Entry on ‘Christianity’ in SAGE: Asian American Society: An Encyclopedia

I’m very excited to have recently received news that the SAGE: Asian American Society: An Encyclopedia (ed. Mary Yu Danico), in which I have an entry on Christianity, has been published. These 2000+ pages of Asian American sociological goodness are going to serve us well for much time to come.

I took a historical look at the literature on Asian American Christianities in my piece and observed that Christianities in Asian American society are both very diverse and very focused on the question of assimilation into white American society. Tracing Christian practice in Asian American communities from missionary encounters (both Protestant and Catholic) down to the articulation by an early twentieth-century second generation that their identities were ‘East/West’ hybrids, I also explored the impact of the Asian American Movement on developing liberation theologies and social justice movements led by Asian American Christians. Finally, I wrapped up with what I interpret as a resurgent conservatism both within Asian American Christian evangelical communities and among those who seek to police Asian American Christian faith, both Protestant and Catholic. I also have a reading of the Los Angeles Koreatown riots in 1992 here that I plan to develop into further research.

I’m very thankful to Mary Yu Danico (Cal Poly Pomona) for taking my piece on board, and I’m grateful to Jane Iwamura (University of the West) for referring me for this project. This was a great way to start finding my bearings during this postdoctoral fellowship. I also used this piece in its manuscript form to push hard for the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States to include much more about Asian Americans. I’m hoping to develop many of the ideas that I’ve suggested in this piece into journal articles, and I’m grateful after writing this to realize that for all the talk about there being a dearth of material on Asian American Christianities, our field has plenty of material with which to work.

JSIS C254: American Religion

In less than two hours, I will give the introductory lecture in my first course ever. This is a course on American religion, and it is listed as Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) C254 in the comparative religion unit.

jsis_c_254_tse

This course is about how religion in America may well constitute American civil society more than we might think.  The key course question that the students and I will explore together is: what is the role of American religion in the construction of American civil society? While there has been a lot of interesting work on lived religions in America and how Americans may have reshaped religion via the constructs of a voluntary society, this course will look at how religion in America affects American public life.

There are four main units in this course. In the first unit, we will explore the making of an Anglo-Saxon Protestant consensus in American religion, and we will do that by reading David Hackett Fischer’s massive tome, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. We will then do a second unit in which we look at how this consensus may have broadened out to non-Protestant religions, developed liberal and neo-orthodox strands, and formed some form of American religious pluralism, and to do that, we will read Will Herberg’s class text, Protestant-Catholic-Jew. After that, we’ll problematize the Protestant consensus by looking at race and religion in America. Our key text in this third unit will be James Baldwin’s civil rights book, The Fire Next Time, and we will supplement this unit with articles in Asian American, Chicana/o, and indigenous religions authored by Jane Iwamura, Andrea Smith, Tom Tweed, and David Yoo. Finally, our fourth unit will be on American fundamentalism as we explore the reassertions of the Protestant consensus, and we will read George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture.

To teach a course on American religion is to initiate students into a widely debated field of research. I understand, for example, that the emphasis of my course seems to be on the Protestant consensus in America may lead some to dispute whether I am privileging certain geographies or religions in America, and I am fully cognizant of revisionist histories that provincialize New England (e.g. Jon Butler’s Awash in a Sea of Faith), that seek to frame American religion via the geography of the Americas (e.g. Manuel Vásquez), and that seek to unsettle settler colonialism by emphasizing indigenous religions and relations. My reply would be that to do revisionist history implies still that there is a historical narrative to be revised, and I would argue that my course seeks to do that by positioning the traditional narratives of American religion via the Protestant consensus alongside the revisionist work on race. Scholars of American religion will recognize, then, that the first two units on the broadening of the Protestant consensus can be traced to Sydney Ahlstrom’s seminal Religious History of the American People. However, with the material on race, this Protestant consensus is actively being challenged and revised by groups with different senses of American geography, whether through a trans-Pacific framing (Asian American religions) or an Americas framework (a Chicana/o and indigenous religions). The idea is to look at how the conventional narratives can be juxtaposed with the alternate geographies.

As such, this course is a course on how religion can be seen as grounded in American civil society. It is not a history course, and it is not a course where we will tick off each of the religions in America. Instead, it asks the broader question of how American civil society is shaped by American religion, and my hope is that students will emerge from the course with the ability to articulate their perspective on that question critically.

Association of Asian American Studies, 17-20 April 2013

Over the next few days, I will be in Seattle for the Association of Asian American Studies‘ annual conference. This is the annual gathering for scholars in Asian American studies.

I organized a panel that was featured as one of the events relating to the Asian Pacific American and Religion Research Initiative (APARRI). The session is titled Empire and the Study of Asian American Religions, partly inspired by Kwok Pui Lan’s 2011 presidential address at the American Academy of Religion, ‘Empire and the Study of Religion.’ Our panel will be held on Saturday, 20 April, from 8:15 AM to 9:45 AM at the Westin-St. Helen’s. We will be chaired by Carolyn Chen (Northwestern University), and our discussant is Christopher Lee (UBC Vancouver). The presenters are as follows:

Christopher Chua, University of California, Berkeley
Imperial Intentions on American Soil: Missionary Work at San Francisco’s Chinese Presbyterian Church in the Late 19th Century

Helen Jin Kim, Harvard University
Constructing Yellow Empire: A History of the Neo-Evangelical, Anti-Communist Matrix in the Korean Diaspora (1951-1982)

Justin K. H. Tse, University of British Columbia
America, Return to God: Chinese American Evangelical Social Conservatives as Ironic Perpetual Foreigners

Timothy Tseng, Canaan Taiwanese Christian Church
Color-blinded By the Light: The American Evangelical Empire and the Deconstruction of Asian American Racial Identity in the San Francisco Bay Area

After some conversation with our discussant Chris Lee and further progress on my doctoral dissertation, I’ve changed the title of my presentation slightly to: ‘America, Return to God? Chinese American evangelicals and ideological antagonisms in Asian American studies.’ Focusing on my San Francisco field work, the paper will demonstrate that Asian American studies should be reconceptualized as a field of political ideological antagonisms between conservatives and progressives, and it will do so by examining Cantonese evangelical opposition to same-sex marriage.

We look forward to seeing you at the Association of Asian American Studies. Please visit the APARRI events for exciting developments in Asian American religious studies. These include:

Friday, April 19, 2013
4:30-6:00pm           APARRI Scholars Analyze and Discuss the Pew Research

PARTICIPANTS:

  • Janelle Wong, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Jane Iwamura, University of the West
  • David K. Kim, Connecticut College
  • Chair & Facilitator: Sharon Suh, Seattle University

7:00-9:00 pm         APARRI Reception and Roundtable Discussion at Seattle University:
“Challenges to Global Christianity in an Era of Secularism and Pluralism”

PARTICIPANTS:

  • Peter Phan, Georgetown University
  • David K. Kim, Connecticut College

**** The APARRI Roundtable and Reception will take place off site at:****
Seattle University
Admissions and Alumni Building
824 12th Ave. (corner of 12th & Marion)
Seattle, WA 98122

——————————————————————————————————————————————–

Saturday April 20, 2013
8:15-9:30              
Empire and Asian American Religions

PRESENTERS:

  • Christopher Chua, University of California, Berkeley
  • Helen Jin Kim, Harvard University
  • Justin K. H. Tse, University of British Columbia
  • Timothy Tseng, Canaan Taiwanese Christian Church
  • Chair: Carolyn Chen, Northwestern University
  • Discussant: Christopher Lee, University of British Columbia

1:00 -2:30 pm        Author Meets Critic:
Joseph Cheah’s:
Race and Religion in American Buddhism: White   Supremacy and Immigrant Adaptations

PARTICIPANTS:

  • Jane Iwamura, University of the West
  • Joseph Cheah, University of St. Joseph, Connecticut
  • Duncan Williams, University of Southern California
  • Tamara Ho, University of California, Riverside

2:45-4:15pm  Violence against Asian American Religious Communities

PARTICIPANTS:

  • Jaideep Singh, California State University, East Bay
  • Janelle Wong, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Chandan Reddy, University of Washington
  • David Kim, Connecticut College
  • Sylvia Chan-Malik, Rutgers University
  • Sharon Suh, Seattle University

——————————————

If you are in Seattle for the AAAS, we’d love to see you at all of these events.

CFP: AAAS 2013: Empire and Asian American Religions

Call for Papers
Empire and Asian American Religions: approaching religion in ethnic studies
Association of Asian American Studies 2013: Seattle

Religion has a contested place in Asian American studies, especially as it pertains to themes of empire.  The work of American missionaries in their attempts to “civilize” the “inassimilable alien Oriental” is continuously critiqued as having enacted narratives of white supremacist racism under the guise of benevolent activity.  Moreover, Asian American religion scholars such as Jane Naomi Iwamura (2011) and Joseph Cheah (2011) have demonstrated that appropriations of Asian American religions in American popular culture have perpetuated ideologies of orientalization toward Asian American religious practitioners.  Indeed, a recent president of the American Academy of Religion, Kwok Pui-lan (2012)—herself an Asian American—laments the complicity of religious studies with imperializing projects.

However, as recent work in Asian American religious studies, including the publication of a Pew Forum report on Asian American religions, has shown, religion is an inescapable part of many Asian American communities.  This paper session attempts to collect papers that span this seeming paradox in an attempt to chart a way forward in approaches to religion in Asian American studies.  How are religions in Asian American studies to be studied, given the imperial context in which many approaches have been complicit?  Will the approaches differ between progressive traditions and conservative ideologies?  Are religions inescapably imperialistic, or do they, as Kwok Pui-lan suggests, hold within themselves keys to imagining an alternative world where the marginalized can speak back?

We welcome both theoretical papers and empirical studies.  Suggested topics include:

  • Theoretical approaches to religion in Asian American studies
  • Religion and discourses of the inassimilable alien
  • Religion and white supremacy
  • Religion and anti-racist politics
  • Religion and post-colonial imaginings
  • The role of religion in reinforcing and/or challenging orientalizing discourses
  • Progressive religious traditions and their relation to empire
  • Conservative religious ideologies and their relation to empire

Please submit all paper proposals to Justin K.H. Tse at tse.justo@gmail.com no later than October 20, 2012 for consideration.