Association of American Geographers + GORABS 2012: New York

I was unable to make this year’s Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in New York on 24-28 February 2012, but that didn’t stop our ‘Highway to Heaven’ team from coming out with a co-authored paper.  Claire Dwyer (University College, London) and I co-wrote a paper entitled ‘Planning for religious worship: the creation of the ‘Assembly District’ in Richmond, Vancouver.’ Claire presented this for the team in a paper session entitled ‘Religion, Society and Space: An Institutional Perspective‘ organized by Karen Morin (Bucknell University) and Lily Kong (National University of Singapore).

Here was our abstract:

In the multicultural suburb of Richmond, Vancouver the clustering of religious buildings along the Number 5 Road highway which marks the eastern boundary of the city has earned the colloquialism ‘Highway to Heaven’. However the agglomeration of more than twenty religious buildings including mosques, churches, religious schools, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh temples within 3 kilometres is not accidental but the product of an unusual city planning designation which unites ‘Assembly Use’ with a long term plan to safeguard agricultural land and prevent urban sprawl. This paper examines the evolution of this planning policy and its role in the creation of a distinctive transnational suburban religious landscape. It explores how Richmond’s diaspora faith communities negotiate their relationships with the state and other civic institutions, such as Richmond Food Security, focusing particularly on their obligations to maintain the agricultural potential of the land. The paper also examines other intersections with civic institutions particularly, Richmond Tourism, in response to initiatives to market Number 5 Road as a tourist destination. As such the paper contributes to the wider issues raised by this session about the relationships between religion and space in the context of the state and civic institutions.

The overall point of the session was:

The purpose of this session is to consider new directions in the geography of religion by focusing on the scale of the civic institution in understanding relationships and connections between people and their religious beliefs and practices. State and civic organizations such as schools, hospitals, the courts, prisons, businesses, government agencies, NGOs, museums, and the military, among others, are sites through which religious norms and practices are mediated, regulated, represented, facilitated, and contested. This session builds upon a substantial body of scholarly work on religion, identity, and space, going beyond it by offering new insights into the important role that state, civic, and social institutions and organizations play in contemporary religious life, in various regional locations. Papers explore different types of institutional spaces and the various ways in which they facilitate, control and otherwise mediate religious beliefs and practices.

Congratulations also to Murat Es (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) for winning the David E. Sopher New Scholar Award with the Geography of Religions and Belief Systems Specialty Group (GORABS) this year for his paper entitled ‘Western Mosques between Universalism and Particularism.’  Here was his abstract:

Mosques carry special importance for the localization of Islam in the West. Monumental mosque projects initiated by Western Muslims often make the headlines, the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ project in New York and the DITIB’s Central Mosque in Cologne being two recent examples. Reactions of anxiety over the transformative effects of architecturally distinct mosque structures and their congregations on the cityscapes in Western countries link the image of mosques to radicalization and fundamentalism. This paper aims to go beyond the image of mosques as sites of absolute alterity and unbridgeable Otherness within-yet outside-the West to underscore the everyday uses and contested roles of mosques in the politics of belonging in the West. Based on multi-sited ethnographic research in the Netherlands and Turkey, I look at the transnational practices of Turkish-Dutch communities and the struggles over national belonging and citizenship in the Netherlands. I discuss the everyday production and multiple and intersected articulations of Muslimness, Europeanness, Dutchness and Turkishness through public rituals, education, entertainment and socialization at mosques. In so doing, I show the interrelations between the Turkish and Dutch religious fields and shed light on the universalist and particularist articulations of Islam to cosmopolitan and ethno-national belonging(s).

Finally, our GORABS Annual Lecture this year was delivered by Ceri Peach (Oxford), who spoke on ‘Islam and the Art of Mosque construction in Western Europe‘:

Since the 1950s, there has been a dramatic growth in the Muslim population of the countries of Western Europe from almost negligible to about 13 millions in the early 2000s. Immigration came first in the north—Britain, France, Germany, Benelux—and then progressively into the south to countries which had previously supplied immigrants to the north. With the demographic change has come the growth of Islamic places of worship and important impacts on the European cultural landscape an impact which has not always been well received. In an early paper Peach and Gale (Geographical Review 2003, 93:4) tracked the growth of mosques in Britain, analyzing the difficulties that they faced in gaining planning permission to construct building with differed from the local vernaculars. We traced a three stage evolution of British attitudes over time: (1) Denial; you can’t have it if it looks like a mosque (2), Hiding: you can have it as long as it is somewhere where people can’t see it. (3) Celebration: you can have it and it can have dome and minarets, and it can be in a prominent position. The present paper seeks to establish whether the three stages relate not only to change over time in Britain but to the stance of different countries with regard to mosques as one moves south through Western Europe. Are the Spanish in denial?

For more information about sessions sponsored by GORABS, see the newsletter that I put together as secretary for the group.

Asia-Pacific Worlds in Motion IV: Fluidities and Fixities, Feb 2012

I was recently at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) 2012 conference, Asia-Pacific Worlds in Motion IV: Fluidities and Fixities.  This is a conference jointly organized by UBC and NUS students working in migration studies.

There was a stellar lineup of keynote speakers, which include Adrian Bailey (Hong Kong Baptist University/Leeds University), Elspeth Graham (University of St. Andrews), Rhacel Salazar Parreñas (University of Southern California), and Dan Hiebert (UBC).

I was part of a paper session on Transnational Identities and Subjectivities, chaired by Tracey Skelton (NUS) and responded to by Rhacel Parrenas.  I presented a paper entitled ‘A Minority Challenging Multiculturalism: The Social Conservatism of Cantonese-speaking Evangelical Christians in Metro Vancouver.’  Here’s the abstract:

Studies of transnationality in the Asia-Pacific region have recently focused on migration through a given social field over the lifecourse, some nodes centred on education, others on work (Waters 2002; Ley and Kobayashi 2005; Preston et al 2006; Waters 2006; Ley 2010; Lin 2011). While such approaches rightly highlight these migrants’ ties to their places of origin, they seldom explore their commitments to their new destination nation-states. Using qualitative data collected from 40 key informant interviews and four focus groups in Metro Vancouver, this paper demonstrates that one particular, influential migrant group in Vancouver—migrants from Hong Kong who are of evangelical Christian faith—are in fact more committed to Canada than Hong Kong. However, their involvement in Canadian civil society, far from celebrating Canada’s multicultural policy, has sought to challenge multiculturalism on the grounds that their rights of religious freedoms and parental choices in their children’s education have been overshadowed by agendas concerning gender and sexuality. Such political voices have included journalistic postings in English- and Chinese-language media in Vancouver, activist organisations, and the success of Cantonese-speaking evangelical Christian candidates for the Conservative Party in federal elections. Given such a wide range of political participation, I argue that the social conservatism of Hongkonger evangelicals, while contextualised by a transnational social field, signifies an attempted integration into Canadian civil society by challenging the state’s multicultural policy. This paper advances discussions of fixities and fluidities in Asia-Pacific migrations by outlining the development of a socio-political agenda by transnational migrants for their destination countries, not only their places of origin.

For more information about the conference, please see the Asia-Pacific Worlds in Motion website. We hope to have the fifth installment at UBC Vancouver.

PhD Field Work: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Greetings from Hong Kong!  I have been here since 22 February and will be here until April 17 doing field work for my PhD on Cantonese-speaking Christians, their conceptions of civil society, and their concrete networks and political practices.

During this time, I will be interested in any leads on the following:

  • How various churches and denominational bodies see their role in civil society
  • Christian involvement (both Protestant and Catholic) in the Chief Executive elections
  • Christian activism around “moral” issues, such as homosexuality and gambling
  • Christian work in poverty, both in areas of charity and social justice
  • Christians in post-80s movements
  • Christian discourse around democracy
  • Christian activism for and against the right to abode for migrant workers and China mothers
  • Christian work in education

I am interested in speaking with pastors, Christian organization leaders, and politicians.  I am also interested in gathering focus groups from the Christian laity.  If you would like to speak with me, or know of any people with whom I should speak, please contact me at jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca.

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!

Hearing a different kind of evangelical: Pastor Ken Shigematsu, Tenth Church Vancouver (Ricepaper 16.3)

Ricepaper Magazine, an Asian Canadian arts and culture magazine, has just put out their new 16.3 issue, The Hybrid Issue!   It features articles on how Asian Canadians negotiate the diversities in their own experiences as well as in their creative output.  Other articles in this issue include excerpts from two plays that explore identity intersections, a creative fiction piece about hybridities at a hot dog stand, a critical piece on Canadian immigration policy, profiles of community authors such as C.E. Gatchalian and Haruko Okano, a reflection on why being called “hapa” isn’t so good, and photos of people of hybrid upbringings.

I contributed a profile to this issue entitled “Hearing a Different Kind of Evangelical” (p. 54-57). The piece centers on Pastor Ken Shigematsu, the senior pastor of Tenth Church Vancouver and the one-time co-planter of Newsong Church with Dave Gibbons in Southern California.  In the piece, I try to “hear” Ken as an “evangelical” and as an “Asian Canadian.”  These two terms are badly misunderstood in popular circles (especially “evangelical”–I cannot begin to count the ways!), and what Ken offers is a chance for us to hear these terms afresh, to see that both terms–at least for Ken and the good folks at Tenth Church–foster diversity, inclusivity, and hybridity across ethnic, class, and even religious lines, even if these terms previously stood for exactly the opposite in our minds.

Tenth Church has a fantastic section of news clippings about the church. There’s plenty there about their policy interactions with the city, the way they’re perceived in the neighbourhoods they are in (Mount Pleasant and Kitsilano), and a very interesting Asian Canadian spin with Tenth on the Asian American “silent exodus” of second-generation Asian Canadian Christians from immigrant churches.

You can get a copy of Ricepaper at any Chapters in the Lower Mainland, as well as most local bookstores.  There’s also a subscription service!  Get it: it’s our Asian Canadian arts and culture mag, and it really is all about promoting what happens in our community!

PhD Field Work: San Francisco Bay Area II

I am returning to the San Francisco Bay Area for field research from 16 November to 20 December.

During this time, I am hoping to do the following:

  • Finish key informant interviews at Chinese Christian organizations and churches that I didn’t get to in the first round this summer
  • Conduct focus groups with Cantonese-speaking evangelicals on their feedback on what’s going on in civil society and politics
  • Amass an archive of media(print and audio-visual) reports, city planning documents, and church records to help with my project
If you have any leads or would like to be involved, please contact me at jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca.  I will be staying on the East Bay as a home base but will be able to commute throughout the Bay Area.

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.

‘Research Methods for the Study of Religion’ : new on-line resource

Another message from David Butler, the GORABS chair:

GORABS is pleased to be asked to announce that a new research training resource, primarily aimed at postgraduate students, has now gone live.

‘Research Methods for the Study of Religion’ is an on-line resource, covering a wide range of key topics in this field, from research design, and the politics and ethics of research, to issues in the use of various quantitative and qualitative methods. Developed from the experience of an intensive training workshop for doctoral students run in conjunction with the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society programme, the content on the site includes discussion papers, exercises, bibliographies, discussion questions and links to other relevant on-line material. We hope that the site will meet the need both of individual researchers looking for resources on particularly methodological issues, and lecturers wanting source material to use in teaching methods courses.

The site can be found at http://www.kent.ac.uk/religionmethods/index.html

Geographies of Religion and Belief Systems: David E. Sopher Award

Description:

The purpose of the David E. Sopher New Scholar Award is to promote intellectual enquiry from new scholars into geographies of religions and belief systems through the presentation of papers at the AAG meeting. Papers will be judged on potential contribution to the field of Geography of Religions and Belief Systems, organization, and written composition.

Eligibility:

Both graduate students and untenured faculty who are not serving on the GORABS board can apply for the award. Award: The amount for the 2012 award is a travel grant of $250. The recipient will also be given an official certificate at the AAG awards luncheon.

Disbursement:

A check will be disbursed to the winner at the 2012 Geography of Religions and Belief Systems annual business meeting at the AAG event.

Requirements:

The paper and application form must be emailed to the GORABS chair in rich text or Microsoft Word format by Feb. 3, 2012. The paper must subsequently be presented at the national AAG meeting, though it does not have to be in a GORABS sponsored session. A panel of previous GORABS chairs will judge the papers and determine a recipient. The winner will be announced in time to attend the awards luncheon with a GORABS representative. GORABS reserves the right to not make an award in a given year.

Apply by html or Microsoft Word.

Geography of Religion and Belief Systems: Association of American Geographers, Annual Meeting 2012 (New York): Annual Lecturer

A message from our GORABS Chair, David Butler:

I have pleasure in announcing Professor Ceri Peach will be our GORABS Guest Lecturer at AAG 2012, where he will offer a lecture provisionally entitled ‘Islam and the Art of Mosque construction in Western Europe’. This promises to be fascinating topic which will, no doubt, draw attention to GORABS as a speciality AAG group, which can only be a positive development.

This annual lecture session will be our GORABS highlighted session with the AAG. I also hope to advertise the Sopher Student Award shortly.

I would be greatly obliged if all paper session organizers (both those who have received GORABS sponsorship and those GORABS members who are participating in related non-GORABS sponsored sessions) could send me an update on your planned AAG 2012 activities, as the board need to submit timetabling requests, vis-a-vis our annual lecture, annual business meeting, and sponsored sessions to prevent any undue stress shuttling from one venue to another!

I look forward to any information you may provide. It is only some 18 days before the call for papers closes – this may be extended for a week or so, as it has been in previous recent years – but we need to stay focused as a speciality group.

All best wishes for now,

David