My colleague Halyna Herasym (Ukrainian Catholic University) and I have been awarded the Singapore Ministry of Education’s Academic Research Fund Tier 1 Grant for our project on Catholic Talk, Social Dreaming: Civil Society Discourse in Ukraine and Hong Kong. It’s our internal research grant awarded by my home institution, Singapore Management University, to seed new research, and we are very grateful to our colleagues for their vote of confidence.
Our project takes as its starting point the recent social movements that began in Ukraine and Hong in 2013-4. Observing the involvement of clergy in both the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong in the Euromaidan and Umbrella Movement protests, we began to wonder how what we call ‘Catholic talk’ might have been used by activists who might not be Catholic themselves — indeed, who are just part of secular civil society — to describe their aspirations. In this way, secular ‘social dreaming’ for societies run by rule of law, democratic governance, human rights, and so on might be informed by the discourses, say, of Catholic social teaching of a variety of registers. These social dreams in both places have gone on into the present, which is why they continue to be relevant now.
Once we’ve filed the required ethics forms at my institution, we’re interested in talking to two groups of people. We want to talk to priests in the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church and the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong about how Catholic social engagement fed into these movements and their ongoing development. We also want to people who were involved in these movements in ways that that activated these social dreams without coinciding with a private organization or political party’s aims. We’ll also gather an archive of audiovisual materials from both church and secular society.
We’re really excited about this upcoming project and hope to get started on it soon. We’re also really thankful to the colleagues who recommended us to receive the grant, to Singapore Management University for granting us the money, and to the Ministry of Education for their investment in our autonomous universities. More soon!
I just put on the finishing touches on the syllabi for the courses I’m teaching here at Singapore Management University in the Office of Core Curriculum for Term 1. Teaching starts next week. Because of the pandemic, all of our Core Curriculum courses will take place online.
I’ve got two offerings this term. I’m continuing as a Core Curriculum faculty member to be part of the team offering the Big Questions course this year, which revolves around the theme of the global and the local. I had the pleasure of piloting a version of this course last term, which was titled ‘Finding Home in a Globalized World.’ Like its predecessor last year on happiness and suffering, it’s an interdisciplinary course for first-year students, whom we encourage to ask the ‘big questions’ from multiple perspectives. In ‘Global and Local,’ we explore how the processes of globalization might be seen from the perspective of ‘the local,’ variously conceived.
The links to the syllabi above show how I, as part of the team that’s rolling out these courses, have come at these topics. Our team circulates a master syllabus, and faculty have discretion in changing some things around to better suit our scholarly interests and pedagogical style.
I also get to teach my own course here this term, which I’ve titled ‘Publics and Privates on the Pacific Rim.’ I often tell a joke, which I’ve told in public, that one time, I was grading an exam — incidentally in a course on geographies of the Pacific Rim for which I served as a teaching assistant five times in a row as a graduate student — and one of my students had meant to write ‘public’ but misspelled it without the ‘l.’ I circled it in bright red and quoted the Princess Bride in my comment: You keep using that word. I do not think you know what it means.
Now I get to teach a course on that whole mishap. We will move through how public and private spaces, and everything in between, are conceived of in the ideological geography of the ‘Pacific Rim,’ the aspirationally liberal zone of market integration between the Asia-Pacific and the Americas that promised so much by way of multiculturalism and world peace.
I’m happy to share these syllabi, especially as my workplace often talks about the sharing culture that we want to see become an ecological norm in our global civil society. If you use them, just give credit where it’s due; say you got the ideas from me, but are running with them in a different direction from me, probably. This is how I teach these courses too. I present strong arguments about how I think through these concepts in order to provoke students into coming up with ideas that may be complementary or even challenging to mine. It’s how to ask big questions, I think. The goal is to develop a generous and generative openness in our intellectual commons. I hope what we do here goes some small way in forming the culture of collective inquiry we will need to thrive in these twenty-first century ecologies.
I have a piece that was published on the thirty-first anniversary of the crackdown on the Tiananmen Beijing Spring on June 4, 1989. It’s in INHERITANCE Magazine.
As the editor notes, this piece was written and produced well before the events of the last week in the United States, where the uprising against police brutality, white supremacy, and anti-blackness due to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others has accelerated into a global protest movement for Black Lives Matter. The truth is that I wrote the piece a few months ago simply to get my thoughts down on my first childhood memory, which is Tiananmen (and which I’ve written about on my old blog in both 2018 and 2019). After a first draft, I got in touch with INHERITANCE, and as we discussed it, it became clear that part of the insight was that learning to feel the world through my body, which my aunties and uncles taught me at the Chinese Christian church where I spent my childhood, could have some things to say about the current pandemic.
Rewriting the piece, I sent it around to some friends and colleagues to see if that link was a stretch. It’s ultimately up to my readers to tell me if it works, but one item of feedback I received from a dear friend was that it was clear that my insights had been influenced by black womanist healers and that I had not acknowledged them. After some initial hesitation to introduce yet another dimension into this piece, I decided that it would be the ethical thing to do to cite black women. The fact that I had to wrestle with this demonstrates that I am implicated in the reflection on anti-blackness that is going on within Asian American communities the world over (‘Asian American’ is not an identity restricted to the United States, but indicative of the global export of American orientalism and its impacts on Asian bodies beyond the nation-state called ‘America’) and that the best work that I can be doing in this moment is not to point fingers at other Asians, but to work from within myself to overcome my internalized racism together with other people of good will.
In this way, this piece is ultimately about the womanist insight, which I learned from reading black writers whose writing intersects with what Alice Walker called ‘womanism,’ that our bodies are the site where wisdom about the world has to be rooted. This is as applicable to my first childhood memory of Tiananmen as it is my discernment about my relationship to the Chinese Christianity of my youth, how I feel about the current pandemic, and how to unwork Asian anti-blackness in this moment of consciousness where we cry together Black Lives Matter. I am especially thankful to my friends for reading my piece to discern what it was really about with me. Special thanks are owed to a new friend I made in the process, INHERITANCE Magazine‘s online editor Kristine Chong, whose incisive comments helped me feel the piece in relation to my body and the world more deeply.
This is my second contribution to INHERITANCE Magazine. My first concerned my conversion to Eastern Catholicism via Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.
My contribution works through how ‘Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,’ an evangelical chorus from the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, became for a while the informal theme song of the 2019 protests in Hong Kong. Bringing the fields of Global Christianities and secular studies into conversation, I attempt to make a methodological argument. Most journalists and scholars will be tempted, as I show, to try to figure out which Christians and Christian communities are behind the song. I propose another way forward, to look at what the song does in the secular publics of Hong Kong.
I am thankful to Mona Oraby, Olivia Whitener, and Nusrat Chowdhury for helping me sharpen this essay for this exciting forum, as well as to my colleagues who read it carefully and helped me navigate some of the thorny writing issues that befall every essay. I am also grateful to my friend Richard Wu for allowing me to publish his photo of an Eastern Orthodox icon of the Harrowing of Hades at the Hong Kong protests along with my piece. It’s not taken from the day I write about — June 12, 2019 — when ‘Sing Hallelujah to the Lord’ began to be sung, but it’s from the time afterward when, as I argue, the chorus took on a life of its own. I look forward to seeing what conversations I may find myself in as I continue the work that I have announced myself to be doing in this piece.
The main impetus for the article came out of an annual guest lecture that I used to give in Tite’s Theory and Method in the Study of Religion course at the University of Washington. I wanted to get my thoughts from that lecture into article form, and he encouraged me to do so.
The piece itself argues that part of the difficulty of rappochement between geography and religious studies, after their long distance from each other, is not really because of the supposed incoherence of these two fields, but because geographers are asking questions about ontology. I suggest that they are even theological, oriented at the level of everyday life to the agency of gods and spirits.
I am thankful to Philip Tite, Arlene McDonald, and Chas Clifton for the work they’ve done on it and am happy that it’s published.
I am presenting two papers at the upcoming American Academy of Religion 2019 meeting in San Diego.
The first is based on my book project, which is in preliminary agreement with University of Notre Dame Press, and is entitled ‘Sheets of Scattered Sand: Cantonese Protestants on the Pacific Rim and the Shadow of Sun Yatsen,’ and will be part of the Chinese Christianities Seminar, as part of our theme this year ‘Exceptionalism in Chinese Christianities.’ We can be found on Sunday, 3:30-5 pm, in the Hilton Bayfront-Indigo 202A. Chairing our session is Christie Chow (City Seminary of New York). I’m looking forward even more to hearing my co-panelists Gideon Elazar (Ariel University, Bar Ilan University) and Stephanie Wong (Valparaiso University) talk about their work. Responding to us is my co-editor on Theological Reflections on the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement, Jonathan Tan (Case Western Reserve University).
The second is based on a side project that I am working on in the field of philosophy of education, which is the discipline with which I converse to develop my teaching philosophy, and is titled ‘The Miseducation of Model Minorities: The “Gospel of Schoolvation” in Asian American Studies.’ The panel is called ‘The 50th Anniversary of the Creation of Ethnic Studies: Asian American Genealogical and Cross-Disciplinary Reflections.’ My friend SueJeanne Koh (UC Irvine) is presiding, and my co-panelists include Teng-Kuan Ng (Georgetown) and Girim Jung (Claremont). The fourth panelist Tian-An Wong (Smith College) is unable to make it, but his paper will be read by Joseph Cheah (University of St Joseph). We will be on Tuesday, 8:30 – 10 am, in the Hilton Bayfront-Sapphire 402.
I look forward to seeing all of my colleagues in theology and religious studies in San Diego!
My friend Thea Reimer, at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, has started a podcast entitled ‘The #RacismIsHeresy Project.’ It’s a neat experiment, affiliated with a Catholic theological school in the Latin Church, that, like a few others in theology who are curious about modes of communication in a digital age, interrogates the utility of hashtags as well as the importance of social media in theological work.
Thea has done me the flattery of attributing the idea of this project to my ‘coining’ of the hashtag ‘SexismIsHeresy’ on an older Twitter account. The truth is that, at the time, I was trying to figure out my relationship to the New Calvinism of my youth as an Eastern Catholic in my first year of mystagogy and really thought of it in the heat of the moment. If Thea thought of ‘#RacismIsHeresy’ from watching me muddle through my oedipal complex with evangelicalism at the time, then the credit really goes to her.
Still, Thea has honoured me with the first interview in the series. It was an opportunity to share what I had learned from my mystagogical steeping in the Kyivan Church, especially with my sisters and brothers at St Mary of Egypt Social Justice Fellowship, about race and anti-colonialism in the practice of Byzantine Orthodoxy in the contemporary world. As I say in the podcast, I am just a lay person in the Greek-Catholic Church of Kyiv. My theological knowledge is born out of being part of this family and praying in its midst as we make Christ present together in the liturgies we serve.
I’m thankful to Thea for making this podcast happen, as well as to the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology for this bold new venture. I look forward to following Thea’s journey in learning from people, most of whom will be wiser and more knowledgeable than me, about the connections between racism and heresy, the construal of orthodoxy in the modern world, and its continuing relevance in the circulation of digital publics.
I am so pleased to have been interviewed by D. Cheng in a Christianity Today article that came out on November 18, 2019, entitled ‘Praying for Hong Kong Can Be Disruptive — Even in America.’ The title, admittedly, is a bit overdetermined. What the article is really about is how Chinese Christians in North America do not really seem to do much by way of explicitly addressing the recent protests in Hong Kong, almost, as I say, for the same reasons that Christians in Hong Kong appear to have been front and centre. ‘Just as Hong Kong Christians most want peace,’ I say to Cheng, ‘those in the diaspora also want peace in their churches and in Hong Kong.’ The question, of course, is what peace looks like.
To me, this Christianity Today article is interesting for its contributions to how Asian American Christianity is conceived. Almost as a follow-up to Helen Lee’s classic pieces also in this magazine on ‘the silent exodus‘ and ‘silent no more,’ terms that were original to the Los Angeles Times reporter Doreen Carvajal in her exploration of Koreatown’s communities in 1994, Cheng’s piece contrasts one clear case of Asian North American prayerful alignment with the Hong Kong protests — the case of the Vancouver Christians for Love, Peace, and Justice group being protested by pro-Beijing elements of the Chinese community at Tenth Church Vancouver — with the reticence of most Chinese Protestant churches in North America to say much publicly about them. Referring also to my journey to Eastern Catholicism in Vancouver, it is almost as if Cheng is making the case that the silence of Chinese churches generating a new silent exodus, a point that also aligns with Esther Yuen’s writing about how Tenth Church is a multi-ethnic congregation formed by ‘mass exodus’ from Chinese immigrant churches as well as my piece showing how Tenth’s senior pastor, Ken Shigematsu, was one of the original planters of Newsong Church in Irvine, California, with Dave Gibbons, who was the poster child of the original ‘silent exodus’ articles by Carvajal and Lee. Narrating my Eastern Catholic conversion in the terms of the silent exodus was indeed provocative for me, and I will have to think some more about its implications and its play on silencing and silences in Asian American Christianities.
I am grateful to Cheng for writing this piece, as well as to Christianity Today for publishing it. I’m also gratified that my communities, both scholarly and ecclesial, could be included in it, the former in the form of the towering figure of Fenggang Yang in the social scientific study of religion and the latter in the ecumenical bonds that tie our Eastern Catholic Church in Richmond to Christians across the theological spectrum. It has also made me reflect on how the book that I am writing on Cantonese Protestants in postsecular civil societies on the Pacific Rim speaks to these apparent silences and motivates me in light of what is happening in Hong Kong to shed light on these complexities.
I wanted to share the words by which I opened my presentation on No. 5 Road while at the recent Se faire une place dans la cité conference in Montreal. My collaborator on the project, Claire Dwyer, passed away in the summer, just as I was moving to my new post across the Pacific from where we had done our project in Richmond, British Columbia. When the illness that took her was in its advanced stages, a few colleagues of hers at University College London had contacted me to be part of a small project honouring her for her promotion to Professor. I was not able to come through for that venture. I also thought we’d have more time with her; she even emailed me from the hospital about our project and had the joy to discover that the last letter that she had written last year while I was on the job market was the one that got me my position at Singapore Management University.
And then, she was gone. I did have the words to grieve, and as I told my colleagues at the time, I did not know how I would find them. But Frédéric Dejean and Annick Germaine invited me to Montreal to talk about our project and said that they would say a few words about Claire. It was this conference that thus forced me to stop avoiding my grief and stare it in the face.
These, then, are the words by which I began my talk. Having said them at the conference, I feel it is only right to make them public here:
I want to begin by thanking the conference organizers Frédéric Dejean and Annick Germain for this kind invitation to speak here in Montreal. I have been on an academic job market journey of sorts over the last few years, so it has been difficult to pin down exactly where I have been: Vancouver, Seattle, Chicago, and now, of all places, Singapore. It is an honour to be brought in from so far, to a place that is almost entirely run en français. I have not spoken French with any semblance of competence since I learned it in a high school in California fifteen years ago. Apologetically, I will have to speak in English today. I do, however, know what people are saying, not just words, but almost full arguments. The problem is that my incompetence lies in retaining what you say. If you ask me what it was you said, I will have forgotten by the time you have uttered it. This means that I can probably participate in some discussion in French. But I will not dare to speak it myself, unless we have another cocktail tonight.
In this morning’s presentation, I come in the memory of my colleague and dear friend, Professor Claire Dwyer. I understand, when Frédéric first invited me, that Claire was supposed to give the talk that I am now about to give. With some shock, we probably learned around the same time that Claire was too sick by late last year to work, much less travel. It is poetic that the final job reference letter that she wrote for me was for my current position at Singapore Management University. I had the opportunity to tell her this news when she emailed me to discuss — from the hospice, no less — our collaborative project on what is known as ‘the Highway to Heaven,’ the stretch of road in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, British Columbia where there are over twenty religious institutions within three kilometers.
She was also well-loved in Singapore, especially at my university — Singapore Management University — where we are informally forming a small hub of cultural geographers of religion, with our president Lily Kong and my colleague Orlando Woods also there. Lily and I especially have tried to work through our grief together. I recently told her that I did not know how to grieve Claire. How do I even begin to grapple with the person who came all the way from London to Vancouver to mentor this kid in qualitative research methods because our department did not have such a course and then proceeded to work tirelessly to make sure I grew up and got a job that I could hold? I learned how to do research through this project on No. 5 Road. In fact, I even met the woman I married on the Highway to Heaven while doing this project. I do not know how to grieve Claire, and I hesitate from saying that this presentation in her memory is my public expression of grief because I do not know if that would cheapen it. But I am spending all of this time at the front of my presentation commemorating her because it was she who was supposed to give this talk. I hope her spirit is here. It would give me some confidence. In comfort, Lily told me that this is why we must hold our loved ones closer to us now, always.
Still, three months after the news, I am now here, on our behalf. In fact, the last time I gave this presentation, it was also in Montreal, in St Joseph’s Oratory. I find that it is poetic that I get to revisit Montreal with this work, holding Claire in my heart. I certainly hope that my performance will not be as disappointing as the last time.
Memory eternal, Claire. With the saints, grant her rest, O Christ. Memory eternal.
This last weekend, I was in Honolulu for the 2019 annual meeting of the American Studies Association. The roundtable panel that I organized was titled ‘Third World Studies, Not Ethnic Studies: A Conversation with Gary Okihiro.’ Its place in the program was on Friday, November 8, 2:00pm to 3:45pm, Hawai’i Convention Center, Mtg Rm 319 B. The subtitle in the program was ‘Re-Building Global Solidarity from Asian American Studies and Native Studies,’ but the general will of our roundtable members, including me, was for it to be changed to ‘A Conversation with Gary Okihiro.’ And so it was.
The roundtable revolved around the provocation made by Okihiro in Third World Studies: Theorizing Liberation that the educational objectives of the Third World Liberation Front in the late 1960s were stillborn and replaced with an ‘ethnic studies’ hegemony that focused on communities of color, not on the conditions of material domination in the infrastructures of what Okihiro terms the ‘social formation.’ Chairing the panel was the historian Ji-Yeon Yuh from Northwestern University. Karen Ishizuka (Japanese American National Museum) elaborated on street gangs as pre-political preparation for the more radical movements of the 1960s, Doug Kiel (Northwestern University) engaged Okihiro’s engagements with what the indigenous scholar George Manuel calls the ‘Fourth World,’ Daryl Maeda (University of Colorado-Boulder) talked about the institutional challenges of Third World Studies as opposed to ethnic studies, and yours truly addressed the methodological contributions of talking about the social formation as opposed to the myopic social scientific gaze on communities.
We had a very lively discussion that broke down concepts of the ‘academy,’ the ‘university,’ the ‘community,’ and the ‘streets.’ But perhaps the consensus was that the best part was that Angel Trazo, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, drew our panel. Here is her tweet: