculousness’ is to cut the project short right at the beginning. If you read the dissertation (yes, it is publicly accessible), you’ll find that my question then goes to why these Cantonese evangelicals thought that Canadian human rights legislation tended to be ‘ridiculous.’ As the South China Morning Post succinctly quoted me in May, it’s because the sort of rights-based legislation around sexuality (hate crime bills, same-sex marriage, transgender rights, etc.) went against a certain vision of a ‘rational, orderly society.’ As I discovered, this wasn’t so much a ‘culture’ thing — ‘Chineseness’ was frequently invoked and qualified by my interviewees — but a performative agenda that understood best practices in civil society to be the creation of private, family-based economic units in which the second generation could be trained to become productive, private citizens in Canada. This means that sexuality is only the tip of the iceberg; other issues that contributed to what they might call the ‘irrationalization’ of society included the legalization of marijuana (medical or otherwise), harm-reduction drug treatment (some spoke of methadone; a few contested halfway houses in their neighbourhoods; most spoke of Vancouver’s inSite safe-injection program), the Anglican Church of Canada’s embrace of religious and sexual pluralism, and the building and expansion of casinos. The Cantonese evangelical public activism that propels this vision is certainly not un-Canadian; it is Chinese Christians wading into the fray of the partisan debates around what it means to be Canadian. That is, the fact that it is a socially conservative, privatized understanding of Canadianness does not make it un-Canadian; it makes it part of the debate around how Canada should be constituted as a nation.

My dissent, then, from Todd’s otherwise excellent, provocative discussion piece is that Todd seems to be portraying new immigrants, including the Chinese Christians that I studied, as bringing their religiously-based homeland politics to contest our hard-won liberal, multicultural, democratic Canadian values. But as my dissertation clearly states, the reasons that some Cantonese evangelicals thought that their rational, orderly vision of society was under assault tended to be modern and secular. It wasn’t a sort of backward homeland politics being imposed onto Canadian values. After all, this sort of politics of privatization comes from the need not to protect ‘culture,’ but as a business strategy in a globalizing world. This sort of rationality may be ideologically ‘conservative,’ but it is rooted in a very modern version of how society should operate. It may be theologically informed (as I argue elsewhere, what isn’t?!), but the reasons given for this rational, orderly society sound rather more to do with the very secular goal of maximizing private participation in the market economy. One may not agree with this sort of vision for a ‘rational, orderly society,’ especially one so rooted in the politics of privatization. But one cannot disagree that it is a vision.

In other words, I’m collegially dissenting from Todd’s piece because I don’t think that Canadians need to stand on guard for liberal, democratic, multicultural values. Instead, what’s more needed is a recognition that the ‘other’ is one of us, locked into the deliberations of democracy of which we are all a part. Contrary to Todd’s interview with Tung Chan in which Chan says that we need to ‘educate’ people and then let them go their merry way, this public deliberation is itself educative. It’s because it’s in deliberation — public, honest, open, and even heated deliberation (like the Bouchard-Taylor Report) — that we realize that the solution is never ideological entrenchment, but openness to the other as fellow citizens, persons even. Talking softens us. What perhaps needs emphasis is not so much the part of the national anthem to ‘stand on guard’ for Canada. It’s rather that if this is indeed ‘our home and native land,’ well, then, it is ours together. We need to keep talking.

Social and Cultural Geography: Book Review Forum: Justin Wilford, Sacred Subdivisions

I’m very excited to learn that a book review forum that Tristan Sturm put together for Social and Cultural Geography is now hot off the press. The book is Justin Wilford’s Sacred Subdivisions: The Postsuburban Transformation of American Evangelicalism, and it’s an ethnography of Saddleback Church in Southern California. The other reviewers included Banu Gökariksel, Betsy Olson, and Claire Dwyer.

My review focused on how Wilford’s book was put to work when Asian American evangelicals took Saddleback Church’s Pastor Rick Warren to task for an insensitive Facebook photo in September 2013. Recounting what took place leading up to the Asian American open letter to the evangelical church, I argued that Wilford’s book helped to nuance some of the on-the-ground conversation about Warren’s photo, helping those who were involved in the activism to understand that Warren situates himself within a distinctively Southern California postsuburban geography. The service that geographers like Wilford do for the community is to help make activism more precise, getting to the heart of issues and steering conversations in productive directions.

I want to thank Tristan for his hard work in pulling this review forum together. This forum originated as an ‘Author Meets the Critics’ session at the Association of American Geographers’ 2013 Annual Meeting; I was later invited by Tristan to step in to take one of the reviewers’ place. While I originally submitted a review to the forum prior to the activity around Warren’s photo, I decided to submit a new review after the activism that put the book itself to work on the ground. This was helpful because I have previously reviewed the book for Religious Studies Review and the AAG Review of Books, and I did not want to repeat myself. Focusing on activism gave me a fresh lens from which to look at Wilford’s book, and I’m thankful to Tristan for pulling it off so well. Many thanks to Justin Wilford for writing such a rich book. We are all indebted to his labours.

South China Morning Post: School Transgender Policy Row

I have received quite a warm welcome back to Vancouver for my doctoral graduation today. Ian Young has done a masterful job of quoting me in today’s edition of the South China Morning Post.

scmp_ianyoung

The article is about how Chinese Christians — in particular, Cantonese-speaking evangelicals — in Vancouver are contesting the Vancouver School Board’s proposed policy for transgendered faculty, students, and staff. There is both a main article and a side column based mostly on a reading of chapter 5 of my dissertation.

The controversy centers on those who have opposed the policy because they feel that their ‘parental rights’ to educate their children primarily in the private sphere have been violated. As I explained to Young:

This is not really a debate about homophobia. It’s a debate about parental rights … and this has been the long-standing theme in these debates in Vancouver…Chinese Christians have this vision for a rational orderly society. A particular reading of the Bible may inform this, a particular reading of the Chinese classics may inform this. But at the heart of it, it’s about a rational orderly society, where parents are the primary educators for their children. What they are seeing instead with this kind of stuff [the board's proposals] is that this is irrational and disorderly. That’s why there is such a strong pushback.

In addition, I emphasized that these political activities ‘were not a “church effort” but involved churchgoers in a secular way, “through Chinese Christian e-mail chains, informal conversation and assorted Chinese Christian media”.’

I am very thankful to Ian Young for our collegial relationship. He first contacted me last year about an article on youth transitioning to adulthood between Hong Kong and Vancouver, a topic that Jo Waters and I had written on in Global Networks. I found Young’s questions very perceptive and incisive, always pushing me to draw out my points, to illustrate with examples, and to pose counter-illustrations. I suppose I should expect no less from the former International Editor of the SCMP, but I must say that it is always a pleasure to work with someone at the height of his craft.

I also appreciate how Young engages multiple sources in his account in order to draw out the multi-sided complexity of this debate. His interview with Cheryl Chang is revelatory both because of how Chang insists on her secularity as a concerned parent activist and because she was the legal advisor for the Anglican Network in Canada, a realignment group that sued the diocese for their property because they insisted that it was they who were holding to historic Anglican orthodoxy on theological doctrine and sexual praxis. He not only quotes me about the non-church-based Chinese Christian networks, but goes right to the source, Truth Monthly, one of the two premier Chinese Christian newspapers in Vancouver (the other is Herald Monthly). He has done his research on Charter Lau, mostly through my dissertation, but instead of just quoting the thesis, he has used it to trace the precedents for this poobah in both Burnaby’s Policy 5.45 controversy in 2011 and the ongoing debate about Bill C-279 to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (my dissertation fieldwork took place during the C-389 controversy).
[UPDATE: May 23, 2014: These items have been corrected in the online edition.]

As this information develops, however, I do want to make two very minor clarifications to the record, none of which affect Young’s larger point. The ‘CSCF’ that Young mentions is the ‘Christian Social Concern Fellowship,’ not the ‘Christian Social Conservative Fellowship.’ While many of its members are politically conservative and some are card-carrying members of the federal Conservative Party of Canada, ‘social concern’ is a term derived from mainline Protestantism in Hong Kong to talk about the church getting involved in social action. The second is that the Truth Monthly post date is from the January 2014 issue. That this post predates the debate by four months instead of several weeks in fact strengthens Young’s point about this transgender issue being widely discussed in Chinese Christian media.

Again, many thanks to Ian Young for a very thorough article and sidebar for SCMP. I look forward to further collaboration in the future.

SSHRC Postdoc Fieldwork, Summer 2014

I’ve got some fun news. I’m back in the field!

I’ve really missed this. Much of my PhD was consumed with doing ethnographic fieldwork, key informant interviews, and focus groups, both for my actual doctoral project (see my work in San Francisco [x2], Vancouver, and Hong Kong) as well as for the collaborative project on the Highway to Heaven in Richmond, BC. After finishing all of that, I did a ton of writing, which has resulted in a dissertation and will result in a series of publications that you can expect to roll out over the next few years.

But as the summer is starting up, teaching is done, and frameworks are being solidified, it’s time to do some new fieldwork for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellowship. That’s the whole reason I’m here in Seattle in the first place.

I need your help. I need to talk to people.

Here’s what the project is about.
I am interested in publics. Asian American and Asian Canadian Christian publics, to be specific. And to be really precise, in Seattle and Vancouver, for now. And to be super-precise, publics produced by the younger generation.

What are publics?
That’s actually what I want to find out. There’s a huge academic literature on publics, as well as a lot of popular reflection. In general, a public is just whenever someone puts something into circulation and creates an audience. This is usually contrasted with the private, which means stuff that’s not supposed to be circulated outside of a self-governed institution, like a family, a church, or a corporation. But do younger-generation Asian American and Asian Canadian Christians think of their work as public or private? That’s the golden question.

So what are you really interested in?
I’m interested in how younger-generation Asian American and Asian Canadian Christians understand their participation in making publics. This can be really broad. It can include stuff like electoral politics, grassroots activism on a variety of issues, social media participation, artistic/musical production, social services, and a lot more stuff. Like my PhD on Cantonese-speaking Protestants and how they engaged the civil societies of Vancouver, San Francisco, and Hong Kong, I let the data drive the issues that I explored.

So what’s the key research question? (Because I’m a social scientist and I know what I’m talking about.)
The key research question is: how do younger-generation Asian American and Asian Canadian Christians in Seattle and Vancouver engage and create publics?

How will you find out about this?
By talking to people. My research is usually driven by key informants. These are usually named individuals (although I always give the option for anonymity) who are positioned well to provide information about a phenomenon. My research is qualitative, so unlike a statistics-based project, I’m not aiming for representativeness. I’m trying to get stories, opinions, perceptions, and insider explanations on the record. To make sense of this data, I usually overlay it with focus groups of lay people and extensive methods where I consult quantitative data that’s already out there. I also use the key informant research to point me to documents that I need to put in my archives.

Who do you need to talk to?
I need to talk to key informants who can talk intelligently about how younger-generation Asian American and Asian Canadian Christians make publics. This means that they are usually a) talking about their own work as an individual or part of an institution or b) talking about people that they work very closely with.

What do you mean by Christian?
I mean people who self-identify as Christian. Evangelicals, liberal Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, hard to categorize, etc. If you’re from another religious tradition or not part of a religious tradition and still want to talk to me, let’s also talk…about Christians.

By Christian, do you mean that you want to talk to Asian American and Asian Canadians who are doing Christian stuff in the public sphere?
NO. I’m also interested in people who are working in the secular public sphere but personally identify as Christians. If the public stuff doesn’t have much to do with personal identification as Christian, that’s interesting too!

What do you mean by younger-generation?
I mean ‘second-generation’ (i.e. born in North America) + people who came here when they were young. This way, I don’t exclude people I should be talking to arbitrarily based on birth. It also means that I’m interested in talking to people who do work in Asian languages, not just English-speaking.

But ‘Asian’ is so diverse!
I know! The thing is, there’s this theory that I’m trying to suss out called pan-ethnicity. People who work on second-generation stuff (especially my colleague Russell Jeung in his book Faithful Generations) have noted how Asian Americans — and to some degree, Asian Canadians — cooperate across ethnic lines (i.e. Chinese, Korean, Filipina/o, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Indonesian, Malay, etc.) and talk about themselves as ‘Asian.’ I want to see if that works when Asian Americans and Asian Canadians do stuff in the public sphere.

But I don’t live in Seattle or Vancouver.
That’s OK. For one thing, I need your information to contextualize what I’m finding here in the Pacific Northwest. For another, the data here might lead to sites outside of the Pacific Northwest because this public work might not be regionally bound.

Do you have ethics clearance for this research?
Yes. The University of Washington’s Human Subjects Division in fact determined that my research was exempt from review under Category 2 of their Exempt Determination. This means that — given adherence to common-sense ethical research procedures — my work has been approved by the university.

I’ll be working on the initial phase of collecting data for this project in Seattle and Vancouver throughout Summer 2014. This initial phase means that I am very interested in talking to key informants. This usually means setting up an interview that is usually audio-recorded, lasts for about one hour, and is transcribed for accuracy. I have a formal letter of invitation, consent form, and interview questionnaire available, if you want to see that before talking to me.

Contact me at jkhtse (at) uw (dot) edu, and let’s talk!

Drinks with Dominicans: Catholic-Anglican ecumenism

On Tuesday, 22 April 2014, the monthly Drinks with Dominicans event will be held as usual at Blue Star Pub and Cafe in Seattle. As a ministry of Blessed Sacrament Church (a Catholic parish run by the Dominican order in Seattle’s U-District), the event usually brings together a sizeable group of young adults ages 21-35 for drinks with Dominican friars. It’s a bit like Theology on Tap, except that they bring in speakers, not bishops, to talk about special topics. For example, this January, Cosmos the in Lost’s Artur Rosman spoke on the Catholic imagination.

I’m delighted to announce that I am tomorrow’s speaker.

I’ll be talking about Catholic-Anglican ecumenism. It feels right, given my latest work for Logos Anglican, and it gives me an opportunity to air out in an informal setting some of my thoughts about Catholic-Anglican relations.

Some things to look forward to:

  • Why is the Anglican Communion such a mess?
  • Who runs the Anglican Communion anyway?
  • What does the word ‘Anglican’ even refer to?
  • Was Anglicanism really started by a king who wanted a divorce?
  • Is there any hope for Anglicans and Catholics to walk together?
  • Why does Justin think that Harry Potter is an Anglican?
  • Why does a geographer get to say anything about ecumenism in the first place?

All this, and a bit more, tomorrow at drinks at Dominicans. All are welcome. The event starts at 7:30. I’ll probably be there early because I want to eat well first.

Association of Asian American Studies, 16-19 April 2014, San Francisco, CA

Hooray! I’m really happy to say that the Association of Asian American Studies’s Annual Meeting is taking place 16-19 April 2014 in the metropolis that I called home for 18 years: the San Francisco Bay Area. We’re right at Union Square in San Francisco at the Grand Hyatt.

My contribution to this conference will be at a panel organized by Dean Adachi titled San Francisco: The Asian American Holy City? It will be meeting in the Larkspur room at 8 AM. My paper is titled ‘The War on Poverty and the Emergence of Evangelism: the Chinese American mainline and the new evangelicals in San Francisco’s Chinatown.’
Here’s the abstract:

This paper fills a necessary gap in contemporary discourses about Chinese American Protestant churches. Expected both to be progressive because of their immigrant commitments and conservative because of their Protestant practice, the stories of how Chinese American Protestant congregations became so politically contradictory is seldom told. This paper examines San Francisco’s Chinatown as a site of contestation that produced these contradictions. In the 1960s and 1970s, mainline Protestants in Chinatown joined the War on Poverty as part of a commitment to social justice and the development of an antiracist Asian American theology that was committed to the betterment of Chinatown as a Chinese American community. These efforts were simultaneously contested by newer Chinese evangelical migrants from Hong Kong who re-oriented some congregations and built new ones in reaction to what they perceived as ‘liberal’ social justice orientations, launching ‘conservative’ congregations that preserved the distinction between the secular public sphere and the church’s evangelistic, worshipping, and biblical teaching activities. The co-existence of these two kinds of congregations and their challenges to each other suggests that Chinatown itself needs to be conceptualized as a space of theological contestation, producing perceptions of Asian American religion as politically contradictory that require further examination in Asian American studies.

The other panelists are Dean Adachi (Claremont) and Helen Kim (Harvard). We are very excited to have Russell Jeung (SFSU) as our discussant. [For some reason, my name does not appear on the program. This is likely because on a draft program, I saw that my name had been misspelled as 'Justin K.H. Hse.' I registered under my real name. Dean also asked them to correct this, but the error was probably caught too late.]

I’m excited to be in my home metropolis to learn and to meet with colleagues in Asian American studies. It’s a bit unfortunate that this conference is taking place during Holy Week, but I’m making the best of all worlds. If San Francisco is the Asian American holy city, I’m going to spend Holy Week right here.

Association of American Geographers, Tampa, FL (8-12 April 2014)

I am writing from Tampa, Florida to talk about the national conference that I am attending. As usual, I am at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers. There’s a lot going on here in geographies of religion (check out our specialty group’s newsletter) – the field seems to be growing, though many of my colleagues couldn’t attend this year! – and I will also be checking out sessions on migration, Asian geographies, urban studies, and other things, in addition to meeting colleagues and catching up with old ones.

I am presenting in a session this afternoon (Tuesday, 8 April) on Critical Geographies of Religion. My paper is titled The Civil Human Rights Front: religion and radical democracy in post-handover Hong Kong and features a lot of the field work I did among progressive Christian groups in Hong Kong in 2012. Here’s the abstract:

After Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, the Special Administrative Region has seen the emergence of calls for universal suffrage, the preservation of civil liberties, and solidarity with the materially marginalized in Hong Kong’s civil society.  In one moment of collective solidarity, an umbrella group called the Civil Human Rights Front launched a protest against anti-sedition legislation based on Basic Law’s Article 23, a law whose alleged threats to free speech drove some 500,000 Hongkongers to the streets on 1 July 2003.  This paper analyzes the radical democrats who have been key to such political placemaking activities in Hong Kong, contesting the city’s policy landscape through physical demonstrations.  It argues that while a wide swath of Hong Kong’s Catholics and Protestants have historically been allied with the state establishment both under British and Chinese sovereignty, the emergence of radical democratic groups like the Civil Human Rights Front have been driven largely by Catholic and Protestant Christians who emphasize a separation of church governance from the state.  While the separation of church and state has often lent itself in other contexts to more conservative politics, this spatial schematic has led these radical democratic activists, their churches, and their solidarity groups to contest the modus operandi of Chinese sovereignty.  This is thus a contribution to critical geographies of religion, for it shows the potential power of religious movements to critique the practices of the state in order to imagine more socially just cities.

There are two parts to this session. I am the first paper on the first part, which promises to be an engaging discussion on religion, politics, and the public sphere. Find us in Room 17 on the First Floor of the Tampa Convention Center. The first session is from 2:40 PM – 4:20 PM. The second session runs from 4:40 PM – 6:20 PM.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, 9 April), political geographer John Agnew will be giving our Geography of Religions and Belief Systems (GORABS) Annual Lecture. His lecture is titled The Popes and the city of Rome during Fascism, 1922-1943. Here’s the abstract:

It has become popular in recent years to see the Fascist years in Italy as reflecting the relatively successful transformation of Italian society at the behest of its Fascist rulers. This reflects both the rehabilitation of Fascism in contemporary Italy and the “cultural turn” in Italian historiography that has tended to emphasize the “making” of Fascist selves and other markers, such as the makeover of many urban monumental spaces, as measures of the regime’s success. My purpose is to disrupt this emerging consensus, alongside other commentators I hasten to add, by pointing how much the Fascist regime had to collaborate with other powers, not least the Catholic Church, and was often outflanked by them in its designs, most notably in efforts at making over the city of Rome as its showcase capital.

We want as many people as we can to attend, and we hope to see many of your there! Find us in Room 23 of the First Floor of the Tampa Convention Center, Wednesday, 9 April, 10 AM – 11:40 AM.

Please also join us for our business meeting. That is scheduled for Thursday, 10 April, from 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM in Room 9, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor. I will be chairing, and if you want the meeting agenda, please email me.

I look forward to a lot of collegial interaction this week, and I am anticipating learning a lot! It’s great to be with people in my home discipline, and I hope I have more to bring this year from all of my interdisciplinary journeying.