Social Geographies of Religion: guest lectures

This week, I gave two lectures on the social geographies of religion for the University of British Columbia at Vancouver’s Geography 357.  The instructor is my friend, Elliot Siemiatycki, a labour geographer who has been doing a fantastic job teaching a course focused on what social geography is and what social geographers do social geography in the context of neoliberal urbanisms.  The course has covered theoretical themes (such as the move from positivism to the humanist/Marxist debates in social geography, feminist themes of embodiment and intersectionality, and the neoliberal restructuring of post-1980s cities) and empirical themes (such as segregation, homelessness, crime, architecture, work and leisure spaces, urban political ecology, and cyber-geographies).  He gave me an opportunity to deliver two lectures for the course on the social geographies of religion.

In these lectures, I simply reviewed the field, where we’ve been and where we’re going.  In the first lecture, I spoke on geographies of religion and intersectionality, how religious practitioners intersect their religious social spaces with other spaces like family, work, leisure, as well as spaces marked by gender and class.  In the second lecture, I introduced the current debate on post-secularization in social geographies and approached this through José Casanova’s (1994) work in Public Religions in the Modern World as he disaggregates the secularization thesis.  I am aware, of course, that discussions of secularization theory are wide-ranging, but to adequately cover the major theorists in theology and religious studies (e.g. Berger, Cox, Eliade, JZ Smith, WC Smith, Casanova, Asad, Taylor, Habermas, Milbank, Pickstock, Cavanaugh, Ward, Bruce, Davie, Lilla, Bellah, Butler, Brown, Mahmood, Hirschkind, Modood, Jakobsen, Connolly, Calhoun, Lilla, West, Herberg, Finke/Stark, R. Stephen Warner, Michael Warner, Fraser, etc.), I would need a whole course devoted to this (if not several), if not a graduate seminar (if not two).  I also presented some of my own original PhD research on Cantonese-speaking Protestants and the public sphere in the second class.

The material was very well-received by the instructor, the students, and my supervisor.  The sense that I got was that this material is very new and fresh to them, which speaks to the need for this material to actually be taught at the undergraduate level.  I was happy to hear that I was both clear and passionate–I would refrain from self-commenting on my own performance, but these seem to be the anecdotal consensus–and after delivering these lectures, I hope to be doing this long-term.  Indeed, my hope is one day to teach courses on geographies of religion and secularization where I can adequately cover the field in its emerging breadth, as well as to host graduate seminars where the material can be adequately debated by emerging scholars joining the effort.

ANARCS Steering Committee

Today I was invited to become–and accepted–membership on the Steering Committee of the Asian North American Religions, Culture, and Society (ANARCS) Group of the American Academy of Religion (AAR).  It is an honour and a pleasure to have been invited by such a great group of friends.  The duties of Steering Committee members is to design a call for papers for forthcoming AAR conferences, to vet abstracts and panel proposals, and to make sure that presenters actually write their papers and have a great time presenting them at panels and sessions that we sponsor.  Accordingly, we are influential in shaping what ANARCS will be doing and hope to have some influence on the development of the field of Asian North American religious studies as a whole.

I am very excited to be part of this.  During this year’s AAR, there were three ANARCS-sponsored sessions: 1) E Pluribus Pluribus: Transnational Hinduism in North America, 2) Asian North American “conservative” Christian communities, masculinities, and gender issues (in which I presented), and 3) Boundary Crossings: new directions in Asian American theologies (over which I presided–thanks, Sharon Suh, for the opportunity!).  The quality of the papers was very high, but what struck me even more was the abundance of younger, emerging scholars in the field who are pushing the boundaries of what should be studied as part of Asian American religious studies.  My sense from this year’s discussion was that there is a lot of emerging work on the intersection of Asian American religions and sexuality–an intersection that is similarly coming to fruition in geographies of religion, I might add!–and that there is much more attention being paid to critical theory among the younger scholars.  There was also a sense of these younger scholars being mentored by more senior faculty discussants on the panels who were very approachable for questions and constructive feedback after the sessions as well.

I am excited to be part of this burgeoning field that crosses American ethnic studies and religious studies.  Many thanks to ANARCS for the opportunity to serve in the Steering Committee, and I look forward to working with everyone.

AAR 2013: Asian North American “Conservative” Christian Communities, Masculinities, and Gender Issues

I had the privilege of organizing a panel for the upcoming American Academy of Religion (AAR) meeting in Chicago, IL.  It is sponsored by the Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society (ANARCS) Group and will feature a very diverse panel of scholars speaking about masculinities and gender issues in “conservative” Asian American and Asian Canadian communities.  Here is our abstract:

This panel session explores the “conservatism” of certain Asian North American religious communities, particularly evangelical and fundamentalist Christian ones, around gender issues. By gender “conservatism,” we refer to attempts to reinforce heteronormative, patriarchal practices both within Asian North American religious communities and without in civil society.

Our panelists will discuss 1) the usage of evangelicalism by Korean American men to restore a sense of empowerment, 2) the appropriation of Asian American tropes of mixed-martial arts and “linsanity” (following the recent stardom of Jeremy Lin) by conservative evangelicals at large to reconstitute masculinities, 3) the experience of a trans-male in a Korean American Christian community in New York, 4) the activism of conservative Asian Americans in opposing LGBTQI rights in America, and 5) the exploration of conservative Asian North American religious groups in a Canadian context who oppose sexual equality despite its federal legal status. A feminist ethicist will respond.

The panel will be chaired by Michael Sepidoza Campos (GTU) and will be responded to by Grace Yia-Hei Kao (Claremont School of Theology).  The panelists themselves come from very diverse backgrounds and espouse fairly different academic approaches; they are: Mark Chung Hearn (Azusa Pacific University), Steve B. Hu (UC Santa Barbara), Sung Won Park (Union Theological Seminary), Patrick S. Cheng (Episcopal Divinity School), and myself.  Our aim in assembling this very diverse set of voices is to encourage conversation on a topic that has been seldom discussed in Asian North American religious studies, not to mention academic discussion more generally.

I will be speaking on the intersection of Asian Canadian studies and the need to contextualize the traditional sexuality activism of Cantonese Protestants in Vancouver, British Columbia, within their engagements with Canadian civil society.  My take on the panel is that these issues require a fair, accurate, and scholarly interpretation from the academy and are not served well by caricatures, particularly as stereotyping often leads to the very forms of socially unjust orientalizing racism that are increasingly unacceptable in our civil society.

The panel will take place Sunday, 18 November 2012, from 9 AM to 11:30 AM and all those registered for the AAR meeting are warmly invited to join in what promises to be an exciting conversation.

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On Monday, 19 November 2012, I will also be presiding over another ANARCS panel entitled “Boundary Crossings: New Directions in Asian American Theologies.”  This panel will feature Barbara Yuki Schwartz (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary), Simon Joseph Kierulf (Union Presbyterian Seminary), Yeon Yeon Hwang (Graduate Theological Union), and Ren Ito (University of Toronto), and the respondent will be Nami Kim (Spellman College).  The panel will be held from 1-3 PM, and it will be followed by the ANARCS Business Meeting.