Winter/Spring 2010: Update on Ph.D. Happenings

The Winter 2010 term has drawn to a close, so much so that it’s a shame to call it the Winter Term all the way into late April!  The Spring 2010 term is just beginning.  It is time for an update.

I have taken two directed readings courses this term.  The first was with Henry Yu (UBC History) on Asian Americans in Global Context.  The course began with the classic texts of the Asian American movement: Sucheng Chan’s Asian Americans: An Interpretive History and Ron Takaki’s Strangers from a Distant Shore: A History of Asian Americans.  The course focused on an intellectual history of the Asian American/ethnic studies political movement.  It then branched out into the historical periods in which an Asian identity in American, Canadian, and Australian contexts were formed: in the labour migrations in the classical capitalist economies of the nineteenth-century, the political context of Cold War constructions of “Good Asians” and “Bad Asians,” and in the contemporary setting where Asians are regarded as the “model minority.”  We also explored issues such as gender, sexuality, and religion.  The final product of this course is a course syllabus that we design for undergraduates to introduce the issues of ethnic studies and Asian Americans.  My syllabus begins with an exploration of personal positionality, enters the issues by framing a narrative of the Asian American experience, and then tinkers with that narrative by exploring Asian bodies in colonial and post-colonial spaces.

The second course was with David Ley (UBC Geography) on Geographies of Religion, Secularism, and Social Theory.  The course was designed around my writing of a paper that would explore, critique, and provide new entry points into the geography of religion.  The paper has evolved into an exploration of two ways the geography of religion has been done: first, through the Berkeley school of cultural geography’s emphasis on the imprint of religion on the cultural landscape and second, through the new cultural geography’s critique of the Berkeley school and re-emphasis on the practices that make sacred spaces sacred.  I also engage thinkers on secularity such as John Milbank, Charles Taylor, and Talal Asad and introduce the notion of a grounded theology to guide ethnographic work on geographies of religion and their intersections with fields that don’t look sacred at first glance.

These two courses are leading into what looks to be a very busy (but productive!) spring and summer 2010.  I have just finished a very successful conference presentation and paper presentation in Washington DC and ten days of intensive field work on the Highway to Heaven (see my previous post) and will be finishing these papers that I’ve just mentioned.  My spring review with my committee for my first year of the Ph.D. will be in mid-May.  I have taken three courses thus far: 1) cities in the Asia-Pacific region, 2) the politics of Asian America and Asian Canada, and 3) geographies of religion, secularism, and social theory.  I plan for these three courses to form the basis of the three comprehensive fields I will be examined in for my comprehensive exams in Fall 2010.  These exams will develop professional competence in these fields that will be useful for future teaching and research.

What to look out for in the Spring 2010 term:

  • A field course with Henry Yu on cultural spaces in two post-colonial cities: Singapore and Vancouver (10 May-18 June).  I am a group leader for several undergraduates doing field research.  My group will likely work on religion and the city.
  • Pacific Worlds in Motion III: Mobile Identities: a graduate student conference on Pacific migrations (2-5 June)
  • A reconnaissance trip to Hong Kong where I plan to do some grounded preliminary research on evangelical social and political activism in Hong Kong.  There will be more on this in forthcoming posts; if you would like to see me in Hong Kong, we can make arrangements! (19 June to 13 July)
  • A forthcoming paper in Population, Space, and Place based on my MA work on a transnational Hongkonger church in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia.

This academic vocation is indeed busy but very rewarding, both intellectually and personally.  I am thankful for a Ph.D. program with so much rigour that is contributing not only to my academic formation but my personal growth.  I welcome dialogue on any of the issues I’ve raised in this post (and in previous posts): I am always looking for ways to sharpen these ideas in community, whether academic or not!

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“Highway to Heaven?” New suburban religious landscapes and immigrant integration (Metropolis BC)

In 2010-2011, Professor David Ley (University of British Columbia), Dr. Claire Dwyer (University College, University of London), and I will be conducting a study of No. 5 Road in Richmond, British Columbia.  The road is better known as the “Highway to Heaven” because it features multiple religious buildings on the road between Blundell Road and Steveston Highway .  Examples of these institutions include five Chinese Christian churches, two Christian schools, two mosques (one Shia, one Sunni) with Muslim schools, a gurdwara, three Buddhist institutions, two Hindu centres, a Jewish day school, one Korean Christian church plant, and three older English-speaking Canadian churches.  Other religious institutions are slated to join the road in due time as well.

We are interested in how religious landscapes like the “Highway to Heaven” emerge in suburbs like Richmond and how these religious institutions are part of the migrant experience in metropolitan areas like Vancouver.  In particular, we have three foci.  First, we are interested at an urban planning level in how suburban planners plan for these religious landscapes.  Second, we want to explore how these religious institutions help immigrants to Canada integrate into society and how people at these churches experience this help in their everyday lives.  Third, we want to understand how residents in Richmond understand the role of No. 5 Road in how they practice being multicultural Canadians.  What this means at a very broad level is that we are interested in how No. 5 Road intersects with the everyday lives of people in Richmond, and we are very happy to talk to anyone who wants to talk with us!

This project is funded by Metropolis BC (http://riim.metropolis.net), a provincial division of the larger Metropolis Project (http://canada.metropolis.net) that examines how migration is changing the face of Canadian cities.  It is NOT my Ph.D. dissertation research, although the presence of Chinese churches (three of which are Cantonese-speaking and Hongkonger-based) means that this research is not too far afield in what I have been interested in for my MA research on a Hongkonger Christian church in Richmond and my upcoming Ph.D. research on evangelical Christianity in Hong Kong.  It is a collaborative project between David Ley, Claire Dwyer, and myself: the teamwork and discussion has been phenomenal as we have been able to openly talk through issues in geographies of religion and migration.  A link to the University College London announcement of this project is here: http://www.geog.ucl.ac.uk/about-the-department/news/highways-to-heaven.

If you’re interested in knowing more about this project, you can approach me by email at jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca or Claire Dwyer at claire.dwyer@ucl.ac.uk.

Association of American Geographers 2010: Washington DC

I am presenting a paper at the upcoming Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Washington, DC from 14-18 April 2010 in the Woodley Park-Zoo District.  The paper is titled “Silent Exodus or Second Wave? The Challenges of Youth and PRC Trans-Pacific Migrations in a Hongkonger Church.”  It will be presented at the second session on Young People, Faith, and Place (1404) on Wednesday, 14 April, at 12:40 PM in Embassy (Marriot Lobby Level).  The abstract is here:

Students of ethnic religious congregations in North America have often noted the phenomenon of “the silent exodus” (Carjaval, 1994), a quiet departure of the young people from ethnic religious congregations that has resulted in both diminishing numbers within ethnic congregations and the emergence of second-generation ethnic churches.  The often-cited reason for this exodus is language: while the ethnic church tends to operate in an ethnic tongue, the second generation that has been educated in North America prefers English as a lingua franca.  But the case of St. Matthew’s Church—the Hongkonger congregation in Metro Vancouver at which I conducted nine months of ethnographic research—has contested this view.  While the departure of English-speaking youth has been an ongoing concern to members of the church, a second wave of Chinese immigrants from the People’s Republic of China has dominated congregational identity politics.  As a result, language issues (Mandarin, Cantonese, or English) as well as geopolitical issues and transnational networks between Hong Kong and Vancouver have been foregrounded in congregational life.  This paper contributes to the study of young religious people by placing their spiritual needs in the context of in a specific transnational geography of religion that problematizes the dominant view that young people pose the dominant challenge to the ethnic religious congregation in North America.

I have now decided that the paper will include much less on the geopolitics of the situation and focus much more on issues of language, particularly Cantonese and English.  But the spirit of the abstract is still the same with foci on: 1) a review and complement of the literature on the second generation in North American immigrant congregations, 2) the context of the geography of migration between Hong Kong and Metro Vancouver, and 3) empirical demonstration from 1-1.5 hour-long semi-structured interviews with 14 young people in their 20s and 30s among my sample of 40 from St. Matthew’s Church in Metro Vancouver in 2008.  A conference paper will be available upon request next week.

In addition, I will be part of a panel discussion on Insider/Outsider Issues and Experiences in the Geography of Religion (2416).  This will take place at 12:40 PM on Thursday, 15 April, in Park Tower 8216 (Marriott Lobby Level).  I will be discussing my insider positionality as a second-generation ministry intern at the Hongkonger congregation that I studied in 2008 and elaborate on being both an insider as a second-generation Chinese Christian minister within the church and an outsider as an Asian American Christian who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area who was relatively new to the Chinese Canadian Christian church that had strong ties with Hong Kong when I began both studying and working there.  I will also touch on resolving these positionality issues through what Ley and Duncan (1993) via Gadamer’s Truth and Method have termed geographical hermeneutics. The panel discussion will be chaired by Daniel Olson (Brandon University) and will include Caroline Faria and Michael Ferber as the other panelists.

Professor David Ley (my supervisor at the University of British Columbia) is also giving the annual Geography of Religion and Belief Systems lecture.  This will take place at 10 AM on Thursday, 15 April, in Park Tower 8216 (Marriott Lobby Level).  The talk is titled: “Homo religiosus? Religion and immigrant subjectivities.”  His talk will have three parts:

First, it will review the re-working of the religious (and secular) face of North American cities in light of contemporary immigration. Second, it will argue that the epistemology and methodology of positivist social science needs considerable re-working to engage the worlds of belief, faith and practice in contemporary religion. Third, using Chinese and Korean case studies in Vancouver, I will bring the first two themes together and consider immigrant churches as places of refuge, transnational memory, hope, and social capital formation in engaging the turbulent and all-consuming experience of immigration.

If you are in DC, I’d love to see you there!