Guest content blogging for Logos Anglican

With the publication of my first guest post on Logos Anglican, I am pleased to announce that I’ve been brought on as a guest blogger to write content once a month. My first post reads the current Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, through the lens of fourteenth-century English visionary and theologian Julian of Norwich.

Anglicanism isn’t something that I’ve written explicitly about in my scholarly work. I do cover the resignation of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury in an early post on Religion Ethnicity Wired (I posted on the day that Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy!), and a co-authored chapter with my doctoral supervisor David Ley does discuss Global Anglicanism in the context of religious migration from the Global South.

I really do happen to know a thing or two about the Anglican Communion, though. Let me explain.

I study religious publics. In particular, I study how religious publics have formed in ‘secular’ civil societies in the Asia-Pacific and in Asian North America.

Studying religious publics in this region and among this population makes the Anglican Communion simply unavoidable. Anglicanism is everywhere, not least because of the colonial legacy of the British Empire (which is why there is a ‘Communion’ in the first place). I intend for my posts on Logos Anglican to draw out the more general implications of what I’ve learned (and am continuing to learn!) from my Asia-Pacific and Asian North American research for the Anglican Communion. Consider it me giving back in my small way to a field that has given me so much.

Indeed, Anglicanism was everywhere since the beginning of my graduate work. The pseudonym ‘St. Matthew’s Church’ that I used during my master’s thesis work (see here) referred to an Anglican church. Indeed, I was questioned repeatedly about calling this church an evangelical church by those who were used to institutions like the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church as the mainline. My defence was that this congregation, like any other church, had porous boundaries that allowed for people from other evangelical traditions to join. Because of its connections to other Chinese churches in the Metro Vancouver area, it served as a great case study for how a Hongkonger Christian church ‘family’ was constructed, regardless of denomination. But read the thesis as well as the article, and it’s pretty obvious that the evangelicalism there has an Anglican flavour, especially when members spoke about the ‘liturgy.’

My doctoral work took the question of the Anglican Communion much more seriously. My dissertation (which I am now developing into a book manuscript) dealt with how Cantonese-speaking Protestants in Hong Kong, San Francisco, and Vancouver engaged their secular civil societies. Within this Cantonese Protestant rubric, Anglicans played major roles in all three sites. If I learned anything about Anglicanism from this project, it was that there are multiple ways of doing Anglican theologies in the public sphere. I discovered also that taking a side in Anglican debates would also detract from the more interesting geographical project of mapping the diverse ways that Cantonese-speaking Anglicans approached secular civil societies.

To get at the history of Cantonese-speaking Protestantism, I had to deal with the history of colonialism in Hong Kong, including the role of the Anglican Church as an arm of the British Empire (something that the current Primate of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui, the Most Revd Paul Kwong, has discussed in his Identity in Community). But lest one start throwing post-colonial rocks at the supposed uniform conservatism of Hong Kong Anglicanism, I also researched a progressive, post-colonial strand that emphasizes social justice, democratic solidarity, and sexual equality that developed in Hong Kong from the 1980s into the present day, particularly in the work of feminist theologian Rose Wu Lo Sai. If there is one thing that characterizes Hong Kong Anglicanism, it’s that it is very theologically diverse, comprising liberal, liberationist, evangelical, and Anglo-Catholic strands against a very conscious backdrop of its colonial legacy.

At the same time, the question of global Anglican politics came up during my fieldwork in Vancouver (and to some extent, in San Francisco as well). Chinese Anglicanism was a touchy political topic in Vancouver because the Diocese of New Westminster is one of the three known ‘fault lines’ in what has come to be known as the Anglican realignment, the breaking-away of parishes from home dioceses to seek alternate episcopal oversight due to disagreements usually over sexuality issues. Among Cantonese Protestants in Vancouver, the departure of three Chinese Anglican parishes from the Anglican Church of Canada (along with a lawsuit advanced by two of them, no less!) was still the talk of the town while I did my fieldwork, and because of this, my empirical work led me to research both the perception of the splits from within Cantonese Protestant circles more generally as well as what actually happened in the Anglican realignment in Vancouver. By contrast, the Chinese Episcopal parishes in the San Francisco site had not broken away from their dioceses, and that served as an interesting foil to the Vancouver case study. Add to that the fact that social geographers in the United Kingdom have been discussing this Anglican realignment in recent major publications in the geography of religion, and this is yet another geographical spin on Anglicanism that comes straight out of my dissertation.

My postdoctoral work on younger generation Asian American and Asian Canadian Christian publics shows no signs of letting up on Anglicanism. Aside from the fact that I’m using my postdoctoral fellowship to churn out articles from my graduate work (including articles on Chinese Anglicanism in its very diverse forms), there are younger generation Anglicans at work forming publics. To give one immediate example, the Asian American open letter to the evangelical church last October 2013 would not have happened without the efforts of the first Korean American woman to be ordained in the Episcopal Church, the Rev. Christine Lee at All Angels’ Church (yes, for those who have read Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God, the same parish!). I have also met other Asian American and Asian Canadian evangelicals who are interested in constructing ‘sacramental publics’ and find Anglican traditions useful. These experiments with sacramentality are not just limited to Anglicans, but as I’ve hinted at in this blog post on Alliance pastor Ken Shigematsu, some experiments dovetail (likely unintentionally) with local Anglican developments. All this is work in progress, but suffice it to say that the work on Anglicanism in Asian America and Asian Canada may prove productive indeed.

In other words, my field work has immersed me in the life of the Anglican Communion with its colonial legacies, social justice work, aesthetic emphases, divergent theologies, and communion fractures. My posts on Logos Anglican are meant to draw out the implications of my work for Anglicanism, to be informed by what I’ve done ethnographically as I read Anglican texts.

It’s no secret that Logos Anglican is using these posts to sell their e-book collections of Anglican works. Their collection is impressive, comprising patristic and medieval sources as well as key Anglican divines such as Thomas Cranmer, Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, J.C. Ryle, John Henry Newman, Michael Ramsey, and N.T. Wright. The Anglican ecumenist Paul Avis also makes a significant contribution. But it should also be no secret that I’m approaching Anglicanism based on my particular immersion and ongoing academic reflection on Global Anglicanism and religious publics, especially in sites that grapple in diverse ways with what theologians Ian Douglas and Kwok Pui-lan call getting beyond colonial Anglicanism.

All this is to say, I look forward to giving back to a tradition that has given me so much. I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Ben Amundgaard, the product guy at Logos Anglican, thanking him especially for being simply awesome to work with. I look forward to having my immersion into all things Anglican deepened through this encounter with Logos Anglican, and I am very excited about the conversations to follow.

Introducing: Religion. Ethnicity. Wired.

I am pleased to announce that I’ve started a public blog. It’s called Religion. Ethnicity. Wired.

Religion. Ethnicity. Wired. is where I’ll be blogging about current events in light of what I work on in geographies of religion, ethnicities, migrations, politics, and Pacific cities. I explicitly apply the grounded theologies axis of analysis wherever possible to some of the things I discuss. As you’ll see, the issues there are broader than the Cantonese-speaking Protestant Christians on which I’m actively writing in my doctoral dissertation. It’s a chance for readers to be able to see the breadth of what my seemingly narrow doctoral topic can actually encompass.

It’s also an exercise in public academia. On the blog, I routinely articulate how I think academia should be conceptualized as a public good. While academics are often perceived as impractical theoreticians pontificating from their revolving chairs, I make the case every so often on the blog that academics are interested in contributing the knowledge of their fields to an ongoing public democratic discussion, one that often results in concrete policy implications. This is not to say that academics pitch policy solutions–more often than not, we refrain from doing that–but this means that academics have a vital contribution to make to the public sphere that should not be overlooked by either the public or the university. In my posts, then, I try to be explicit about precisely where the academic contributions lie in the issues I’m raising.

So do follow me, and find me on Facebook and Twitter. And (I can’t resist this tagline) remember, if you stalk this page long enough, religion and ethnicity will wire you like coffee too.

Posting with Jim Wellman on Niebuhr and Obama

My friend and supervisor for next year’s post-doctoral fellowship, Jim Wellman, and I collaborated on a post for his Patheos blog on American religion. It’s titled ‘Drones, Mr. Niebuhr, and President Obama.

As we watched Barack Obama justify drone warfare as a just war policy yesterday, we were struck by how many allusions there were to the work of mainline Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr. Wellman is arguably one of the current top authorities on Niebuhr, and generously, he took on some of my comments in his blog, including some work on Christian pacifism that responds to Niebuhr. If you have not seen Obama’s speech, do watch it here:

I see these comments as continuous with my work in geographies of religion, a field that I have theorized as not only as a subfield within cultural geographies (as it is more popularly conceived), but as an analytical axis by which political, economic, and cultural geographies can be interpreted. As I argued in my piece on ‘grounded theologies,’ geographers who use religion and secularization must reveal modern geographies to be theologically constituted, as the ‘secular’ can also be read (as per the Immanent Frame) as a theological orientation. Obama’s speech on security, counterterrorism, and geopolitics is a prime example. While it is ostensibly non-religious and non-theological, that he uses Niebuhr’s ‘proximate justice’ theory to argue that drone warfare is a form of just war policy suggests that he is in fact doing theology through public policy. Wellman and I argue that whatever you think of Obama, you really have to contend with Obama’s theological framework if you want to seriously engage him in democratic conversation and debate.

The implication here is that religious and theological literacy is a primary task for any ‘secular’ discipline. While there are hard secularists who may scoff at this notion, that even those parties lay claim to something called ‘secular’ is to say something about ‘religion’ or ‘theology’; if those statements are said ignorantly, it does a disfavour to everyone in the public forum. This is why I feel so happy that I’ll be working with Wellman. Recently, he had me sit in a seminar class that he’s teaching on American megachurches, where we conversed with non-geography students with arguably one of the most important books to come out in geographies of religion, Justin Wilford’s Sacred Subdivisions. As we covered a lot of ground exploring how Wilford conceptualizes Saddleback Church’s usage of space as a cultural geographer, I couldn’t help but be cheered that a discipline like human geography–one that has been conceptualized as uncritically secular until very recently–was contributing to public religious literacy in the form of these students grappling with this geography text. I think this signals good times ahead for geographies of religion, if I might be so presumptuous.

Working with Wellman will allow me to sharpen some of my own theological and religious reading, especially in American mainline Protestant theology, which will supplement what I currently know about geographies of evangelicalism and the critical crypto-Catholic conversation on secularization in theology and religious studies. This in turn will help refine what I have to say about Asian American, Asian Canadian, and Asia-Pacific religions. All of this is not a deviation from my work in geographies of religion and grounded theologies. It’s an extension and refinement, as all of this stuff is very spatially oriented and thus very geographical.

Thank you, Jim, for the opportunity. I look forward to the fun times ahead.

Converge Magazine: Subverting the Culture War: why I am a Christian in the secular university and not a culture warrior

I am pleased to announce the publication of a short piece in Converge Magazine, a periodical for young evangelicals based in Vancouver.

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The article is concerned with what sociologist James Davison Hunter has called ‘culture wars,’ especially the notion that evangelicals in secular universities have a responsibility to take back academic space for Christ in a battle for the mind. After reviewing some of the prevailing evangelical approaches since the 1970s, I explain that these practices are not only naïve about the place of young people in universities, but that they may be distortions of Christian theological praxis. I base this article on a re-reading of what evangelicals call ‘the Great Commission,’ a quotation from Jesus at the end of the Gospel according to St. Matthew (28.18-20) where he tells his followers to go make disciples of all nations, baptize them into Triune life, and teach them to obey everything he has commanded. I propose that readings of the Great Commission have become distorted because they fail to read it in the context of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew’s texts. In Matthew, Jesus’ call to repentance is to a kingdom founded on humility, charity, and forgiveness, with a mission that is based less on organized strategy as it is on living out this new mode of existence. Reflecting at the end on the notion of the ‘secular,’ I also make reference to the last chapter of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age as an alternative way through which the Great Commission can be practiced in secular universities.

The argument, of course, is nothing completely original and is part of a much larger discussion both among evangelicals and about evangelicals. Younger evangelicals have reportedly become disenchanted with the notion of culture wars, and books and blogs such as Rachel Held Evans‘s Evolving in Monkey Town, Jonathan Merritt’s A Faith of Our Own, and Frank Schaeffer’s Crazy for God are all good examples. These cases have also been highlighted in the flagship evangelical publication Christianity Today as a sign of a generational shift. Moreover, academic studies such as Martha Pally’s The New Evangelicals (see The Immament Frame’s blog series), Omri Elisha’s Moral Ambition, and Christian Smith’s Christian America have observed these changes, and even William Connolly–a political scientist who has not been known to be sympathetic to evangelicals–gives a positive appraisal of these re-formulated paradgims in Capitalism and Christianity, American Style. As for how Christians should participate in secular universities, there has been an ongoing discussion among theologians and social scientists in books like John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory, Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, Talal Asad’s Formations of the Secular, Stanley Hauerwas’s State of the University, and Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation. In other words, what I am saying here isn’t completely new, but it is my own reflective theological reading of Christian praxis and positionality in secular universities.

My purpose in writing this article is to clarify my own positionality in my academic work for a popular evangelical audience. I began this project of public dissemination in a post I wrote for Schema Magazine, in which I detailed why being a Chinese Christian myself should not paste over my own personal intersectional complexities and thus continues to allow for what geographer Paul Cloke calls a simultaneous ‘critical distance’ and ‘critical proximity’ in ethnographic work. That piece was directed to a popular secular audience as an exercise in public academia, explaining my own social location in relation to my academic project to people who don’t do academic work for their day job. In this post, I speak more directly to evangelicals who may assume that my project is to take back the secular university for Christ, clarifying my own theological praxis while calling my brothers and sisters to reflect deeper on Matthew’s Gospel account. To address this audience more directly, I chose to publish popularly in an evangelical magazine, but I will reflect on my positionality to academic readers in a scholarly journal in the future. There is, of course, a great deal of precedent for academics in religious studies studying evangelicals to publish in evangelical magazines, including reflective pieces and regardless of their own theological orientations, such as those written by Christian Smith, Tanya Luhrmann, and Russell Jeung. Indeed, these are publics that academics studying evangelicals must engage both as a way of giving back to communities we have researched and by way of meeting our duties to contribute to public discourse.

I am pleased overall by the editors’ discretion in preparing the piece for publication, especially by clarifying my meaning in several places where my language was more convoluted. One slight modification, however, that is a bit more significant is the final sentence in which it reads that we ‘show this world another way of thinking and being, one based around His ways, rather than our own.’ My original draft was a more direct quotation from St. John’s Gospel (17.22-23) where Jesus prays for Christian unity that the world may know that the Father has sent the Son. As it is printed, it sounds like I am calling for Christians to be examples to others through their character. Yet as I read Jesus’ prayer in John and Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, he doesn’t call Christians, including evangelicals, to lead from any moral high ground. Instead, the command is to simply be the church and live humbly in a sacramental ontology where justice is done precisely out of a humble spirituality and solidarity with the poor. This all said, though, the editorial choice is still sound if the reference to ‘His ways, not ours’ is taken from the words of the prophet Isaiah (55.8) where he discusses divine grace in calling out from exile a people that is marked by their new-found humility and charity. If that is so, the Isaianic passage’s meaning converges with both John’s and Matthew’s Gospel accounts about practicing a radically humble ontology, and the sentence is not only clarified, but enhanced.

I want to thank Converge Magazine for printing this piece and especially to Shara Lee for encouraging this publication. As I wrote in the byline, my friends Sam, Diana, Anna, Karl, and Aaron were valuable advisors who sharpened the piece significantly. I am thankful to be able to publish to an evangelical audience, and I hope that the piece will provoke thought and stimulate further discussion on Christian praxis.

Converge Magazine, 7: Out of Order

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I recently wrote a piece on my wedding manager and his wife, Chris and Annie Fong, as a reflection on Chinese evangelicals and marriage. It is available in the current issue (#7) of Converge Magazine, a Canadian evangelical publication targeted to young people. This sort of popular article stands in the tradition of religion scholars such as Christian Smith, Tanya Luhrmann, and Russell Jeung writing in confessional magazines as a way of disseminating their academic research.

This article wrestles with the looseness of terms like ‘Chineseness,’ ‘evangelicalism,’ and ‘biblical gender roles’ and asks readers to consider narrative as a way of Christian spirituality that is more grounded than ideal typologies. Those who are more academically inclined will understand that I am drawing heavily on literature from critical Chinese diaspora studies, Asian American studies, and post-liberal theologies to make my point. Those who are attuned to issues within evangelicalism will recognize the gender debates around hierarchicalism, complementarianism, and egalitarianism as I review some of the existing popular evangelical literature on gender, sexuality, and marriage. It’s not written with a very academic tone; it’s meant for a wide, popular audience; and it’s absolutely meant to muddy the waters of simplistic, orientalist notions of East v. West for evangelical readers.

My hope is that this article is helpful to evangelical communities while serving as a source document for people interested in Asian North American religious studies. I want to thank Chris and Annie for letting me write about them, Shara Lee for being a fantastic editor, Casey Phaisalakani for taking great photos, and Carmen Bright for designing this so well.

Schema: Just Another Chinese Christian?

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

Q: Where are you from?

A: _______

Q: Oh, but where are you really from?

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

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

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

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

Asian Religions Aren’t That Exotic (Ricepaper 16.4)

The latest issue of Ricepaper Magazine 16.4 has just come out, and I’m happy to announce that I have a feature article.  The issue is titled Poetry and Philosophy and includes articles, fiction, and poetry written by Jenny Uechi, Terry Watada, Siyuan Liu, Renee Sarojini Sarkilar, Nancy Kang, Kim Yong-Hi, Yasuko Thanh, and a profile on Valerie Sing Turner done by Loretta Seto.  It looks great.

My article is titled “Asian Religions Aren’t That Exotic.”  You’ll have to read the article in its entirety, but if you ever wondered how Asian Canadian films The People I’ve Slept With and Eve and the Firehorse, stats from the Canadian census on immigration to Vancouver, the ‘Highway to Heaven’ on Richmond’s No. 5 Road, and the controversy in the Vancouver Sun over Chinese Christians and cultural practices during this year’s Chinese New Year all go together, you’re in for a treat.  I take on all these themes with a twist, that really, Asian religions aren’t that exotic, and that because of this, creative artists should feel free to treat Asian religions in Canada as simply part of the everyday lives of Asian Canadians.

Enjoy!