Teaching, Term 1, 2020-21: Big Questions: Global and Local | Publics and Privates on the Pacific Rim

I just put on the finishing touches on the syllabi for the courses I’m teaching here at Singapore Management University in the Office of Core Curriculum for Term 1. Teaching starts next week. Because of the pandemic, all of our Core Curriculum courses will take place online.

I’ve got two offerings this term. I’m continuing as a Core Curriculum faculty member to be part of the team offering the Big Questions course this year, which revolves around the theme of the global and the local. I had the pleasure of piloting a version of this course last term, which was titled ‘Finding Home in a Globalized World.’ Like its predecessor last year on happiness and suffering, it’s an interdisciplinary course for first-year students, whom we encourage to ask the ‘big questions’ from multiple perspectives. In ‘Global and Local,’ we explore how the processes of globalization might be seen from the perspective of ‘the local,’ variously conceived.

The links to the syllabi above show how I, as part of the team that’s rolling out these courses, have come at these topics. Our team circulates a master syllabus, and faculty have discretion in changing some things around to better suit our scholarly interests and pedagogical style.

I also get to teach my own course here this term, which I’ve titled ‘Publics and Privates on the Pacific Rim.’ I often tell a joke, which I’ve told in public, that one time, I was grading an exam — incidentally in a course on geographies of the Pacific Rim for which I served as a teaching assistant five times in a row as a graduate student — and one of my students had meant to write ‘public’ but misspelled it without the ‘l.’ I circled it in bright red and quoted the Princess Bride in my comment: You keep using that word. I do not think you know what it means.

Now I get to teach a course on that whole mishap. We will move through how public and private spaces, and everything in between, are conceived of in the ideological geography of the ‘Pacific Rim,’ the aspirationally liberal zone of market integration between the Asia-Pacific and the Americas that promised so much by way of multiculturalism and world peace.

I’m happy to share these syllabi, especially as my workplace often talks about the sharing culture that we want to see become an ecological norm in our global civil society. If you use them, just give credit where it’s due; say you got the ideas from me, but are running with them in a different direction from me, probably. This is how I teach these courses too. I present strong arguments about how I think through these concepts in order to provoke students into coming up with ideas that may be complementary or even challenging to mine. It’s how to ask big questions, I think. The goal is to develop a generous and generative openness in our intellectual commons. I hope what we do here goes some small way in forming the culture of collective inquiry we will need to thrive in these twenty-first century ecologies.

Summer 2019 update

photo by wife

The 2018-2019 school year has wrapped up, and summer is upon us. It’s been quite a year for me. I have a number of things coming through the pipeline, some articles, some book chapters, even a manuscript for a monograph that I’ve been crafting on Cantonese Protestants and postsecular civil societies on the Pacific Rim.

Some stuff has been happening already. A chapter of mine on cultural geography came out in the volume Theorizing ‘Religion’ in Antiquity, edited by Nickolas Roubekas, in which I continue my unlikely defence from my piece on ‘grounded theologies‘ of the legacy of Mircea Eliade as a historian of religion who is a central figure (at least as I argue) in geographies of religion. I gave a colloquium talk at Calvin College’s Department of Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies on an article I’ve been crafting on Chinese American megachurches in the Silicon Valley. My critical reflective piece on the concepts ‘uniatism’ and the ‘model minority’ that the magazine Patriyarkhat invited me to write has come out, first in Ukrainian translation in the print version in December 2018, then online in English, and now also with footnotes and extended clarifications in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. I’ve attended four conferences — the American Academy of Religion in November 2018, a very interesting conference on Christian social activism and Chinese societies at Purdue’s Center for Religion and Chinese Society, the American Association of Geographers in April 2018 where I organized and presented an exegesis of Paulo Freire in a session on pedagogy and religion in geography, and the Association for Asian American Studies in that same month, during which I had the honour of organizing an all-star, standing-room-only panel on the historian Gary Okihiro’s provocation ‘Asians did not go to America; America went to Asia.’ We are going to continue the intervention with Okihiro’s work at the American Studies Association later this November in Honolulu, with another panel titled Third World Studies, Not Ethnic Studies, as a conversation around Okihiro’s longstanding argument that the internationalist sensibilities that gave rise to anti-colonial critiques of racial formations caved to liberal nationalist frameworks that led to the siloing of identity in the academy.

As I wrapped up my third and final year as Visiting Assistant Professor in the Asian American Studies Program at Northwestern University, I expanded the scope of my teaching. My course offerings this year ranged the full gamut of my repertoire in Asian American studies: Asian American history, Chinese American studies, Asian American religion, Asian American social movements, Global Chinatowns, and Asian American geographies. But this year especially, I have been drawn more directly into the formal individual supervision of students. In the past, I had taught some directed studies courses, as well as supervised research, on topics closer to my own research interests on Asian American Christianities and their relationship to Asian American studies. But this year, there has been a wide much range of independent studies topics, including Korean dance and ‘the invention of tradition,’ sonic orientalism in popular movie soundtracks, Global China and feminism, research methods in Chicago’s Chinese churches and trans-Pacific theologies, indigeneity and orientalism on the Pacific, the postsecular Pacific, and psychoanalysis and the Pacific. I also had the privilege of supervising my first thesis student Irina Huang, an undergraduate senior in American studies, who wrote a theoretically rigorous piece woven in with personal creative nonfiction essays on how obsessive-compulsive disorder functions in the normative public sphere as a ‘model minority’ of mental illness.

I continue to be active in my public engagements as well. The journalist Douglas Quan interviewed me for a very interesting piece last October on Richmond’s ‘cultural diversity policy.’ I have also been invited by Worldview on WBEZ 91.5 FM in Chicago four times over the last school year to offer scholarly analyses of Hong Kong, its tradition and practice of protests, and the recent blow-ups about the incarceration of some figures from the Occupy Central and Umbrella Movement occupations in 2014 as well as the controversial extradition law.

In terms of service, one role that I have taken on over the last year is to be program co-chair of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Reading through the abstracts and thinking about organizing the program has given me new insight into what we do as social scientists of religion. I am glad to be working with our president Elaine Howard Ecklund and my co-chair Ryon Cobb as we expand the diversity of our organization, especially for the conference in St Louis this year in October.

Finally, my biggest and most exciting announcement is that I have just started work as Assistant Professor in Humanities (Education) at Singapore Management University. In addition to teaching courses in the School of Social Sciences, my major role there is to offer the Core Curriculum, a program that seeks to engage students across the school with the big concepts that are fused throughout our contemporary world. This year, the theme will be Happiness and Suffering, which I will teach, along with my colleagues, as a philosophical, psychoanalytical, and postsecular exploration of these affects, emotions, and orientations to the world. As an academic, my work is to write and to probe the complex phenomena common to our shared inhabitation of the earth, so it obviously goes without saying that my published views anywhere are in no way to be associated with my employers, as if academics could fully agree on anything anyway. Indeed, my convictions about all academic work — whether under the pillar of research, teaching, service, or community engagement — is that it should all be a springboard into a larger discussion in which all participants are strengthened through engagement, never the final word on any topic. I am thrilled to ‘let my work grow up,’ as I heard one senior academic once describe to a junior colleague, in this intellectual community, and I look forward to spirited engagements and enthusiastic conversation here.