July 16 2018

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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