Conference: Freedom of (and from) Religion | University of California, Santa Barbara

From April 30 to May 2, 2015, I attended the ‘Freedom of (and from) Religion’ Conference at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Hosted by the UCSB Religious Studies Department alongside their Virgil Cordano Catholic Studies Program, this conference was part of their conference series on religion and law. There was a stellar lineup of speakers, including Winnifred Sullivan (Indiana University), among other junior scholars as well. Ann Taves, who was our GORABS Annual Lecturer in 2013, played a representative faculty role for UCSB Religious Studies and Catholic Studies.

My paper, which took a different spin (a more legal one) from the iteration I gave at the AAAS earlier in the month, was titled ‘The Passion of Hak-Shing William Tam: Perry v. Schwarzenegger and the Question of Religious Privacy.’ Here’s the abstract:

Some religious activists claim that their public actions against same-sex marriage should not only be publicly accommodated, but understood as fundamentally private. Instead of philosophizing on the actual legitimacy of this claim, I examine why its proponents argue that it is legitimate. My case study centers on Dr. Hak-Shing William Tam in the federal court case Perry v. Schwarzennegger, which ensued after the passage of California’s Proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples. Called as a hostile witness, Tam – an official grassroots proponent of Proposition 8 – argued that his privacy had been violated when his private emails were introduced as evidence that he had imposed his private religious animus against gays and lesbians onto the public sphere. That the court discredited the Proposition 8 proponents based on this evidence suggested to Tam and his colleagues that the judiciary was in the sway of the private interests of sexual minorities. A closer examination of the Perry transcript shows that this privacy emphasis framed the interests of sexual minorities as competing with those of religious communities. I argue that Tam’s privacy claim was part of an attempt to fashion a legal consensus where public action on either side of Proposition 8 was fundamentally about defending private communities. In this way, the Proposition 8 proponents defended actions such as Tam’s by claiming that he had not so much sought public accommodation for his views, but the victory of his private interests over against competing ones. Claims to religious freedom may not thus only be requests for public accommodation; they may well be political tools to refashion American society as solely composed of competing interests vested in private communities.

I enjoyed the chance to be at UCSB and to interact with the conference participants and the UCSB faculty. As this signals an interest that I have developed in geographies of religion and law from since my PhD, I hope this is the first of many encounters to come.

Association of Asian American Studies, 2015: Evanston, IL

I was glad to be able to attend the Association of Asian American Studies in Evanston, IL in April 2015, which was taking place concurrently with the American Association of Geographers in Chicago. I presented a paper in a session organized by Russell Jeung (San Francisco State) that mostly consisted of research projects that Jeung himself had organized to reorient the study of Asian American ‘secularity.’ My co-panelists included Seanan Fong (Harvard), Helen J. Kim (Harvard), and Alice Liu (Ohio State).

My presentation focused on ‘The passion of Hak-Shing William Tam: California’s Proposition 8 and the Secular Ironies of Asian American Privilege.’ The abstract is as follows:

Dr. Hak-Shing William “Bill” Tam has not been a sympathetic figure in Asian American studies. Castigated for being one of the official proponents of California’s Proposition 8, the legal and journalistic wranglings around Tam’s socially conservative stances on sexuality have been discussed as attempts to impose his private religious morality onto secular public space. This paper argues precisely the opposite. A closer examination of Tam’s rationale for vehemently opposing same-sex marriage suggests that his social conservatism is rooted in the secular trope of the model minority. Indeed, Tam’s central contention, I will show, is that same-sex marriage is the vanguard of an attempt to undermine heteronormative Asian American families that he conceptualizes as vehicles for social mobility through education in the hard sciences. This conception of the private sphere is a secular one, relying much less on a theological tradition than on the defense of a perceived socio-economic ideology of upward assimilation. This call for even the conventionally religious to be understood as secular opens up the conversation about how Asian American secularities might include the studies that have been criticized as privileging Christianity in Asian American religious studies.

I’m very thankful to Russell Jeung for pulling this panel together. It is always good to be among friends and colleagues doing compelling scholarly work. I’m also very thankful for session attendees like Brett Esaki (Georgia State) and Jonathan Lee (SF State) for their comments and for their personal support of my scholarly endeavours.

The Model Minority and the Gospel of Schoolvation | Society for the Philosophical Study of Education | Columbia College, Chicago, IL, November 8-9

I’m thrilled to be presenting at the upcoming Society for the Philosophical Study of Education at Columbia College in Chicago, IL, from November 8-9. This is a bit of a new foray for me. I am a geographer who is currently housed in religious studies, and I never thought that my work would also be considered ‘philosophy of education.’ However, my colleagues in educational studies have convinced me that my work on Asian American, Asian Canadian, and Asia-Pacific Christians and their public activism around schools means that I have something to say.

Ellen Wu’s The Color of Success is a very important takeoff point for my paper. It’s a book I’ve also reviewed.

My paper critiques the internalization of the model minority mythology among conservative Asian Americans because they have deployed it in their politics as a generator of grounded theologies. It’s titled ‘The Model Minority and the Gospel of Schoolvation.‘ Here’s the abstract:

This paper explores the circulation of philosophies of education among upwardly mobile Asian Americans. Despite the stated axes of political difference among liberal and conservative Asian Americans on sexual politics, tax revenue, and the role of government in welfare provision, one point of philosophical convergence among Asian Americans is that public education plays what Sam Rocha (forthcoming) calls a ‘salvific’ role in delivering young people from downward class mobility. Preaching the ‘gospel of schoolvation,’ Asian Americans such as Michelle Rhee (a Democrat) and Hak-Shing William Tam (a Republican and one of the five official proponents of California’s Proposition 8) use positivistic empirical criteria to declare that schools must do more to save their students from racial marginalization. Indeed, this paper’s central argument is that this version of the gospel of schoolvation grounds a racially constituted philosophy of education to construe Asian Americans as a model minority, a racialized group that models how empirically rigorous education can lead a racialized community out of marginalization from a white mainstream. Showing that this philosophy has in turn been exported to Asia-Pacific nation-states to fuel their participation in a global economy, I probe how race is wrapped up with soteriological accounts of schools, challenging philosophers of education to explore how educational theories construct grounded political realities.

All are welcome. Here’s the schedule. I look forward to the interaction at this conference, especially because other scholars of religion and the social sciences (especially Silas Morgan) will also be there masquerading as philosophers of education.

UPDATE: At this conference, I was made secretary for the group for one year, which means that at least persons at this conference might consider me to some extent an ex officio ‘philosopher of education.’ However, I prefer to say that the SPSE is the society that is my ‘teaching workshop,’ a group that I try to attend where people help me think through how I teach. Certainly, this has helped with the preparation of teaching statements, but more importantly, it has helped me become more intentional as a teacher, and for that I am grateful.