January 20 2019

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.

by Rabia Kamal, University of San Francisco

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

“Asian American Muslims”—the phrase itself provokes confusion for many people in the United States, often because there remains a prevalent assumption that Islam is not an Asian American religion. In American worldviews, Islam is most often associated with Middle Eastern culture as a result of a long history of racialization, whereby aspects of social personhood (such as class, ethnicity, and religion) are essentialized and naturalized, transforming “fluid categories of difference into fixed species of otherness” (Silverstein 2005, 364). Thus, teaching Asian American Islam and the many complexities of racialization in post-9/11 America has been both a challenge and a thought-provoking exercise for me. How does one begin to push students to question some of the most basic assumptions about Islam that have been instilled in them for years through powerful images and narratives in the American media and other institutions?

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

Amerasia Journal 22:1 (1996). Special Issue: Racial Spirits: Religion & Race in Asian American Communities.

Adams, Maurianne and Khyati Y. Joshi. “Religious Oppression Curriculum Design.” In Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, 255–284. New York: Routledge, 2007.

Berling, Judith A. Understanding Other Religious Worlds: A Guide for Interreligious Education. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004.

Bird, Elizabeth S. and Jonathan P. Godwin. “Film in the Undergraduate Anthropology Classroom: Applying Audience Response Research in Pedagogical Practice.” Anthropology and Education Quarterly 37, no. 3 (2006): 285–299.

Bloom, Benjamin S. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co, 1956.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Masculine Domination. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.

by Dean Ryuta Adachi, Claremont Graduate University and Laney College, California

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

As a young instructor of Asian American studies, I admittedly feel a bit hesitant in addressing my own experiences teaching religious studies. Rather than speaking before a classroom of students interested in studying religion (at least in theory, as many would probably attest), my students are often more concerned with taking their first steps towards individual and group empowerment as students of color. For so many of the students at Laney College—an urban community college in Oakland, California that is comprised of a working-class student body—ethnic studies courses provide them with an opportunity to learn about stories that their previous courses may have ignored. For example, rather than characterizing the Pilgrims as a group seeking religious freedom, a common ethnic studies version would be to discuss their role in the sustained genocide of American Indians. 

On behalf of the Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion, it is my great pleasure to announce Charles Taylor will receive the 2014 Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion.

The award recognizes extraordinary contributions to the public understanding of religion by individuals whose work has a relevance and eloquence that speaks not just to scholars but more broadly to the public as well. We honor Professor Taylor for his profound and influential scholarship as well as his many contributions to public discourse and political life.

Taylor’s work will be well known to the AAR membership. Over a fifty-three year academic career, Taylor has written probing and magisterial works on moral and political thought cutting across a range of disciplines. His work has paid significant attention to the role of religion in individual and social life and addressed theological themes and issues in novel ways. Among his many books are works on Hegel’s philosophy and its continuing relevance for social and political thought.  Much of Taylor’s work over the course of his career addresses questions of modern modes of identity, situating theological and religious views of the self and society within the broader sweep of modernity and the emergent visions of identity in the social sciences. His influential Sources of the Self, for example, “is an attempt to articulate and write a history of the modern identity . . . what it is to be a human agent: the senses of inwardness, freedom, individuality, and being embedded in nature . . . in the modern West.”[1]

Taylor’s work also engages the depth of the transformations of modernity, changes that have disrupted earlier modes of moral, religious, social, and political life while opening new synthetic possibilities. Hans Joas describes how, in A Catholic Modernity, “Taylor attempts to look at our modern civilization . . . as ‘another of those great cultural forms that have come and gone in human history’; he invites us to think about ‘what it means to be a Christian here, to find our authentic voice in the eventual Catholic chorus.’” Taylor describes this new horizon for life that is both modern and religious:  

In modern, secularist culture there are mingled together both authentic developments of the gospel, of an incarnational mode of life, and also a closing off to God that negates the gospel. The notion is that modern culture, in breaking with the structures and beliefs of Christendom, also carried certain facets of Christian life further than they ever were taken or could have been taken within Christendom. In relation to the earlier forms of Christian culture, we have to face the humbling realization that the breakout was a necessary condition of the development.[2]

Laurie Zoloth is the 2014 president of the AAR and the director of the Brady Program in Ethics and Civic Life at Northwestern University. She is a professor of religious studies, on faculty in the Jewish studies program, and is also a professor of bioethics and medical humanities at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine. From 1995–2003 she was a founder and director of the program in Jewish studies at San Francisco State University. In 2001 she was the president of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, and she was a founder and vice president of the Society for Jewish Ethics. She served for two terms as member of the NASA National Advisory Council, the nation's highest civilian advisory board for NASA, for which she received the NASA National Public Service Award in 2005.

Flyer advertising Professor Albanese's lectures

For the second year in a row, from April 7–11, 2014, the city of Atlanta hosted the American Lectures in the History of Religions. The lecturer this year was Professor Catherine L. Albanese, the J. F. Rowny Professor Emerita and Research Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Professor Albanese served as the president of the American Academy of Religion in 1994.

by Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, Southern Methodist University
Editor, Spotlight on Theological Education

photo of river confluence

“The teaching of theology has not changed to catch up with the new global situation,” writes Kwok Pui-lan in the opening essay in this issue of Spotlight on Theological Education! Interest in this topic was evident at the American Academy of Religion workshop in Baltimore in 2013: “Teaching Theology in the Globalized and Transnational World.” The workshop drew over a hundred attendees, including a significant number of international participants. In her essay, Pui-lan raises challenges and concerns in teaching theology across national, cultural, racial, denominational, linguistic, and religious differences. These concerns include matters of content and process. In addition to examining theological curriculum, Pui-lan asserts that we must pay attention to the “glocal”—“the dialectical relationship between the global and the local.”

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