Migrant Faith (Jeremia Chow and Sarah Crutchfield): helping out with a History 485 Final Project

I had the privilege of being a key informant and informal adviser to an exciting undergraduate class project for UBC’s History 485 course. Taught by Asian American historian Henry Yu (Thinking Orientals, 2001), the course focuses on Asian migrant communities in Vancouver, understanding them in the context of what Yu calls “Pacific Canada.”

Two students, Jeremia Chow and Sarah Crutchfield, approached me with an idea for their final project in that course, one that has successfully come to fruition through this website. They wanted to focus on Chinese churches, and fortuitously, they found my blog and contacted me (unaware, it seems, that Henry Yu is one of my committee members and ardent supporter of my various projects). Their research question focused on how Chinese churches integrated new immigrants, a concern that has run throughout my M.A. project on a transnational Hongkonger congregation in a Vancouver suburb, the collaborative Highway to Heaven project on new suburban religious landscapes and immigrant integration, and the PhD dissertation on how Cantonese Protestant theologies are grounded in Pacific Rim civil societies.

My modest contribution to this project was an interview I granted them on March 26. We met in Vancouver for coffee and Thai food. Their questions revolved around how to approach congregations with the question of immigrant integration. I gave a two-pronged answer.

Theoretically, I told them that they might need to disentangle the assumptions that congregations are de facto parts of civil society, that they provide institutionalized social services, and that their theologies support civil society engagement on the part of the church. Instead, I advised them to look from the ground up, inquiring about grounded theologies and being open to the reality that social services provided by churches might be informal. (This was a similar point I raised in my BBC Heart and Soul interview.)

Methodologically, I emphasized that positionality is important when conducting interviews. Because of the way that interviewees read interviewers for race, class, gender, sexuality, and religion, Jeri and Sarah had to be aware of their own positionalities and understand that their self-awareness could be important for the dynamics of data collection. Because they needed to disentangle their own assumptions about how churches contributed to immigrant integration, I suggested that if Sarah conducted the interviews, then interviewees would find themselves explaining more to her without presuming prior knowledge. In turn, this would enable their data collection to be more thorough so that they could see exactly where their assumptions are dissonant with the data.

I’m happy to report that I am overall very pleased with the end result. Not only was the data collection thorough enough to challenge their own prior assumptions, but they have stumbled upon the next frontier of Chinese church research in Vancouver: Mandarin-speaking charismatic churches. Because of the dominance of Cantonese churches, Mandarin churches have been understudied. Their data provides an important window into Mandarin-speaking churches, enabling comparisons with existing work on Cantonese Protestant congregations and engagements with civil society.

This is my second foray into helping undergraduates design a research project. My prior experience took place in another course taught by Henry Yu comparing transnational migration in Vancouver and Singapore in the summer of 2011. I led a group documentary project on religion and migration, from which we produced a short film Moving Faith (we are working to disseminate this project!). These experiences have been formative for my own pedagogical convictions, as these public presentations are an excellent venue for demonstrating the value of undergraduate public education. I will certainly use field work as a required component of courses I teach in the future, and these two projects have given me valuable insight into how field work can be presented to a public outside of the classroom.

Thanks, Jeri and Sarah, for including me in this very insightful project.

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Association of Asian American Studies, 17-20 April 2013

Over the next few days, I will be in Seattle for the Association of Asian American Studies‘ annual conference. This is the annual gathering for scholars in Asian American studies.

I organized a panel that was featured as one of the events relating to the Asian Pacific American and Religion Research Initiative (APARRI). The session is titled Empire and the Study of Asian American Religions, partly inspired by Kwok Pui Lan’s 2011 presidential address at the American Academy of Religion, ‘Empire and the Study of Religion.’ Our panel will be held on Saturday, 20 April, from 8:15 AM to 9:45 AM at the Westin-St. Helen’s. We will be chaired by Carolyn Chen (Northwestern University), and our discussant is Christopher Lee (UBC Vancouver). The presenters are as follows:

Christopher Chua, University of California, Berkeley
Imperial Intentions on American Soil: Missionary Work at San Francisco’s Chinese Presbyterian Church in the Late 19th Century

Helen Jin Kim, Harvard University
Constructing Yellow Empire: A History of the Neo-Evangelical, Anti-Communist Matrix in the Korean Diaspora (1951-1982)

Justin K. H. Tse, University of British Columbia
America, Return to God: Chinese American Evangelical Social Conservatives as Ironic Perpetual Foreigners

Timothy Tseng, Canaan Taiwanese Christian Church
Color-blinded By the Light: The American Evangelical Empire and the Deconstruction of Asian American Racial Identity in the San Francisco Bay Area

After some conversation with our discussant Chris Lee and further progress on my doctoral dissertation, I’ve changed the title of my presentation slightly to: ‘America, Return to God? Chinese American evangelicals and ideological antagonisms in Asian American studies.’ Focusing on my San Francisco field work, the paper will demonstrate that Asian American studies should be reconceptualized as a field of political ideological antagonisms between conservatives and progressives, and it will do so by examining Cantonese evangelical opposition to same-sex marriage.

We look forward to seeing you at the Association of Asian American Studies. Please visit the APARRI events for exciting developments in Asian American religious studies. These include:

Friday, April 19, 2013
4:30-6:00pm           APARRI Scholars Analyze and Discuss the Pew Research

PARTICIPANTS:

  • Janelle Wong, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Jane Iwamura, University of the West
  • David K. Kim, Connecticut College
  • Chair & Facilitator: Sharon Suh, Seattle University

7:00-9:00 pm         APARRI Reception and Roundtable Discussion at Seattle University:
“Challenges to Global Christianity in an Era of Secularism and Pluralism”

PARTICIPANTS:

  • Peter Phan, Georgetown University
  • David K. Kim, Connecticut College

**** The APARRI Roundtable and Reception will take place off site at:****
Seattle University
Admissions and Alumni Building
824 12th Ave. (corner of 12th & Marion)
Seattle, WA 98122

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Saturday April 20, 2013
8:15-9:30              
Empire and Asian American Religions

PRESENTERS:

  • Christopher Chua, University of California, Berkeley
  • Helen Jin Kim, Harvard University
  • Justin K. H. Tse, University of British Columbia
  • Timothy Tseng, Canaan Taiwanese Christian Church
  • Chair: Carolyn Chen, Northwestern University
  • Discussant: Christopher Lee, University of British Columbia

1:00 -2:30 pm        Author Meets Critic:
Joseph Cheah’s:
Race and Religion in American Buddhism: White   Supremacy and Immigrant Adaptations

PARTICIPANTS:

  • Jane Iwamura, University of the West
  • Joseph Cheah, University of St. Joseph, Connecticut
  • Duncan Williams, University of Southern California
  • Tamara Ho, University of California, Riverside

2:45-4:15pm  Violence against Asian American Religious Communities

PARTICIPANTS:

  • Jaideep Singh, California State University, East Bay
  • Janelle Wong, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Chandan Reddy, University of Washington
  • David Kim, Connecticut College
  • Sylvia Chan-Malik, Rutgers University
  • Sharon Suh, Seattle University

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If you are in Seattle for the AAAS, we’d love to see you at all of these events.

Chair, Geography of Religion and Belief Systems (GORABS) Specialty Group, Association of American Geographers

gorabsI’m happy to announce that I’ve been elected to be Chair of the Geography of Religion and Belief Systems (GORABS) Specialty Group at the Association of American Geographers (AAG).  This follows two years of being the GORABS secretary.  David Butler (University College Cork) is now immediate past chair, Garrett Smith (Kennesaw State University) is now secretary, and David Rutherford (University of Mississippi) has kindly agreed to stay as treasurer.

I see the job of the GORABS Chair as to promote religion as an analytic in human geography by liaising with the academic geography community through the Association of American Geographers. This means that at a practical level, my job is to represent our specialty group to the AAG organizers, to make sure religion sessions and papers at the AAG get sponsored, to recruit an Annual Lecturer for the next two years, and to raise awareness about developments in religion, secularization, and belief systems in the discipline.  I’ll be working with a very well-constituted board that is committed to advancing geographies of religion as a growing field in both human geography and religious studies. If you are working in geographies of religion and want to present a paper or organize a session at the AAG in 2014 and 2015, please contact me with any ideas you might have so that we can get those sessions sponsored.

At a theoretical level, my job, as is the job of the board, is to demonstrate to the geography community that geographies of religion are broader than what has conventionally counted as the scholarship in a small subfield of cultural geography.  Religion isn’t just an object to be mapped, nor is it a subject to be studied.  It is an analytic that seeks to unpack the uneven geographies of secularization processes, the grounded theologies that undergird both conventionally ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ practices, the experiences of lived religions (including what’s becoming known as a ‘hauntological’ approach), and the way that ‘belief systems’ aren’t fully worked out worldviews but geographical imaginations that undergird political, economic, social, and cultural processes in the world. Just as race, class, gender, and sexuality are analytics in human geography, religion as an analytic can lead to theoretical innovations and open doors to new empirical work in geography. These in turn are critical geographies, challenging modern modalities of space not only with the existence of religious phenomena, but by forcing geographers to reckon with the circulation of uncritical secular theoretical postulations even in our own discipline. Studies in geographies of religion are thus central to the continuous re-imagination of what it means to do geography as academic practitioners.

I am optimistic about the next two years, and I am excited, as our field has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last few years. I expect nothing less in the next few as well. If you want to keep track of these developments, please like us on Facebook and add yourself to the JISCMail listserv.

Association of American Geographers, 9-13 April 2013: Los Angeles

I am right now at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers. I’m mainly attending religion panels and meeting with lots of geographers, putting what I do in conversation with everyone else. You can find the rundown of geography of religion events here in the AAG’s religion newsletter.

I am presenting as part of a panel on Post-secular Spaces: Explorations Beyond Secular Theory and Research. It’s organized by two geographers at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, Banu Gökariksel and Betsy Olson. Here’s the session description:

The aim of this paper session is to explore the parameters of post-secular research and theory in Geography. From Habermas to Asad to Butler, post-secular theories and approaches unsettle previously taken-for-granted relationships between religion, the state, and society.  The challenge posed by post-secular theory is not to study religion more, or to study religion in isolation, but rather to re-view moments, meanings and events without the assumptions of secularization theory – that is, without assuming that religious practices, values and institutions have been historically or contemporarily irrelevant or marginalized in the functioning of ‘modern’ societies. As a critique of secularization theory, post-secular approaches encourage us to uncover and analyze the lingering and overt presence of religion in our social interactions, our economies, and in the everyday and exceptional practice of politics. Less clear in these broader debates (and, arguably, within geographical scholarship on the topic) is the relevance of space and spatial theory in either the theoretical development or empirical analysis of post-secular approaches. This paper session hopes to begin consolidating and synthesizing the spatial concerns of post-secular theory by exploring emerging empirical research on new (and old) interrelationships between religion, society, politics, and economy.

My paper is on Friday, 12 April 2013, at 1 PM at the Pacific Ballroom Salon 3 in the LA Hotel, 3rd floor. It’s titled Cantonese Protestant Activism and Secular Geographies: religion, ethnicity, and the secularization thesis. Here’s the abstract:

Geographers of religion have long assumed that the resurgence of religious practice in contemporary spaces are signs of the vitality of religion, demonstrating the falsity of the secularization thesis.  Fieldwork that I conducted in 2011 and 2012 with 140 Cantonese-speaking Protestant key informants and 115 Cantonese-speaking Protestant focus group participants in Vancouver, San Francisco, and Hong Kong would seem to indicate no different, for they have been active in advocating for traditional family values and offering social services to the poor through religious agencies.  While some might label these signs of post-secular geographies, I follow Wilford’s (2010) argument that geographies of religion need to be conceptualized in the context of secularization in the modern world.  I demonstrate that Cantonese Protestants active in the public sphere imagine their contributions as secular engagements, both espousing individualistic conceptions of the self and policing their activities as universally rational, not theological.  This paper advances the geography of religion by properly understanding such phenomena in the context of secular modernity while speaking to migration, ethnic, and political geographies by showing that new religious resurgences require modern contextual interpretations.

The reference to Justin Wilford in there is part of a broader discussion with his work that is most accessible in his book on Saddleback Church, Sacred Subdivisions: The Postsuburban Transformation of American Evangelicalism. Go read it, if you haven’t.

The Annual Lecturer for the Geography of Religion and Belief Systems (GORABS) Specialty Group this year is Professor Ann Taves (UC Santa Barbara, Religious Studies). It’s unfortunately at the same time as a panel for post-secular spaces organized by Gökariksel and Olson, but I will be at the Taves’s lecture and skip the panel. The lecture will be on Friday, 12 April 2013, from 4:40 – 6:20 PM at the Santa Barbara B, Westin, Lobby Level. It’s titled Mapping Significance: A Building Block Approach. Following the lecture, Adrian Ivakhiv (University of Vermont) will give a response via Skype. Ann Taves’s lecture abstract is here:

Ivakhiv (2006) has argued that religion and sacrality are unstable signifiers that should be studied as ways of distributing significance across geographic spaces and distinguishing between different kinds of significance.  To implement this agenda, we need to attend more carefully to the processes that work together to create a sense of significance.  A building block approach to significance would suggest the importance of at least three factors: setting apart, which marks things as non-ordinary; valuation, which ranks and orders them; and positioning, which situates them in relation to other things.  Examples will be used to illustrate the interplay of these factors, the contestations surrounding them, and thus the way that point of view constitutes such maps and makes them unstable.

Finally, everyone is welcome to the GORABS Business Meeting. This is from 7:30 – 8:30 PM in Santa Monica D at the Westin, Level 3. You can find an agenda on p. 46 in the GORABS newsletter.