American Academy of Religion 2015 | Atlanta, GA

I was very happy to be given the opportunity to present two papers at the American Academy of Religion (AAR) from November 21-24, 2015. I also serve as a steering committee member for the Asian North American Religions, Culture, and Society group, so it is always good to see friends there as well. We were particularly proud to host a panel session on the new edited volume Asian American Christian Ethics, which my partner-in-crime in Asian American religious ethics Grace Kao (Claremont) had a hand in co-edited (along with ethicist Ilsup Ahn).

I’m also a steering committee member for the newly formed Chinese Christianities Seminar, and my peers – through no coercion of mine and with my abstained vote – generously allowed me to present some work on Chinese Anglicanism in Vancouver in the new session. Moderated by Jonathan Tan (Case Western Reserve University), my colleagues in the session included Christopher Sneller (King’s College London), Stephanie M. Wong (Georgetown), Mu-tien Chiou (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), and Di Kang. My paper, entitled ‘A Tale of Three Bishops: Chineseness and the Global City in Vancouver’s Anglican Realignment‘ has the following abstract:

This paper theorizes the ‘Chineseness’ of Anglicans in Vancouver engaging with the global Anglican realignment as ideological, especially through their competing visions of Vancouver as a global city, an urban economic center of political and cultural influence. Focusing on the split between Vancouver’s local bishop Michael Ingham and two Cantonese-speaking realignment bishops in Vancouver (Silas Ng and Stephen Leung), my central argument is that Anglicans on all sides of the realignment deployed their self-defined ideological constructs of Chineseness in a contest over how to theologize Vancouver as a global city. The three Vancouver episcopal visions under debate concerned whether Vancouver should be conceptualized as a site for interreligious pluralism, spiritual purification, or civil multicultural discourse. Based on key informant interviews in Vancouver, San Francisco, and Hong Kong, this contention advances the study of Chinese Christianity by suggesting that the cross-regional engagements of Chinese Christians may in fact motivated by civic concerns to globalize their own cities.

We were guided as a seminar by the very able Alexander Chow (Edinburgh), who is establishing himself as quite the authority on Chinese Christianities worldwide. I’m very thankful for his collegial support and am always pleased to hear his feedback on my work. I’m also very thankful to have met Ting Guo, a postdoctoral fellow at Purdue, at this seminar.

In addition, I was part of a quad session entitled ‘Enter the State: Revisiting the Making of Post-1965 Asian American Religion,’ with co-presenters Ren Ito (Emmanuel College, Toronto), Melissa Borja (CUNY Staten Island), Paul Chang (UC Riverside), and Philip Deslippe (UCSB); our respondent was Carolyn Chen (UC Berkeley), and the session was moderated by Isaac Weiner (Ohio State). My paper, entitled ‘Restructuring the Church: Cantonese Protestant organizations and economistic states,’ had the following abstract:

This paper examines the transformation of Chinese American evangelical congregations and faith-based organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area into corporate business models in the 1990s and 2000s. Based on ethnographic interviews with 47 key informants, the central argument is that these business models facilitated Chinese evangelical transactions with both the American and Chinese governments in the hope of shaping public policy on both sides of the Pacific. While these dreams of public engagement date back to the 1970s and 1980s, this paper also shows that the 1989 Tiananmen Beijing Spring’s aftermath intensified these efforts, leading to the restructuring of several key churches and parachurch organizations. These efforts demonstrate that fantasies of state ideologies as well as encounters with governments revamped the landscape of Chinese churches in the Bay Area, advancing the view that states are central to the formation of Asian American religious communities.

I am very excited about the comments that I received on thsi paper, especially the push from Carolyn Chen to think harder about the church in relation to neoliberal states.

I enjoyed my time in Atlanta. This was an AAR where I had some real intellectual engagements and came away feeling like a stronger scholar. I am thankful for those with whom I had conversations and am excited for next year’s iteration of this conference to see them again.

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.

Schema: Just Another Chinese Christian?

I recently had the privilege to contribute to Schema Magazine’s “But Where Are You Really From?” series. The series asks writers to write a real answer to a question series that’s posed to persons of various ethnic backgrounds in North America.

Q: Where are you from?

A: _______

Q: Oh, but where are you really from?

They don’t mention it, but this question series was made apparent in academia through the work of cultural studies scholar Ien Ang in a discussion of multiculturalism in On Not Speaking Chinese.

My answer was titled “Just Another Chinese Christian?”  In many ways, this is a popular positionality piece for the research I’ve been conducting for my doctorate.  In the piece, I deal with my upbringing in Northern California, the diversity of religious communities of which I’ve been a part, and the multiple understandings of Chineseness at play in my life.

The photo credit goes to my uncle in Hong Kong, Yung Wai Leung. Thanks, Goo Jeung!

Enjoy, and if you feel so called, contribute your own answer to Schema Magazine! The editors there, particularly Beth Hong and Sadiya Ansari, who both helped so much with the fine-tuning, are awesome!

PhD Field Work: San Francisco Bay Area II

I am returning to the San Francisco Bay Area for field research from 16 November to 20 December.

During this time, I am hoping to do the following:

  • Finish key informant interviews at Chinese Christian organizations and churches that I didn’t get to in the first round this summer
  • Conduct focus groups with Cantonese-speaking evangelicals on their feedback on what’s going on in civil society and politics
  • Amass an archive of media(print and audio-visual) reports, city planning documents, and church records to help with my project
If you have any leads or would like to be involved, please contact me at jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca.  I will be staying on the East Bay as a home base but will be able to commute throughout the Bay Area.

PhD Field Work: San Francisco Bay Area

I have been in the San Francisco Bay Area since 4 June 2011 and will be here until 19 July 2011.  I am continuing to conduct field work for my PhD project on Cantonese-speaking evangelicals, their conceptions of civil society, and their engagement in society and politics.

I am interested in the following things (although this list is by no means exhaustive):

  • Chinese Christian engagement in local neighborhood politics and social services, including advocacy for the marginalized, entrepreneurial work, and inter-Christian cooperation
  • Engagement with the perceived secularism of San Francisco
  • The issue of same-sex marriage and other family values politics (including anti-gambling activism)
  • Demographic shifts within Chinese Christian communities
  • Interactions between Chinese mainline Protestant groups and Chinese evangelical groups, including the similarities and differences of their engagement with society and politics
  • Chinatown Christian political and social activism
  • Activism around the 1989 Tiananmen incident
  • Comparisons among the City, the East Bay, and the South Bay
  • Engagement with American politics, especially self-identifications with Democrat and Republican
  • Engagement with the People’s Republic of China
If you’d like to be interviewed for this project or know of any leads related to these issues, please contact me at tse.justo@gmail.com or jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca.

Human Ethics Clearance

GREAT NEWS: my application to UBC’s Office of Research Services ethics committee has been approved!

This is one of the interesting things about doing research in North America.  Because of a long history of research with questionable ethics (largely within psychology), many North American universities have decided to screen any research involving human subjects.  This ranges from anything including simple interviews and surveys to more complicated things like deception to get information (which I do NOT engage in).  There’s a science version too for lab subjects and animal safety (which I also don’t do).  All of this gets put under an umbrella at UBC called the Behavioural Research Ethics Board.  I applied for clearance in human subjects.

My application was actually very simple because there weren’t too many ethical risks in my project to begin with.  My project is very simply talking to people in interviews and focus groups, observing people at churches and organizations, and stuff like that.  The key thing about this kind of research is that everything has to be up front, i.e. I have to let people know when I’m taping what they’re saying, I have to let them know that I’m a PhD Candidate doing research, and all the rest of that.  As a very simple formality and also a common courtesy, people that I tape also have to sign consent forms that say that they give “free, informed, and voluntary consent” and that they know what the project is about.  For the record, I use a digital voice recorder that records in mp3s made in Korea that I got from this tech shop in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong that just plugs into the USB port with a wire on my laptop.  I use the recordings as another note-taking device so that I don’t have to scribble down verbatim what everybody says, and I transcribe the interviews and make sure nobody besides me and the person being interviewed hears the interviews or looks at the transcriptions (confidentiality MATTERS!).  I always leave the recorder on the table out in the open, and I never tape secretly.  It’s really just about being forthright that I am an academic researcher interested in Cantonese evangelicals.  That’s not very hard to do, especially because I like the project so much!

The whole process only took about two weeks.  I was put under the category of minimal risk and assigned for expedited review.  This means that really, the project doesn’t have too many ethical risks.  The key thing is just to be honest that I’m doing research.  I think that’s what any decent person would do.

But yes, this means I’m cleared by UBC to do research.  Vancouver, San Francisco, and Hong Kong, here we come!