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.

PhD Field Work: San Francisco Bay Area

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

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

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

PhD Field Work: Metro Vancouver

Since mid-April, I have been conducting research on Cantonese evangelicals, their conceptions of civil society, and their social and political engagement in Metro Vancouver.  I hope to wrap up this first round of research by 2 June.  I plan to be flying to San Francisco on 3 June and returning mid-July.

A few things that are especially on my mind as I conduct this Vancouver field work over the next few weeks:

  • The upcoming Canadian federal election (2 May)
  • The recent Edgewater Casino hearings
  • Print and video media reports on Chinese Christians
  • Chinese Christian youth/young adult ministries and revival networks
  • Relationships between Christian parachurch organizations/networks and churches
  • Anything else about Cantonese evangelicals in Vancouver being socially and politically engaged (or not–and why not?)
As I’ve said previously, much of this project depends on semi-structured interviews, focus groups, ethnographic field work, and texutal/media analysis.  Feel free to contact me at jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca for more information!

Human Ethics Clearance

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

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

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

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

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

Proposal Approval

On 31 March 2011, my PhD proposal was approved.

What does this mean?
It means that I’m finally approved to do research as a full PhD candidate.  The human subjects ethics forms are currently being approved, pending provisos for a few clarifications on my application (but nothing substantial), but I expect those to be taken care of in the next few days.

What’s the proposal about?
The proposal concerns my upcoming doctoral dissertation research, which is due to be completed in Summer 2013.  The working title is Religious Politics in Pacific Space: The Political Interventions of Cantonese Christians in Hong Kong, San Francisco, and Vancouver.  It’s basically about how Cantonese-speaking evangelicals see themselves as involved in society in these three metropolitan areas.  The basic methodology for this project is a global ethnography, a term coined by Berkeley sociology Michael Burawoy (2001) that refers to when social scientists contextualize their field work in larger global processes in time and space, and will mostly depend on semi-structured interviews with Cantonese Christian organization leaders and pastors as well as focus groups with Cantonese Christian lay persons.  These interviews and focus groups will be contextualized by basic field observation, quantitative data from organizations and the censuses, and textual and media analysis of both Chinese Christian media sources and secular news sources.  It’s going to take about a year, with at least three months in each site.

Can you help?
If you identify as a Cantonese Christian–or even just a Chinese Christian (even if you’re Mandarin-speaking, or if your parents are Cantonese-speaking)–or if you’ve done work with Cantonese Christians, I’d love to get in contact with you. In fact, even if you don’t identify as Cantonese Christian, period, but you wanted to get some of your friends involved in the project, please do contact me!

But I don’t like politics! It’s such a touchy topic!
THAT’S OK!!! I’m using “politics” in an fancy academic way–and I have to, because I’m an academic–to refer to when people get involved in their civil society.  In that sense, a lot of things count as “politics” for academics.  The way that I’m using “politics” is more in terms of social involvement; in other words, I’m interested in the constant conversation between Cantonese evangelicals and the societies they find themselves in.  Yes, it could refer to electoral politics when you try to vote someone into that society, but it may be as simple as feeling like you want your voice heard in the broader society, or joining in a march or a protest, or making your organization or church more engaged in social issues.  Or maybe you’re not interested in doing any of that–I’d really be interested in: why not?  Basically, although the title of my research concerns politics, I’m just interested in how Christians who speak Cantonese think about and get involved in society in Vancouver, San Francisco, and Hong Kong.

What will happen to information that is gathered?
I will use the data I gather to write my PhD doctoral dissertation.  These things are usually 300ish pages long.  I’ll turn that into an academic book that will be able to speak to scholars in human geography, religious studies, ethnic studies, migration studies, political studies, and urban studies.  I’ll also write some academic articles based on it.  While these things sound so academic, they also form the basis for community involvement as well, including using my studies to help Cantonese evangelicals reflect on issues of faith and society and providing a fair and balanced representation of Chinese Christian churches and organizations to the media.  I am very interested in contributing my academic skills in partnership with community leaders, organization heads, and pastors, and I hope that this project will be of use in both academic and non-academic settings.

If you want to get in touch with me because you’re interested, feel free to send me an email at jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca or call me at +1-604-728-0024.  I’d be happy to hear from you!

Association of American Geographers 2011 (Seattle, WA)

A few updates on the sessions in this Association of American Geographers in Seattle’s Washington State Convention Center and the Sheraton.

Betsy Olson, Claire Dwyer, and I co-organized a session on Wednesday, 13 April 2011, at 10 AM entitled Religion and transnationalism/Traveling faith (#2244).  This paper featured paper presentations by Murat Es, Abby Day, Ben Kogaly, Sharon Suh, and Patricia Ehrkamp.  Claire Dwyer, David Ley, and I also gave our presentation on Richmond’s “Highway to Heaven”:

While geographers have written much about the varying dimensions of transnational urbanism (Ley 2004, MP Smith 2001, Mitchell 2004) religious transnationalism remains under explored despite the establishment of many new spectacular religious buildings in diaspora cities in the last decade and evidence of the continuing significance of religious practice for many migrants (Levitt 2007, Tweed 2002). In this paper we draw on recent empirical work in the multicultural suburb of Richmond, Vancouver to explore the complex geographies of a transnational suburban religious landscape. Along the Number 5 Road, on the eastern boundary of the city and adjacent to the major 99 highway, more than twenty religious buildings including mosques, churches, religious schools, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh temples are clustered within 3 kilometres. This suburban religious landscape has been produced by the complex intersection of suburban planning regulations, municipal multiculturalism and the transnational activities of a range of different diasporic faith communities living in greater Vancouver and beyond. Our paper traces the processes by which this landscape has been produced and raises some questions about the possible outcomes of planning for religious and cultural diversity and the varying trajectories of religious transnationalism.

I am also giving a paper on Thursday, 14 April 2011, at 10 AM in the Issues in Ethnic Geography II (#3220) session.  Here is the paper abstract:

Until recently, ethnic, religious, and ethno-religious spaces in North America have been assumed to be apolitical.  Urban ethnic centres (such as Chinatowns), ethnoburbs (such as Richmond in Metro Vancouver), and ethnic churches and temples have often been seen as sites where migrant cultures to North America have been preserved; indeed, the only politics in which they are involved may be anti-segregation and anti-racism protests.  However, Cantonese Christians have not been apolitical.  In 2008, Cantonese Christians successfully campaigned for the election of a Conservative Member of Parliament in Richmond, British Columbia; a parallel in the San Francisco Bay Area was an alliance of Chinese evangelicals with the larger evangelical movement to pass Proposition 8 to ban same-sex unions.  Such a trend has also been noticed by Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, running a front-page article on immigrants and the conservative vote.  In this presentation, I propose a working approach to such migrant religious communities that takes into account their politics.  We must ask: what are the civic imaginations and practices of Cantonese Christians who are said to vote conservative?  This paper grounds this question in Vancouver and San Francisco as the starting point of a new line of inquiry into the political agency of communities formerly thought to be ethnic enclaves running parallel religious lives in North America.  It is the hope of this paper to initiate a new approach to immigrant and ethnic geographies from which empirical data can be collected.

Finally, in the usual great run-up of speakers for the Geography of Religion and Belief Systems Annual Lecture, Claire Dwyer will be giving this year’s lecture (#4258):

Encountering the Divine in W5 and Highway 99: stories of the suburban sacred
This lecture reflects on my on-going collaborative research on suburban faith spaces in London and Vancouver to explore the significance of everyday geographies of religion.  Recent research on suburban faith spaces offers both into a reinterpretation of the assumed secularism of suburban space and an analysis of the transnational and postcolonial connections shaping suburban geographies. Through this analysis of suburban faith spaces I develop two broader arguments about the geographies of religions and belief systems. First, I ask what geographies of religion have to offer to wider theoretical discussions within the discipline. Second, I reflect on the  possibilities and challenges of accessing the suburban sacred as part of a wider reflection on geographies of encounter and enchantment.

Metropolis Canada: 23-26 March 2011

Just wanted to check in and report on the success of a paper session I co-organized with my friends Claire Dwyer, David Ley, and Paul Bramadat at Metropolis Canada.  Here’s the session information:

Immigrant Integration, Religious Diversity and the Suburbs
This session brings together academics and policy makers to discuss the ways in which the civic engagement and integration of immigrants is facilitated through religious institutions and organisations. It focuses on the emergence of new religious spaces in the suburbs of many Canadian cities and the challenge of planning for diversity.

Organizer | Organisateur
Claire Dwyer, University College London
Justin Tse, University of British Columbia
David Ley, University of British Columbia
Paul Bramadat, University of Victoria

Participants
Claire Dwyer, University College London, Justin Tse and David Ley, University of British Columbia
‘Highway to Heaven’: The Making of a Transnational Suburban Religious Landscape in Vancouver

Ranu Basu, York University
Kali in the Legions to Eid with Christmas Lights: Integrative Multiplicity in Toronto Suburbs

Meharoona Ghani, Ministry of Regional Economic and Skills Development, British Columbia
Multiculturalism and Inclusive Communities

Alan Hill, City of Richmond
Cultural Diversity and Integration

Chair | Modérateur
Paul Bramadat, University of Victoria

Discussant | Commentateur
Balwant Sanghera, Interfaith Bridging Project

A CLAIM TO FAME: our session was mentioned by Douglas Todd in The Search for our presentation on religion.  Thanks so much, Douglas, and yes, it provoked some great discussion on religion, secularism, migration, and the suburbs in Canada!

Sing Tao Daily (3 Feb 2011)

At the Metropolis BC conference, I was interviewed by a journalist for Vancouver’s Sing Tao Daily (星島日報).  He asked for supplemental information to our talk on No. 5 Road and wanted to discuss especially the Chinese Christian organizations in the talk.  He asked specifically about new migrants from the People’s Republic of China.

Most of what I said was fairly represented in the following article.  The Chinese version is here.  I have translated most of it (with assistance from family and girlfriend) into English here:

New immigrants are changing the culture of religious communities
Chu Lam (Sing Tao Daily, Vancouver)

An immigration research organization has pointed out that as NGOs and religious communities become increasingly concerned about multiculturalism, multiple levels of officials need more attention and understanding as they make new policies toward minorities’ religions and cultures.

Metro Vancouver’s immigration research organization invited Canadian academics, the government, NGOs, and religious communities for a dialogue on Wednesday.  They spoke from the perspective of all three levels of government on what they should pay attention to in policymaking.

The provincial economic and capacity development organization [Embrace BC] and immigration research Metropolis BC on Wednesday was entitled: Religion and society: a policy research symposium on immigration, multiculturalism, and social change in Canada.  This academic symposium invited the academics, government officials, and NGO leaders from all over the nation to participate in researching minorities and immigrant religious cultures and their impact on the changing Canadian social landscape.

UBC Human Geography’s doctoral candidate Justin Tse used ‘tsunami’ to represent the increasing numbers of PRC migrants to Canada.  He pointed out that Canadian Chinese religious organizations are mostly Cantonese-speaking and are mostly from Hong Kong, and that new migrants from the PRC find a gap in language and political values.  Although there are barriers, Chinese religious organizations are step-by-step incorporating new migrants, and the new migrants are participating willingly and happily because of their curiosity and need for religion, so the religious culture is changing from the inside, and it changes people’s view of politics and culture, causing the policymakers to pay attention.

Ryerson University’s urban planning professor Sandeep Agrawal expressed that up till now, the government has planned insufficiently for religion.  For example, in the Greater Toronto Area, there are 147 religious organizations, but there are only 123 religious places of worship, so on average one of these organizations must serve 10,000 people.  Many religious organizations can only hold their events in residential areas.

Agrawal said that when the government plans the city, they need to have the right amount of religious sites planned, so that they can ensure that multicultural and different religions are incorporated into the city development plans.

——

A FEW CLARIFICATIONS:

Sadly, and perhaps fortunately, I was not the one who coined the term “tsunami.”  I got it from another article written on 5 February 2010 in a Christian newsletter on Canadianchristianity.com on Chinese churches by Meg Johnstone entitled “Chinese churches thrive.”  In my own interviews for my master’s project on a transnational Hongkonger church, there were also people who expressed the phenomenon as new migrants “flooding into” the church “all of a sudden.”  We found similar sentiments expressed by some of the Cantonese-speaking churches on No. 5 Road.  A similar phenomenon was also noted by a fourth-year undergraduate geography student I helped who studied a prominent Cantonese-speaking church in Vancouver for his Research Methods: Migration course in Geography.  So no, “tsunami” is not from me; it is common parlance from the ground.

My comments on language also need to be taken in the context of Chinese Christianity in Metro Vancouver, not religion as a whole.  Most of the Buddhist places I’ve been studying on No. 5 Road are actually Mandarin-speaking: the Lingyen Mountain Temple is mostly from Taiwan (although there is a Cantonese tour guide, as well as a prominent figure who is non-Chinese), as is the Dharma Drum Buddhist Meditation Centre; some of the monks at Thrangu Monastery are proficient in Mandarin in addition to Tibetan.  But 74% of the Chinese Christian churches in the 2007 Vancouver Chinese Evangelical Ministerial Fellowship’s directory are Cantonese-speaking; the major Chinese Christian events also seem to be in Cantonese.  This situation is quickly changing as we speak, though, as many churches have started Mandarin ministries.  Moreover, far from all Mandarin ministry being new, there are also very well-established Mandarin-speaking churches in Metro Vancouver, such as Evangelical Chinese Bible Church (ECBC); I also have some very good Taiwanese Christian friends in the area as well; and Stream of Praise (讚美之泉), a very popular Taiwanese Christian music group based near Irvine in Orange County, CA, comes here to tour quite a bit too (and their Mandarin songs are sung in many Cantonese churches too!).

Christianity is important within the Chinese population because according to the 2001 census, there were more Christians (24%) than Buddhists (15%) within the Chinese population in Metro Vancouver.  For further reading, see Yu Li’s chapter on “Christianity as Chinese religion” in the edited 2010 volume on Asian Religions in British Columbia as well as my 2010 article in Population, Space, and Place on “Making a Cantonese-Christian family.” David Ley also has a section in his new book Millionaire Migrants: Trans-Pacific Life Lines (2010: pp. 213-217) on Chinese Christian churches as new civic spaces as well as a 2008 article in Urban Studies on the immigrant church as an urban service hub that focuses on German, Korean, and Chinese churches in Metro Vancouver.

On the difference of “political values,” I was referring to what my respondents had noted as a difference of political sensibilities between Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China.  Of course, the PRC is a big place, and Hong Kong is also very diverse, but this was also a common sentiment on the ground.  As I told the reporter, I think the jury is still out on whether PRC migrants are more politically conservative, liberal, apathetic, etc. than their Hongkonger counterparts in Vancouver.  That may partly comprise some of my doctoral research.  Stay tuned.

The paragraph also seems to suggest that I think that Chinese religious organizations in Vancouver will completely change from Hongkonger to PRC.  I think it’s messier than that, although with new migrants coming into the church, some things will inevitably change.  I am starting to see that already.  But will it completely change?  That also remains to be seen.

Lastly, on the policymakers paying attention, yes, I think this was a hopeful sentiment.  I spoke with a policymaker today, however, who couldn’t care less.  But I think this is perhaps the main thrust of my upcoming doctoral project: what are the civic imaginations and practices of Hongkonger Christians in the Pacific region?  If there is change from new, non-Cantonese migration, then perhaps some things may change politically in perhaps swinging religious votes or perhaps affecting land use or perhaps engagement in new forms of civil participation.  Perhaps.  I still have to do the research there.  But yes, like the article, I hope that policymakers do pay attention to Chinese Christians.

All this said, I think this article is overall a fair representation of the interview I gave and the symposium as a whole (at least the morning portions).  My hope is that the comments quoted especially by Sandeep and myself will not be taken as written in stone by the experts but will prompt further research by academics and policymakers as well as deeper reflection on religion and society by the people reading this in their daily newspaper.

Religion and Society: a policy symposium on immigration, multiculturalism, and social change in Canada (Metropolis BC and Embrace BC)

On Wednesday, 2 February 2011, I had the pleasure of being the lead presenter on work done in collaboration among Dr. Claire Dwyer (University College London, Geography), Dr. David Ley (UBC Geography), and myself on Richmond’s No. 5 Road, otherwise known as the “Highway to Heaven” for its over-20 religious institutions on three big blocks of converted Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

The talk we chose to give was entitled: Talking infrastructure: another topic for interfaith dialogue on Richmond’s “Highway to Heaven.” I was the lead presenter.

Our main point was that because the “Highway to Heaven” lay on mostly newly-converted ALR, its lack of infrastructure often forced religious institutions to cooperate to get things built, often only as one-off projects.  We discussed three key issues.  The first was that while No. 5 Road has been portrayed as a miracle of interfaith cooperation (mostly in the sharing of parking lots), our research shows that there have been potentials for conflict, particularly within ethnic groups, although these clashes have also tended to be minor.  The second was a demonstration through the case of sewage lines that interfaith collaboration were often one-off projects and that failures and successes were usually not the product of theological or cosmological conflicts.  The third was that policy from the City of Richmond often had the unintended side effects of frustrating some religious practices, such as in the proposed Blundell Interchange onto Highway 99 or the requirement to farm the back third of the lots for tax exemption.

We got great feedback on this project.  People from the City of Richmond who were present were very receptive to our comments and are beginning to discuss with us more possibilities for collaboration to minimize those unintended policy side effects.  We have also begun to learn much more about the ALR as a result and are finding that rural and urban spaces really do matter for geographies of religion.  We also met many members of the Richmond community, including representatives from two interfaith organizations (one English-speaking, another Chinese), who encouraged us to do more thinking along the lines of theological reflection and interaction with the City as good neighbours.  We were very pleased with the turnout for the event and grateful for all the suggestions for our project, which is still a work in progress.

The PowerPoint should be available from Metropolis BC at some point, and I will keep you posted on when.

Other interesting talks of the day included talks by the co-organizers of the symposium, Paul Bramadat (University of Victoria, Centre for Studies in Religion and Society) and Meharoona Ghani (Embrace BC) on the necessity of a policy discussion of religion in a world where faith and politics are increasingly important, especially in British Columbia.  In our panel on Space, Place and the Sacred: Managing Religious Diversity in a Multicultural Society (chaired by Paul Bramadat), there were two colleagues whose work focused on the Greater Toronto Area as comparative sites for British Columbia: Heidi Hoernig (McGill University, Office of Research Services) and Sandeep Agrawal (Ryerson University, School of Urban and Regional Planning).  Another panel on projects from Embrace BC’s Interfaith Bridging Projects featured talks from Clare Whelan-Sadike (Embrace BC), Tahzeem Kassam (DIVERSECity, Surrey), Bruce Curtis (Community Justice Centre, Comox Valley), and Julie Papaioannou (CIC BC/Yukon).  The day was capped by an open discussion on post-secularism led by Paul Bramadat and Julie Drolet (Thompson Rivers University, Social Work), where much of the discussion focused on the need for education for religious literacy at all levels of schooling to address a multicultural, multi-religious society that is increasingly not following the patterns of secularization once prescribed for it in the 1960s and 1970s.

We are looking forward to a larger conversation that will happen at the Metropolis Canada conference to be held in March 2011.  Claire Dwyer and I are co-organizing a session on religion and migration, and our panel will include people from Embrace BC, the City of Richmond, and Richmond’s Interfaith Advisory Committee.

PhD Candidacy

I have some great news: on Friday, 28 January 2011, at 1 PM, I passed my PhD comprehensive exams.  This means that I advance to become what the department calls a PhD Candidate.  Many thanks to everyone who has kept me in their thoughts and prayers!

What does it all mean?

Well, first of all, what it doesn’t mean is that I already have a PhD.  So no, I am not Dr. Justin Tse yet, although the people who work at academic journals seem to like to address me that way (which is flattering, but terribly misleading!).  I’m projecting to finish in 2013, after which (hopefully) I’ll really have a PhD.

What it does mean is that I am now provisionally qualified to do research at the PhD level.  The provision is that in about a month, I need to submit a PhD dissertation proposal (a prospectus, as they’d put it in the States).  A dissertation is basically the integrated book that I need to write by the end of my PhD.  A dissertation proposal details the topic that I will write my PhD dissertation on, the fields that I will engage, and the approaches and methods I will use.  So that is forthcoming in March, and it will have something to do with Christians from Hong Kong in the Pacific region.  Details are being thought out as we speak!

Over the next month, my plan is to work on a few things.  First, there are several conference presentations that I want to squeeze out of a combination of these comprehensives and some work that I’ve been doing in collaboration with Dr. David Ley and Dr. Claire Dwyer on No. 5 Road in Richmond.  Second, there are some articles on religion, Asian Americans, and Hongkonger Christians that I want to see if I can draft this month.  Third, there is the dissertation proposal itself, but I’ve gotten used to thinking about this because of all the grant proposals I had to write from August to October 2010.

So it’s going to be a busy month, but what I can say is that the comprehensives have given me a bit of a boost in terms of knowing literatures on geographies of religion and secularism, Pacific geographies of migration and ethnicity, and urban geographies in the Asia-Pacific a lot better.  Now the task is to see if we can put legs on the literature.

Many thanks to everyone who has supported me thus far!  There’s still about two more years to go, and I’m excited for the real work that is to come!