November 14 2018

Snake handling at Pentecostal Church of God, Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky September 15, 1946

“Forum: Religion and the Biographical Turn.” 2014. Religion an American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 24 (1): 1–35.

American Academy of Religion. 2008. “The Religion Major and Liberal Education — A White Paper.” https://www.aarweb.org/about/teagleaar-white-paper.

Ambros, Barbara R. 2015. Women in Japanese Religions. Women in Religions series. New York: New York University Press.

Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. 2001. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bednarowski, Mary Farrell. 1980. “Outside the Mainstream: Women’s Religion and Women Religious Leaders in Nineteenth-century America.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 48 (June 1980): 207–31.

Barbara A. McGraw, Saint Mary’s College, California

Cover of Wendy Doniger's book, "The Hindus: An Alternative History"

“Banned!” read headlines last February when, after litigation under India’s blasphemy law, the publisher of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History acquiesced to settlement demands to cease publication of the book. That decision set off a firestorm of words in India, where the politics of all things Hindu are fraught to say the least. The rhetoric here in the United States was just as disturbing—not lacking in accusations back and forth, as all sides took what was for them the high ground. Even when there is near unanimous agreement that blasphemy laws create more trouble than peace—and nearly all have difficulty understanding why India, the world’s largest democracy, still has blasphemy laws—our conversations in the United States in this arena were troublingly dissonant and uninformed.

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

A white truck in a middle of a parade carries a yellow sign in its bed that reads "Sikh Society of Madison WI." Two American flags are on each side of the sign. A Sikh man wearing a dastar (turban) walks next to the truck and waves to the crowd

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.

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