Visiting Assistant Professor, Asian American Studies Program, Northwestern University

I am pleased to formally announce on this blog that I have accepted a position at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL as Visiting Assistant Professor in the Asian American Studies Program. I will start there in September, teaching five courses over the year on a quarter system; my contract there is for two years.

I am very excited about this new program at Northwestern because its story mirrors many similar themes in the history of Asian American studies as a discipline. Like many other ethnic studies departments, Asian American studies at Northwestern began with a student strike – including a hunger strike – contesting the university’s commitment to a colorblind liberalism with a radical call to serve communities of color. By 1999, a program was put together, and just last year in 2015, it began offering an undergraduate major in Asian American studies.

My introduction to Asian American studies as a discipline can also be traced back to the influence of one of this program’s core faculty, Carolyn Chen, who is now at the University of California, Berkeley. I met Carolyn through the Asian Pacific Islander and Religion Research Initiative (APARRI) conference that was held at Claremont School of Theology in 2009; it was she who encouraged me to gain broader exposure to Asian American studies by attending the Association of Asian American Studies’ (AAAS) annual meetings. Because of this, I am thankful to have had a brilliant visit to Evanston during the 2015 AAAS meeting when we stayed one block away from Northwestern at the Hilton Orrington, during which I discovered that Evanston is home to all of the familiar Asian American cuisines that have been part of my diet on the West Coast.

I suspect that it is also because of Carolyn that Northwestern’s conception of Asian American studies – far from being antagonistic to religion (as it is in other parts of the discipline, particularly those that take to a very particular bent of materialist analysis) – understands that religion and even conservative ideologies circulate through Asian American communities as much as secularities, liberal democratic philosophies, and radicalisms. Indeed, Carolyn pioneered the course at Northwestern on Asian American religion, a class that I will also teach, with the encouragement of my new colleagues, who have been very kind to me as I make this transition to their academic home.

For me, Asian American studies is fundamentally about the study of the ideologies that constitute Asian America regardless of whether I subscribe to them or not; as I understand it, this is what it means to be committed to the community as an activist scholar committed to racial justice. As the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire once said of community education: ‘A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.’ As one of my new colleagues, historian Ji-Yeon Yuh, reminded me in one of our earlier conversations, Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed was banned during the 1970s dictatorship in the Republic of Korea, which means that it was photocopied and secretly circulated and therefore seriously treasured as a text of liberation during the minjung movement, a theological activism that has come also to influence Asian American theological politics. Put this way, I do not really understand how it is intellectually plausible to sunder materialist and theological analyses in Asian America, and my new colleagues seem quite open to me thinking this way.

I am thus very excited about my upcoming appointment at Northwestern. As I see the course list that I discussed with my colleague Shalini Shankar and with which I’ll be working closely with Ji-Yeon over the next year, it is reflective of what I understand to be the modus operandi of Northwestern’s Asian American Studies Program. In the Fall Quarter, I’ll be teaching a course on Comparative Minority Conservatisms, examining the way that conservative ideologies have circulated through communities of color, especially in light of the 2016 federal elections in the United States. In the Winter Quarter, I’ll be teaching Asian American history (a survey course that introduces themes in Asian American studies) and Chinese American Experience (a course that looks at themes in Chinese American studies, which is the focus of my research in Asian American studies). In the Spring Quarter, I’ll teach Asian American religion (which was Carolyn’s course, although I think I will give it my own spin as well) and Asian American social movements (which will give students a sense of the rich tradition of Asian American radicalism). This course list should show my commitment to teaching through a variety of ideologies circulating through Asian American communities, what those ideologies may have to do with religion and secularity in Asian America, and how understanding these ideologies helps with the cause of racial justice.

I’m very excited about going to Northwestern, and I hope to be blogging from there as well, so I will keep you posted about how things unfold there with both my teaching and how my research on occupy movements and theology in Asia and Asian America my research on occupy movements and theology in Asia and Asian America unfolds.

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Entry on ‘Christianity’ in SAGE: Asian American Society: An Encyclopedia

I’m very excited to have recently received news that the SAGE: Asian American Society: An Encyclopedia (ed. Mary Yu Danico), in which I have an entry on Christianity, has been published. These 2000+ pages of Asian American sociological goodness are going to serve us well for much time to come.

I took a historical look at the literature on Asian American Christianities in my piece and observed that Christianities in Asian American society are both very diverse and very focused on the question of assimilation into white American society. Tracing Christian practice in Asian American communities from missionary encounters (both Protestant and Catholic) down to the articulation by an early twentieth-century second generation that their identities were ‘East/West’ hybrids, I also explored the impact of the Asian American Movement on developing liberation theologies and social justice movements led by Asian American Christians. Finally, I wrapped up with what I interpret as a resurgent conservatism both within Asian American Christian evangelical communities and among those who seek to police Asian American Christian faith, both Protestant and Catholic. I also have a reading of the Los Angeles Koreatown riots in 1992 here that I plan to develop into further research.

I’m very thankful to Mary Yu Danico (Cal Poly Pomona) for taking my piece on board, and I’m grateful to Jane Iwamura (University of the West) for referring me for this project. This was a great way to start finding my bearings during this postdoctoral fellowship. I also used this piece in its manuscript form to push hard for the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States to include much more about Asian Americans. I’m hoping to develop many of the ideas that I’ve suggested in this piece into journal articles, and I’m grateful after writing this to realize that for all the talk about there being a dearth of material on Asian American Christianities, our field has plenty of material with which to work.

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.

CFP: AAR 2013: ANARCS

Call for Papers | AAR 2013: Asian North American Religions, Cultures, and Society Group

The Group invites and welcomes individual papers, panel proposals, and nontraditional ways of sharing scholarly work that address:

  • Issues of empire, militarization, after-war trauma and memory;
  • Creative resistance practices;
  • Asian American Catholic life and Baltimore as the bastion of American Catholic life;
  • Asian American religious life in the greater Baltimore-DC metropolitan area;
  • Multiracial/Interracial bodies and theologies;
  • Exploring categories of “North” or “Asian” in Asian North American religion, culture, and society;
  • Intersections with Native American and indigenous critiques of settler colonialism; and
  • Any other critical aspect of Asian North American religion/s, culture, and society.

In addition to paper and panel submissions, we encourage the submission of nontraditional ways of sharing scholarly work and welcome a variety of formats to promote interactive sessions. Submissions are made directly to AAR.

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.

Book Review: Issei Buddhism in the Americas

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I recently had the privilege of reviewing Duncan Ryuken Williams and Tomoe Moriya’s edited volume, Issei Buddhism in the Americas (2010) for the Journal of Asian American Studies. It’s out in the most recent issue (15.2).

I liked the book quite a bit, and I think it shows in the review. I was really struck by how much of it was done in relation to Asian American Christianity and was very intrigued by its call to ramp up Buddhist studies for a more comprehensive contribution to religious studies, Asian American studies, and Asian studies. It features some very strong essays that serve as great introductions to various scholars in Asian American Buddhist studies and presents the key sources of historic first-generation Japanese American forms of Buddhist practice and teaching very well. I also appreciated them reaching out to Latin American and Canadian contexts as well in an attempt to paint a fuller picture of the Americas.

Thank you, JAAS, for inviting me to write this review. I want to thank Cindy Wu, the book reviews editor, for managing the review process so well. I also thank Rudy Busto (UC Santa Barbara) and Sharon Suh (Seattle University) for their very encouraging and constructive comments on earlier drafts of the piece and for being such inspiring mentors as the field of Asian North American religious studies continues to grow.