I just finished my Zoom session for this year’s American Academy of Religion. I’m a regular member, as well as on the steering committee for the Chinese Christianities Unit. My paper was also in a session organized within Chinese Christianities, and how that works is that I do not even click on my own submission when we evaluate the blind submissions. I leave myself at the mercy of my colleagues, and I am grateful that they’ve included me in this year’s lineup.
My paper was in a session on ‘Negotiating Politics and Religion.’ Chairing us was our formidable leader Alex Chow (University of Edinburgh), and offering generous commentary was Chloe Starr (Yale). My co-panelists were Zhixi Wang (Shantou University) and Jesse Sun (Duke).
The paper I read was entitled ‘A lot of lawsuits there’: Chong v. Lee and the Secular Frame of Chinese Christianities. What I do is to detail the events precipitating the celebrated court case in a church in Vancouver’s Chinatown where the board members sued each other over modes of baptism, sprinkling versus full immersion. It’s an essay I’ve been developing for some time, both for my book with University of Notre Dame Press, as well as a separate article I hope to write on the engagement of Cantonese-speaking Protestants with the secular legal system in Canada. I found Chloe Starr’s comments very helpful, especially her insight about the relationship between my paper and the possibilities of canon law, and I hope to incorporate those in a paper that will hopefully be published.
Unfortunately, the American Academy of Religion seems to have chosen mostly afternoon slots in the United States for these sessions. Those times coincide precisely with the hours after midnight that I am closed for business. But my mornings especially are good times for anyone who wants to connect over a cup of coffee on my end and a beverage of choice for yours. I look forward to these virtual meetings very much.
I just gave a Zoom seminar to Hong Kong Baptist University’s Department of Geography on my book. The talk was titled The Secular Sheet of Scattered Sand: Cantonese Protestants and the Postsecular on the Pacific Rim.
I really enjoyed the conversation that followed. There were so many good friends in the audience. One thing that stood out to me was how, even though the concerns of my book are capped at the year 2012, how much conversation we managed to have about the Hong Kong protests over the last five years, as well as the emergence of nationalisms that might fray the Pacific Rim in the 2010s. Somebody even asked me about the song ‘Sing Hallelujah to the Lord’ and inquired if that was perhaps a form of ‘secular Christianity.’ I said that I had written a piece on The Immanent Frame with exactly that framework. This was, among the many highlights of the conversation, a particularly joyful moment.
Indeed, I insist on this 2012 cap on in my first book project precisely because I am interested in this book on how Cantonese Protestants operated in the heyday of post-1980s Pacific Rim ideology. My next project will be much more about how some have said that it’s all falling apart, even though, as I once said in another version of this talk to my colleagues at my home institution, the Pacific Rim dream might be better described, in the words appropriated from The Princess Bride, as ‘mostly dead,’ as opposed to ‘all dead.’ There I really got my comeuppance. One of my deans noticed that I had attributed the quote to Mad Max. It was, of course, Miracle Max who said these words. The two Maxes are very different, and if one claims professional interest in post-1980s ideology, the eighties references really have to be right. I do, after all, also teach Blade Runner.
I am thankful to Claudio Delang and Lachlan Barber for inviting me. With so many friends across our departments, I deeply look forward to when our paths will cross again.
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 am so excited to be preparing to fly to Montréal to be part of the workshop-conference ‘Se faire une place dans la cité‘ from 16-18 October 2019. Frédéric Dejean and Annick Germain have been discussing it for over a year with me, and it’s finally happening, along with a stellar line-up of keynotes by Lori Beaman and Jean-Paul Williame.
I’ll be part of two sessions on 17 October. The morning one is titled ‘Urbanisme, dynamiques spatiales et religions,’ while the afternoon will be ‘Les groupes religieux au service d’une ville inclusive ?’ My understanding is that I’ll speak for about twenty minutes on the research on which I collaborated with the late Claire Dwyer on No. 5 Road in the morning, then on the parts of my book project on Cantonese Protestants in Vancouver in the afternoon.
What is intriguing about this conference is that the presentations seem to be a prelude to a larger conversation that will happen in three-hour blocks. I understand from Frédéric that the delightful challenge for us academics will be to speak practically to planning practitioners. I relish this opportunity — as I told my dean, it’s a bit of a rapprochement — and in doing so, I’ll have to brush up on my high-school French. Frédéric tells me that everyone’s PowerPoint will be mercifully in English. I do not know if I will be brave enough to speak a language I haven’t spoken in years on my colleagues’ home turf.
Many thanks to Frédéric and Annick for organizing, as well as their very competent organizers Louis Raymond and Vincent Létourneau for handling the logistics.
I’m very pleased to have been interviewed as part of the journalist Douglas Todd’s piece ‘Hong Kong protesters turn 1970s hymn into anthem.’ My main role in this article is to sketch how the protests in Hong Kong have been using the Jesus Movement chorus ‘Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,’ which I also did with my colleague Melissa Borja on her Anxious Bench group blog on Patheos, and how Christians may or may not be part of the protests in personal and institutional ways.
I like how Todd positions my comments as the lead-in to the story that he really wants to talk about, which is the hundred or so pro-China protesters who picketed the evangelical Tenth Church Vancouver during a Hong Kong prayer rally organized by an inter-denominational and ecumenical group of clergy. Interviewing one of the clergy leaders Samuel Chiu, Todd sketches a broader picture of Chinese Christians in North America — and indeed, Chinese communities in a more secular sense — that are internally divided in terms of transnational politics.
In addition to the Hong Kong interest, this is a developing and interesting story in Vancouver. I’ve written about the senior pastor Ken Shigematsu before as a ‘different kind of evangelical‘ who emphasizes an Asian Canadian sense of social justice and contemplative spirituality, and I’ve also put an article on Tenth into the Brazilian journal Relegens Thréskeia. On this particular issue, Shigematsu has commented on the church’s solidarity with ‘justice issues’ in a non-partisan way, and Fr Richard Soo SJ — the Eastern Catholic priest who brought me into the Greek-Catholic church that has formed so much of my recent musings on the postsecular even while I continue to write, research, and teach on publics on the Pacific Rim — has written an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun about how religious solidarity with Hong Kong is not the practice of partisan politics.
With that liking comes the courage to share. Perhaps the scariest thing for a scholar is to be evaluated by the communities that first gave us life, but we also must not, I am reminded, take from the community without giving back by making the scholarship part of the commons for all of us to enjoy. I must share it and did so on my Facebook, and again here on this website, which has not been updated for some time. I have in fact promised it to a number of people who have been interested in it, some of whom are even named in the piece because they were either interviewed for it during my doctoral work as far back as 2011 and 2012 or because they are named in documents and books. That amount of persons is too many to count, and while I could have sent them all an email copy, I figure that if there was ever a time to use social media and a blog to spread it, it is now. I will not tag them so as not to single them out, but I look forward to their responses when they read it. Perhaps they will even reply to my social media posts, or they might seek me out via email at jkhtse (at) northwestern (dot) edu.
‘A Tale of Three Bishops’ is my attempt to parse out the Anglican realignment in Vancouver since the late 1990s. I argue that with all the talk about Anglicans splitting over sexuality issues, what is more salient in the Vancouver case is ideologies of the ‘global city’ and the concepts of ‘Chineseness’ that spin out of that urban economic fantasy. I think this is the most fair way to describe a fracture in which folks on all sides have their own stories to tell about a side they don’t like. I try to portray each of them in their own words, as the only stake I now have in this Communion is an ecumenical one, as an ecclesial outsider from the vantage point of my Eastern Catholic church and in my professional work as an Asian American geographer of postsecular Pacific publics. I hope that this work presents a modest but worthwhile contribution to the fields of Global Christian studies, Chinese Christianities, and the integral part that the Anglican Communion continues to play in the work of what the theologian Paul Murray calls ‘receptive ecumenism.’
I am thankful to everyone who went on the record for this when it was part of the doctoral dissertation and now is much expanded from the three pages in the doctorate to the published peer-reviewed article it is now. As I say in the piece, I consider myself friends with folks on all three sides, and I hope that our friendship is magnified, not diminished, by the publication of this piece. Indeed, a memorable line from one of the reviewers said that I was able to resist the temptation to editorialize and speak in the terms of conspiracy, preferring instead to write from the perspective of the participants themselves. While I am honoured by that affirmation, all errors of judgment are of course my own, and my gratefulness belies an openness to criticism, correction, and ongoing conversation with communities and persons whom I have loved for very long and continue to love with a full heart.
The comments are still rolling in, and as I suspected, this little 700-word discussion piece is not only causing a discussion, but I’m probably going to get into a little bit of trouble for it too – not legally, financially, or materially, but ideologically. I used to be afraid of such trouble, but then I started reading Slavoj Žižek, and now I know that whatever trouble I get into, I will never be in as much trouble as him.
Some wish that I had qualified which Chinese evangelicals I was talking about when I attributed the support of Chinese evangelical Trumplicans to ‘capitalism with Asian values.’ The trouble, of course, is that I did:
‘I don’t have the quantitative survey instruments to determine exactly how many Trumplicans there are among Chinese evangelicals in Metro Vancouver, but I’m pretty sure that most of them (an estimated 16% of the 400,000 or so Chinese Canadians counted in Metro Vancouver) can’t vote in the United States.’
‘But what I don’t have in terms of statistics, I do have in social media posts.’
‘I am told by both this woman and a financial planner in Richmond – and others still, for that matter…’
‘Of course, such comments indicate that these Chinese evangelicals come from a particular class of people with wealth to protect (raising questions, of course, about whether there’s room in the religion for Chinese people who don’t have wealth to protect). But for this particular class of ethnic Chinese migrants, stability was why they moved to Canada in the first place. (They wanted to get) away from, say, the possible political upheavals of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty, or the strangely personal dialectical politics of the market socialist mainland.’
In other words, the contingent of Chinese evangelicals propagating this pro-Trump material is by and large a wealthy class of persons that fled from Hong Kong or China in order to protect the stability of their capital from specific geopolitical processes. What I am saying is that these networks of ideological propagation are specifically Chinese evangelical because they tend to be run by such persons in association with an evangelical Protestant ideology (but often dissociated from the church, because they’d never want the church to get involved in politics).
Because I researched Cantonese-speaking Protestant engagements with Vancouver’s civil society, I have been part of the public that these ideological informational networks address for quite some time. An interesting turn over the course of my research has been a slow transfer of this material from email lists to social media platforms, especially Facebook. It is surprising how much of this material is sourced from conservative United States sites; I wrote about Trump, but I could have gone much deeper into their opposition to Black Lives Matter and their sharing of material meant to defame Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
When Douglas Todd and I spoke with each other about this phenomenon, it became clear that this was a fascinating turn for a network of people that had historically participated in Vancouver‘s civil society and were generally concerned about Canadian politics. Indeed, I have written and spoken quite a bit before about how I think that all of this participation on the Right is an investment on the part of Cantonese evangelicals into becoming Canadian. But what was striking to Todd and me was that the concern from this population was really about Trump in an election in which they could not participate in any meaningful material way.
Todd suggested that I write a short piece exploring this ideological phenomenon. What you see on his blog is what he got.
I’d like to thank Douglas Todd for this opportunity. I also want to thank my friends in Metro Vancouver for helping me keep my ear to the ground. Last but not least, I want to thank the various Chinese evangelical Trumplicans who have voiced their ideological takes on Facebook; it is because of them that this piece was written.
Here’s the quote from the post that I find hilarious:
Justin Tse, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington who spends more time thinking seriously about ethnicity than anyone I know, jokes that the show’s portrayal of white people is particularly authentic.
Tse is a big fan of Blood and Water but has taken issue with the idea that because there are so many Chinese characters, it must be about multiculturalism.
It’s really a great show, and it does open up quite a few questions about multiculturalism, whiteness, and Asian Canada in Vancouver. If you haven’t watched it, you are missing out. I’m thankful to Ian Young for picking up on my comment; as he says, ‘Sharing is caring.’
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.
In March 2015, I participated in a panel organized by Paul Bramadat (University of Victoria) at the 2015 National Metropolis Conference in Canada. The panel was on Religion and Immigration in Canada: Policies, Practices, and Problems and featured as speakers Jack Jedwab (Association for Canadian Studies), David Seljak (Waterloo), and myself.
My talk had been tentatively titled ‘National or Transnational: Chinese Christians in Vancouver, BC,‘ but by the time we got to the conference, I had changed it to the more provocative ‘Against homeland politics: Cantonese Protestant identity politics in Vancouver and the problem of transnationalism.‘ Unfortunately, there is no abstract available of the talk, but the gist of the paper deals with the contests between Raymond Chan (Liberal) and Alice Wong (Conservative) over being Member of Parliament for Richmond, British Columbia.
I look forward to developing my thinking in this paper and am thankful for the comments I received on it at the conference. I am especially thankful to Paul for organizing and for Jack and David for being such great interlocutors.