April 24 2018

Sally Smith Holt, Belmont University
Regional Coordinator, AAR Southeast Region

Editor's note: The God's Books conference, held on November 3, 2013, at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, was organized with funding provided by an AAR 2013–2014 Regional Development Grant. To learn more about regional grants and to read successful proposals from prior years, visit https://www.aarweb.org/programs-services/regional-development-grants.

W. Anne Joh, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

Ask doctoral students from underrepresented communities of color how well they are being prepared for becoming theological educators in a rapidly changing climate and most will say “not well at all.” My reflections here revolve around a few questions that seem to emerge quite frequently in doctoral studies, especially from students of racial/ethnic minority communities and what institutional racism does to them during the process of going through a doctoral program. How are the needs of these students met or not met within the predominantly white institutions and programs whose curricula often reflect absence and foreclosure of the historical legacy of systemic racism? How can institutions committed to cultivating institutional diversity transform so that all students might thrive during their studies, become well prepared to enter their profession as educators, and be equipped to integrate into their teaching the quotidian issues that our societies face?

by Jonathan H. X. Lee, San Francisco State University

Pie chart displaying religious affiliation of Asian Americans v. the general US population

According to the 2012 (revised and updated in 2013) Pew Research Center report, “The Rise of Asian Americans,” Asian Americans are the “fastest-growing racial group in the United States."* Asian American religions and religiosities can be taught as stand-alone courses or as a part of other courses such as World Religions, Transnational Religions, or American Religious History, among others. Religious studies and Asian American studies are both inherently interdisciplinary and multi-methodological disciplines. Both disciplines pay careful consideration to emic and etic boundaries, and while Asian American studies explicitly promotes and condones experimentation with personal experience in research and teaching, religious studies can also do so, though that is not usually the norm.

by Emily S. Wu, Dominican University of California

Our eighty-seven-year-old Elder, a third-generation descendent of a Chinese American fishing village in northern California, gives us a timid smile from behind the bar of the small diner that he and his family have operated since the 1940s. My students and I have just set up a laptop and microphone to record a first-person account of his life story. The Elder looks over our shoulders to where a man stands with a stern face and his arms crossed—this is a member of the nonprofit organization that now operates the village as a park. The twinkle in the Elder’s eyes dim, but ever a shrewd businessman, he composes himself immediately. With his usual charm, mixed with a fragility that comes with his age, the Elder gives us a narrative that is consistent with the official story of the location, a story that evolves around ecological explanations of the decline of the local fishing industry. Having interacted with the Elder for months before the formal recording, we have started to hear bits and pieces of another version of the history—one that is not going to be captured on tape.

by Joanne Doi, Maryknoll Sisters Integration Program, Chicago, IL

Pie chart displaying religious affiliation of Asian Americans v. the general US population

Before studying at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, I lived many years in the southern Andes of Peru, 12,000 feet above sea level in the high plains bioregion surrounding Lake Titicaca, sharing life and working with the Aymara indigenous peoples. I experienced a deep connection with the Aymara through our mutual vulnerability, solidarity, and friendship. Instead of my "otherness," they recognized and embraced me as another. I experienced what theologian Johann Baptist Metz describes as the "mysticism of open eyes": an increased readiness to see more, to name visible and invisible suffering and pay attention to it, to be moved to compassion, to "suffer with," to respond, and in so doing, to experience God's presence in suffering and hope. This expansion of love in Peru gave me new ways to see the experience of my own Japanese American history and a new heart now able to perceive the suffering and hope that was lived in the lives of my parents and grandparents through immigration, detention, to redress and beyond.

by Linh Hoang, Siena College

Pie chart displaying religious affiliation of Asian Americans v. the general US population

“I am nervous going into the temple.”

“I am not sure what to do.”

“What if I make a mistake?”

These statements were uttered by my students as we entered the Hindu Temple Society of the Capital District of New York. The five students had not been in a temple before, knew very little to nothing about Hinduism, and I had presented only a brief introduction on Hinduism during the second week of the semester. When we entered the temple, we immediately saw a sign instructing us what to do. This put many of the students at ease as they proceeded to follow the posted instructions.

by Ronald Y. Nakasone, Graduate Theological Union

Pie chart displaying religious affiliation of Asian Americans v. the general US population

When offering a course on Buddhist art and aesthetics at the Graduate Theological Union, I always include a session on the art of sho (calligraphy), a major genre in East Asian culture that is still practiced among the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans in the United States. The three-hour session begins with a brief introduction to the history of calligraphy, the varieties of brush, paper, and ink, and most importantly, the pedagogical strategy of transmitting the art and aesthetics of line and space that are employed to write Chinese ideograms and Korean and Japanese syllabary. The remainder of the class is devoted to demonstrating select aesthetic qualities present in different Chinese and Japanese calligraphy samples. Subsequently, students are given the opportunity to hold the brush and write characters and syllabic forms. Lines and space formed by a soft brush cannot be appreciated unless one experiences the use of the soft brush.

by Brett J. Esaki, Central Michigan University

Pie chart displaying religious affiliation of Asian Americans v. the general US population

Colleagues have often suggested that I open class with popular culture in order to excite students for what comes next. However, I would caution that though this may seem like an unproblematic way to drive and to sustain student interest in historical, complex, or foreign course material, popular culture can upset and alienate students. Based on my experience teaching American art and popular culture, I understand that there will be students who react defensively to the material based on personal commitments, which is not unlike the majority of religious studies classrooms. Issues of race are also part of my courses on the religions and arts of American ethnic minorities, and these issues can make this challenging reaction more acute. I have devised a scaffold for my courses so as to calm student defensiveness and harness some of the emotions for student learning.

by Jaideep Singh, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project at the University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Race & Gender

Pie chart displaying religious affiliation of Asian Americans v. the general US population

When I was last in India in 1998, researching the lost history of Sikhs in World War II, I visited my grandfather for the final time. I had a wonderful time with him and my mamaji (maternal uncle) as we spent time exploring my ancestral home of Punjab, India pilgrimaging to historically significant gurdwaras. The three of us treasured the opportunity to get to know one another again during our brief time together without the rest of our family, something we had not shared since I was a toddler a quarter-century earlier. As important as it was to connect to my overseas family, homeland, and religious heritage on this trip, the most significant and enduring experience of the journey occurred in my maternal grandparents’ home in Chandigarh.

by Thien-Huong T. Ninh, Williams College

Pie chart displaying religious affiliation of Asian Americans v. the general US population

In 1992, three years before Vietnam normalized relations with the United States, approximately fifty Vietnamese American Catholics, Caodaists, and Buddhists gathered in Rome to participate in the “Pray for Peace in Vietnam Day.” The event was organized by exiled Vietnamese members of the clergy under the auspices of the Vatican. Joining the Vietnamese Americans were Vietnamese who came from different religious backgrounds and who have made their homes in other countries, including France, Canada, and Australia. For nearly two decades, since the Fall of Saigon to communism in 1975 which led to their forced displacement, overseas Vietnamese faithful have been scattered throughout the world. Despite their geographic separation, however, they have continued to be emotionally and symbolically connected to each other. The meeting at the Vatican was a testament to their lingering bonds.

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