CLASS: Comparative Minority Conservatisms (Fall 2016)

During the 2016 Fall Quarter at Northwestern University, I will offer my first course in the Asian American Studies Program on Comparative Minority Conservatisms. In this course, we will compare the circulation of ‘conservative’ ideologies through communities of color. Here’s the course description:

As the 2016 federal elections arrive on our doorstep, much of the popular commentary has revolved around “conservatism,” especially the phenomenon of racial minorities embracing social, economic, and political forms of conservative ideology. But what is “conservatism,” and what are conservatives, especially those who are people of color, trying to conserve? In this course, we will explore the ideological content of various strains of American conservatisms as a way of exploring what ideology itself is and how it operates in communities of color. To do this, we will read texts in the “conservative tradition,” compare them to texts and events produced by minority conservatives, and discuss their relationship with the racial justice tradition of ethnic studies, especially (but not limited to) Asian American studies. In the first part of the course, we will read Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind in relation to student activist movements since the 1960s, the communities that they created, and the minority conservatives who challenged them. In the second half, we will read Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution to compare “the conservative tradition” with contemporary articulations of minority conservatism. We will also spend some time on the stereotype of the “model minority,” which is why this course will be of special interest to those in Asian American studies. This course should also appeal to students in ethnic studies more broadly, as well as those interested in political philosophy.

When a syllabus is ready, I will post it as an update here. I look forward to teaching this course and hope that many will sign up for this class, especially as we explore together parts of Asian American studies – and ethnic studies more generally – that have not been covered much in the discipline, but (as I see it) is an excellent alternative way of entering into the practice of ethnic studies and racial justice activism. I also see this as very much of interest to students who simply want to understand conservatism and its contortions during the current 2016 federal election in the United States.

See you in the Fall, Northwestern!

UPDATE: Syllabus is here!

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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.

Vancouver Sun: Douglas Todd, ‘We Must Stand On Guard for Canada’

In the Vancouver Sun, Douglas Todd has given the Canadian public a fascinating discussion piece on the limits of liberal multicultural democracy. I’m quoted in the piece, so I thought I might offer a few critical reflections in light of what Todd says.

Todd’s piece takes its departure from what he describes as the rise of ‘religious extremists’ and what Immigration Minister Jason Kenney calls ‘homegrown religious radicals’ due to contemporary Canadian migration policy. Interviewing Liberal politician Ujjal Dosanjh and the Laurier Institute’s Farid Rohani, Todd finds these liberals of colour are themselves concerned that new migration trends to Canada are bringing more forms of abusive patriarchy within families, opposition to interracial and interreligious marriage, refusal to fit into the unspoken secular sartorial code in Canadian workplaces, and homophobic discrimination. On that last point, Todd reaches out in collegial fashion and quotes me: ‘Both Rohani and Dosanjh are aware of widespread anti-homosexual beliefs among many religious immigrants, which can lead to actual discrimination. And University of B.C.-trained scholar Justin Tse has cited the strong degree to which many Chinese Christian immigrants find Canada’s human rights laws regarding homosexuality “ridiculous.”’ The main point of the article, in turn, is that Canadian liberal democratic values are under strain from these new migrations and thus needed to be guarded more carefully. What’s smart about the article is that Todd seldom quotes from white Canadian public figures; all of the quotes are from people of colour, including me.

In many ways, Todd represents me fairly well. The attitude that Canadian human rights legislation is ‘ridiculous’ is a direct reference to my dissertation, which was cited in the South China Morning Post saying the same thing – that many of conservative Cantonese evangelicals with whom I spoke in Vancouver felt that Canadian human rights legislation was ‘ridiculous.’ That this is what my dissertation actually finds among conservative Cantonese evangelicals in Vancouver means that I feel very well-quoted and thankful that Todd has reached out yet again in a such a fine showing of collegiality.

But because this is a discussion piece, I also feel that I’m allowed to register a bit of collegial dissent from Todd’s conclusions. This is because I think Todd and I, while recognizing each other as colleagues in the public forum, are working on two fundamentally different social projects.

Gérard Bouchard (left) and Charles Taylor (right) listen intently.

While Todd makes the case that Canada has to guard its liberal multicultural democratic values, my project is to interrogate why it is that some migrants — in my case, some (but not all) Cantonese-speaking Protestants — were opposing the very liberal things that Todd wants to guard. I don’t pass judgment; I ask why. This is because the social (and arguably, political) thrust of my academic project is in many ways informed by Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor and his call for mutlicultural societies to practice the ‘politics of recognition.’ What this means is that various communities in the modern world have taken on certain identities that they don’t want to be unrecognized or misrecognized; misrecognition, in fact, can be viewed as an insult. What we have to do, Taylor proposes, is to recognize the other — to get past simple disagreements to understand precisely how the other’s identity is formed and how that othered identity is in fact part of the ‘we’ in this society. Taylor himself has put that into political practice: at a time when controversy erupted in the mid-2000s over head-coverings in Quebec (as Todd notes about Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values, it’s still under contestation), Taylor teamed up with Gérard Bouchard to form a commission to get every voice possible on the record about the practice of multiculturalism/interculturalism in Quebec, including all the nasty stuff people wanted to say about the hijab, niqab, and sundry. The result was a report titled Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation, in which Taylor and Bouchard painstakingly detail the problems with interculturalism in Quebec, report on every possible voice that they heard during their time on the commission, and propose that what’s needed is an open secularism, a sort of society where religion is not excluded but in fact included in everyday public deliberations.

In many ways, that’s what that section in my dissertation on Cantonese evangelicals in Vancouver calling Canadian human rights legislation ‘ridiculous’ is trying to do. To stop at that assertion of ‘ridiculousness’ is to cut the project short right at the beginning. If you read the dissertation (yes, it is publicly accessible), you’ll find that my question then goes to why these Cantonese evangelicals thought that Canadian human rights legislation tended to be ‘ridiculous.’ As the South China Morning Post succinctly quoted me in May, it’s because the sort of rights-based legislation around sexuality (hate crime bills, same-sex marriage, transgender rights, etc.) went against a certain vision of a ‘rational, orderly society.’ As I discovered, this wasn’t so much a ‘culture’ thing — ‘Chineseness’ was frequently invoked and qualified by my interviewees — but a performative agenda that understood best practices in civil society to be the creation of private, family-based economic units in which the second generation could be trained to become productive, private citizens in Canada. This means that sexuality is only the tip of the iceberg; other issues that contributed to what they might call the ‘irrationalization’ of society included the legalization of marijuana (medical or otherwise), harm-reduction drug treatment (some spoke of methadone; a few contested halfway houses in their neighbourhoods; most spoke of Vancouver’s inSite safe-injection program), the Anglican Church of Canada’s embrace of religious and sexual pluralism, and the building and expansion of casinos. The Cantonese evangelical public activism that propels this vision is certainly not un-Canadian; it is Chinese Christians wading into the fray of the partisan debates around what it means to be Canadian. That is, the fact that it is a socially conservative, privatized understanding of Canadianness does not make it un-Canadian; it makes it part of the debate around how Canada should be constituted as a nation.

My dissent, then, from Todd’s otherwise excellent, provocative discussion piece is that Todd seems to be portraying new immigrants, including the Chinese Christians that I studied, as bringing their religiously-based homeland politics to contest our hard-won liberal, multicultural, democratic Canadian values. But as my dissertation clearly states, the reasons that some Cantonese evangelicals thought that their rational, orderly vision of society was under assault tended to be modern and secular. It wasn’t a sort of backward homeland politics being imposed onto Canadian values. After all, this sort of politics of privatization comes from the need not to protect ‘culture,’ but as a business strategy in a globalizing world. This sort of rationality may be ideologically ‘conservative,’ but it is rooted in a very modern version of how society should operate. It may be theologically informed (as I argue elsewhere, what isn’t?!), but the reasons given for this rational, orderly society sound rather more to do with the very secular goal of maximizing private participation in the market economy. One may not agree with this sort of vision for a ‘rational, orderly society,’ especially one so rooted in the politics of privatization. But one cannot disagree that it is a vision.

In other words, I’m collegially dissenting from Todd’s piece because I don’t think that Canadians need to stand on guard for liberal, democratic, multicultural values. Instead, what’s more needed is a recognition that the ‘other’ is one of us, locked into the deliberations of democracy of which we are all a part. Contrary to Todd’s interview with Tung Chan in which Chan says that we need to ‘educate’ people and then let them go their merry way, this public deliberation is itself educative. It’s because it’s in deliberation — public, honest, open, and even heated deliberation (like the Bouchard-Taylor Report) — that we realize that the solution is never ideological entrenchment, but openness to the other as fellow citizens, persons even. Talking softens us. What perhaps needs emphasis is not so much the part of the national anthem to ‘stand on guard’ for Canada. It’s rather that if this is indeed ‘our home and native land,’ well, then, it is ours together. We need to keep talking.

Vancouver Sun: Metro Vancouver’s Chinese Christians wrestle with morality of homosexuality

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by the Vancouver Sun‘s religion and diversity journalist Douglas Todd. His column piece on me was posted online on Friday; the print version should be out in the next few days. As usual, I’ll say a bit here about how the whole interview process went, what I think of the piece, and how this feeds into academic work. For my part, it certainly was an interesting experience being in the interviewee’s seat after talking to some 140 Chinese Christians in the Pacific Rim region and conducting 13 focus groups there as well, and it’s certainly very stimulating to read how my work is being interpreted in the press. The interpreter is being interpreted; how fun!

Douglas Todd contacted me back in May when the Statistics Canada release came out on ethnicity, language, visible minority status, and religion. We had a brief conversation about the statistics, and my hint to him at the time was to make sure that whatever he did with the large Chinese population that identifies as ‘not religiously affiliated’ (about 61%), don’t write them off as ‘non-religious,’ as many engage in popular familial religions, may hold various views of the supernatural, and may even be influenced by Christian environments, such as schools in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and various parts of Southeast Asia. Although he did not incorporate my comments at the time, we developed a professional and collegial relationship through the process, and I’m fairly pleased with the series of articles generated from the statistics, although I had the occasional question about differences of opinion that I had about how to interpret the data. I suppose that’s how we academics are trained–to be critical, but always in a spirit of collegiality.

In any case, Todd said even at that time that he wanted to do a longer piece on my work, which, after a conversation with my supervisor David Ley, we decided would be good practice for these late stages in my doctoral studies. Indeed, I reviewed some of my comments to Todd during our conversation about statistics and found that I had given him a fairly technical academic answer to his questions. Yet as we spoke, Todd reassured me that my academic comments were exactly what he wanted (which, as I’m told, is unusual for a journalist) and that we would bridge academia and journalism in our piece, as he had himself been awarded an honorary doctorate from the Vancouver School of Theology (congratulations, Doug!), and thank you for being able to pull quotes from what I imagine must be a very difficult interview from which to pull, as I like to qualify many of the things that I say.

His call came last Friday. We set up a time for this Monday, and we spoke at length for about two hours about my thesis work, as well as my various theoretical and popular interests. I also sent him various academic articles I had written, emphasizing my interest in both ‘grounded theologies’ and in the empirical work of Cantonese migrations in the Pacific region with a religious spin. There were also popular articles in the batch as well, such as the Schema autobiographical piece and the Ricepaper pieces on Ken Shigematsu and on ‘how Asian religions aren’t that exotic.’ I suppose this may be why he calls me a ‘scholarly dynamo,’ although I certainly do not feel that way most days.

Because the conversation revolved around my thesis’s interest in how Cantonese-speaking Protestants engage the public spheres and civil societies of Metro Vancouver, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Hong Kong SAR, the discussion naturally veered toward the sexuality issues without us even attempting to get there. As you will see in the piece, we spoke at length about some of the pressing issues in Vancouver around parental rights activism, the drama between Liberal and Conservative Chinese Christian politicians vying for the vote in Richmond, and the Anglican crisis in the Diocese of New Westminster.  What I did was to try to shed light on the internal conversations that I have been hearing in relation to what I have read in more popular and academic portrayals. Todd is right to say that the press has been interested in this story for quite some time, himself being one of this literature’s main contributors. There are also other journalists like Marci McDonald (in The Armageddon Factor), John Ibbitson and Joe Friesen at the Globe and Mail, and Chad Skelton at the Vancouver Sun, who have all written about Chinese Christians engaging the Canadian public sphere, and sexuality has often come up as an item of interest. Indeed, one might say that their work lies somewhere close to the genesis of my doctoral project, for if they were examining the conversation as outsiders, I thought that it might be interesting to tackle the question of what imaginations and practices constitute Cantonese Protestant public engagements from within the community itself.

I should note that this body of journalistic work has often been met with mixed reviews by both conservative and progressive Asian Canadians for different reasons, yet both because of the work’s philosophically (and arguably, politically) liberal framework. By ‘liberal,’ I don’t mean the archetypal open-minded opposition to ‘conservatism,’ but the philosophical bent that attempts to seek an ‘overlapping consensus’ from various groups that have bracketed their communities of identity to seek some sort of abstract common ground for political life together. On the right, this work has been seen as ‘liberal’–as in too far to the left–because it is viewed as generally unsympathetic to a case against gay rights; some Chinese Christians have often decried how they have been portrayed as a propaganda-spreading community that is generally top down and unwilling to integrate into Canadian civil society, while many others protest the ‘overlapping consensus’ approach as not paying attention to how their views might be part of a majority Canadian view that is being contested by a vocal minority.  A relevant situation was in 2011, when Todd’s Chinese New Year piece was read as saying that Chinese Christian communities were unwilling to integrate into a liberal society, sparking outrage within Chinese Christian churches and a fairly assertive rebuttal from the Vancouver Chinese Evangelical Ministerial Fellowship that Chinese Christians were Canadian too. On the left, however, this body of literature has also been criticized as overly ‘liberal’–as in too far to the right–in their critique of Asian Canadian identity politics and their recent assertions that the racializing wrongs of the past can be attributed purely to economic reasons. In either case, this body of work has often been done by those who are not themselves Asian Canadian, writing often as outsiders attempting to write about a complex community. With that view in mind, I also regard this work critically while valuing it precisely for its outsider perspectives, views that can come into very interesting conversation with insider accounts, for at a methodological level, there is no monopoly on knowledge by either insiders or outsiders to a community.

All that is to say that it was pleasantly interesting to be interpreted by someone with likely a different philosophical, political, and theoretical bent from mine. As he notes, I do thank ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ in my MA thesis (and my B.A. [Hons.] as well, and it will probably make it into my PhD), and I have a whole chapter there detailing my theological orientation at the time. (I also have a positionality chapter in my PhD.) As those who have read the grounded theologies piece will know, my theological leanings are heavily shaped by the new critical re-assessments of the secularization thesis at the nexus of theology and religious studies, a reformulation of concepts like ‘theology,’ ‘religion,’ and the ‘secular’ in ways that on the one hand promise to transcend the culture wars of our time and on the other have potential to demonstrate that ‘secular’ and ‘liberal’ are veiled theological concepts themselves. I’m not saying that my views would be diametrically opposed to Todd’s, but I am saying that our theoretical and philosophical approaches are probably fairly divergent. That said, with the exception of the blow-up around Todd’s 2011 piece, he has followed the Chinese Christian story very closely since the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, covering stories such as the Chinese New Year celebrations at Oak Ridge Mall in the early 1990s, Bill Chu’s work with First Nations since the late 1990s, shifting immigrant voting patterns in the 2000s, Chinese Christian involvement in the Anglican Communion’s woes since synods in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the activism around Tenth Avenue Alliance Church’s challenge to the city’s requirement for them to obtain a social services permit to feed the homeless from 2007 to 2008. In other words, I’m a bit flattered that my PhD work is the latest episode in Douglas Todd’s long career of covering Chinese Christians, and I was delighted and honoured to converse with him, especially because I knew that we would have a fun conversation given our theoretical differences. (It is hard to have conversations with those who are exactly the same as oneself.)

Now for the piece itself: I am generally pleased by how the article panned out (if you must know, ‘generally pleased’ in academic-speak is generally high praise). The headline of the piece is ‘Metro Vancouver’s Chinese Christians wrestle with morality of homosexuality,’ and the new tagline just posted reads, ‘Community has been in the forefront of opposition to gay rights, but it’s not a unanimous stand.’ As I’d point out to the editors, while the title is catchy and will certainly lead to the article being more read to my dully titled blog posts, the article is not only about homosexuality, nor is my thesis work, and Todd understands that and tries to signal that as well. After all, my thesis work is about ‘the public sphere,’ not only about sexuality issues, although it is true that sexuality issues are fascinating theoretical cases for studies of the public sphere as they challenge public-private boundaries. To that end, I hope that the small, yet necessarily incomplete, picture we painted in the article of the Chinese Christians does not make it sound like they are only concerned about sexuality issues, but about a broad range of topics that generally surround how they negotiate the boundaries between public and private spheres.

As for the content of the comments, here is a brief word for the methodologically curious. The Vancouver research is based on 50 key informant semi-structured interviews with either Cantonese-speaking Christians or those who have worked closely with them, and they are supplemented by three focus groups among Cantonese-speaking Protestants whom I met in Burnaby, Coquitlam, and Richmond. As my project is limited to ‘Cantonese,’ I did not expound on the Mandarin-speaking Christians (both Catholic and Protestant) in Vancouver, although my MA project touched on how Cantonese-speaking congregations deal with their Mandarin-speaking newcomers and neighbours (and a comment from that work made its way into the article). As this is a qualitative project, my approach was to ask key informants to share their stories and to put together the picture of their public engagements from their responses; I think of them as people who can shed insider knowledge on various churches, organizations, and networks from whose information a general portrait of their public activities can be extracted. Each of the statements in the article is defensible from the data; in fact, reading through the piece, I think immediately of key quotes from the data that come to mind. I am especially happy that Todd went to the nuance of talking about the balance of ‘rights,’ as this was one of the core issues in the Vancouver site.

The tagline ‘Community has been in the forefront of opposition to gay rights, but it’s not a unanimous stand,’ is admittedly a bit cheeky, but I see how the editors might get that impression from the piece itself. For my part, my reading of the situation is that there is no one ‘Chinese community’ as a monolithic body. Instead, respondents often spoke of the Chinese population in Vancouver as a ‘pot of scattered sand’ (一盆散沙) and of their frustrations that it was difficult to mobilize people for any sort of political action, even when it came to the sexuality issues. Moreover, some were upset that their second generation did not hold to their strong views on sexual normativity, be it for biblical reasons or for essentialized cultural reasons. Breaking down this conversation, what I found was that the fissures among Chinese Christians became extremely important for telling the story, especially to counteract the narrative in the press that a unified ‘Chinese community’ with well-defined ‘Chinese community leaders’ were able to mobilize effective ethnic political action. Quite the contrary: I found that there were debates about what was religious and what was secular, what was public and what was private, how children should be educated and what parents should do about it, who their leaders were and why they should be (or should not be) acknowledged, etc. While some also complained to me that this disunity lacked a sort of harmony, my sense was that these internal deliberations were themselves the stuff of democracy. In other words, bringing out these internal complexities and conversations is a way of demonstrating that Chinese Canadians are actively grappling with how to be democratic citizens, hardly the picture of a community that is uninterested in ‘integration.’

In other words, I’m fairly happy about the level of complexity with which Todd is willing to grapple. As I said, I’m often told that journalists do not have the patience for academic ramblings (that is to say, our closely argued theses), and I’m grateful that Todd was willing to take the time to wrestle with the nuances.

And that brings me finally to a word about public academia. My sense is that journalists and academics both perform a remarkable service to democratic deliberations because they seek to inform the public forum. My hope is that this piece can be taken as a sort of model for how the two sectors can engage each other (or perhaps, how journalists can ask pointed questions to academics to get the quotes they need!), as journalists and academics are not the same, but we can certainly complement each other. In fact, we need each other. Where we academics perform the service of close argument and teaching students and readers to do the same, journalists have a sort of immediacy in their dissemination that is also a profound public service; they are fast and direct, where we are slow and cautious, and I think that’s where we strike an excellent balance when we work together. This experience has been a good first lesson for me in interacting with a very patient journalist who is actually willing to hear my complex thoughts and to represent them with careful nuance and skill; I suspect that some in the future will be less patient with me. I also appreciate how Todd demonstrates in this article how one can represent someone from a different philosophical bent studying people who are very different from himself and come out with this level of insight.

So thank you, Doug, and I certainly hope that this piece will feed nuance and complexity into an ongoing public conversation that seriously needs that level of depth to be able to grapple with the difficult issues so skillfully articulated in this article.

Asia-Pacific Worlds in Motion V: Migration Beyond Borders (St. John’s College, UBC)

I am currently at a graduate student conference called Asia-Pacific Worlds in Motion V: Migration Beyond Borders at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) St. John’s College. This is a conference co-organized by graduate students at UBC and the National University of Singapore started by my friend and colleague Mark Lawrence Santiago in 2008.  I was a co-organizer of its third iteration (Mobile Identities) in 2010, also at St. John’s College, and I play a marginal alumnus role on this year’s committee, though I’ve been appointed the point person on site for the conference (although the credit for organizing really goes to largely to the co-chairs, Lachlan Barber and Kara Shin).

I presented in a panel this afternoon on Migrant Families and Youth, along with my fellow co-panelists from UBC’s Educational Studies program, Yao Xiao and Ee-Seul Yoon, as well as our discussant, education and family scholar Dr. Mona Gleason. Yao presented on ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: educational narratives of migrant families in urban China,’ and Ee-Seul spoke on ‘Border anxiety in migrant youths’ phenomenology of secondary school choice in Vancouver.’ My presentation was titled Re-working Family Values: ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ approaches to family and religion in Hong Kong. Here’s the abstract:

In its contemporary usage, the term ‘family values’ has come to evoke strong feelings, usually along the lines of sexuality.  The term has usually been employed by religious groups, and those who dub themselves ‘pro-family values’ might argue that the term encompasses more than sexuality and should translate more broadly into public policies that encourage more healthy family psychology, thus discouraging gambling, drug abuse, and pornography while encouraging best parental practices.  In this paper, I will explore a neglected dimension of ‘family values’ by examining Protestant and Catholic approaches to the ‘right of abode’ in Hong Kong.  A key policy issue under contestation in Hong Kong is the rights of those entering Hong Kong to reside there, especially with regards to temporary foreign domestic workers and pregnant women from the People’s Republic of China entering Hong Kong to give birth.  The Protestant and Catholic approaches to this migration issue are strikingly different.  While evangelical Protestant leaders have concentrated on the sexual and psychological dimensions of family values, they view these migrations as undocumented, and thus illegal.  However, a coalition of Catholics and progressive Protestants who are said to be more liberal on sexual issues approach the issue precisely as one of family values, for to deny the right of abode would divide families.  I draw on 43 key informant interviews with both Protestant and Catholic leaders, in Hong Kong, 5 focus groups with Protestant Christians, and documentary evidence to triangulate the oral data.  This paper thus introduces the term ‘family values’ into a discussion of transnational families and migration policy and argues that ideologies of family must be more carefully examined in Asia-Pacific migration studies, as they have direct relevance to migration policy.

As a panel, we are very grateful to Mona for responding about the ways each of our papers explored how families constitute the nation-state by making the personal political, with the state and families themselves constructing all sorts of borders to conceptualize the family.

We also had a fantastic keynote talk this morning from my friend and co-author Dr. Johanna Waters on ‘Education Beyond Borders? some implications of contemporary educational migrations,’ in which she examined the stories of failure emerging from international education as well as its domestication through extension campuses in post-colonial sites. Tomorrow morning, Dr. Eric Thompson will speak on ‘Singapore perspectives on migration research: a review.

This conference is always an excellent space for conversation because of the interdisciplinarity of the participants, and what I have experienced so far has been very productive. I’m very excited about the next two days.

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.

American Academy of Religion + Society of Biblical Literature, San Francisco, CA, 19-22 November 2011

This year, I am presenting two papers at the joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. It will take place from 19-22 November 2011 in San Francisco, CA at the Moscone Center and surrounding hotels.

Here are my abstracts.

For the American Academy of Religion:
Sunday, 20 September 2011, 3:00-4:30 PM.
Sponsored by the Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society, our theme is: Evangelism, Education, and Leadership: Transnational Strategies and Local Adaptations in Asian North American Religious Communities.
Drawing from case studies of Evangelical Diasporic Chinese in Vancouver, Indo-Caribbean Hindu practices in New York City, and Japanese and European American Buddhists in Seattle, the papers in this interdisciplinary panel provide a comparative framework for considering ways that local Asian North American religious communities utilize cross-cultural and transnational strategies and frameworks in adapting to changing circumstances and traversing divisions shaped by generational, migration, ethnic, racial, and national boundaries. The papers also consider new challenges and tensions created by these strategies.

Courtney T. Goto, Boston University, Presiding
Russell Jeung, San Francisco State University, Discussant

Evangelism, Eternity, and the Everyday: Ambivalent Reconciliation in a Chinese Canadian Christian Church in Metro Vancouver, BC
Christian evangelism and proselytism has often been seen as a problematic form of religious imposition. Recent scholarship in religious studies, however, has been more ambivalent toward proselytization as they are caught between the tension of allowing religious duty while cognizant of colonial advances (Han 2009; Casanova 2010; Sturm and Dittmer 2010; Megoran 2010). This paper examines the grounded practice of Christian evangelism in a transnational Hongkonger church in Metro Vancouver in British Columbia through a nine-month congregational ethnography in 2008 that included 38 semi-structured interviews with 40 participants. First, evangelism is articulated as a strategy for eternal family togetherness that has created a demand for transnational speakers from Hong Kong at evangelistic meetings as well as a debate over the nature of second-generation English-speaking ministries. Second, Hongkongers practicing evangelism have unexpectedly found that this Christian practice breaks down everyday geopolitical barriers between themselves and new migrants from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This paper thus portrays Christian proselytization as an ambivalent practice of intra-family and geopolitical reconciliation within a Chinese Canadian congregational context.

Other presentations in this session:
Michele Verma, Rice University
How Transnational Education Shapes Indo-Caribbean Hindu Traditions in the United States

Sharon Suh, Seattle University
New Euro-American Dharma Protectors: Jodoshinshu in Transition

For the Society of Biblical Literature:
Saturday, 19 November 2011, 5:30-7:00 PM, Hilton Hotel, Van Ness Room
Sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity (ISAAC), the session is entitled: ISAAC Fifth Anniversary Celebration.
As we prepare for the next five years of advocacy for the study of Asian American Christianity, we would like pause for a moment to reflect on our work. Please join us for our Fifth Anniversary Celebration in San Francisco two Saturdays from now.

America, Return to God? Chinese American Christian conservatives and Asian American Christianity
America, Return to God was a publication released by the Great Commission Center International in the late 2000s. Its premise was that the declining morality of American civil society, mainly in sexual practice, will lead to eschatological disaster for the nation. While praised by some evangelical leaders, it also garnered attention both in the secular press and among some Christians as what was perceived as a homophobic publication. What is seldom interrogated, however, is America, Return to God as a Chinese Christian missionary publication in the tradition of the Lausanne Movement. Such an analysis reveals a dilemma in Asian American Christianity by problematizing the conservative-progressive divide in these circles. This paper fills that gap in the literature. It argues that America, Return to God should be read as a Chinese evangelical compilation of American Christian articles on public morality as part of an effort to fulfill the Great Commission with social and cultural awareness of American issues. First, I perform a critical reading of America, Return to God, highlighting the theology of the nation at work in its articles. Second, I demonstrate that this publication is part of a Chinese Christian missionary effort on the part of its founder, Christian evangelical patriarch Thomas Wang, underscoring the integral role of Chinese Christians to global evangelical movements. Third, I reveal that America, Return to God presents Asian American Christianity with the dilemma of whether or not to allow conservative evangelical voices to speak for Asian American evangelicals. This paper advances Asian American Christian studies by beginning a conversation on how Asian American Christians have engaged America with their own particular theology of the nation.

Other presentations in this session:
Tim Tseng, ISAAC
ISAAC’s First Five Years

Book Announcements:
Young Lee Hertig, Fuller Theological Seminary, Mirrored Reflections: Reframing Biblical Characters (Wipf and Stock, 2010)

Russell Yee, Graduate Theological Union, Worship on the Way: Exploring Asian North American Christian Experience (Judson Press, 2012)

I welcome engagement on both of these papers and can be reached at jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca.