PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA
November 23-26, 2019

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Arts, Literature, and Religion Unit and Ricoeur Unit
Theme: Literature of Virtues
Glenn Whitehouse, Florida Gulf Coast University, Presiding
Saturday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM

This panel will include papers examining the role of literature in teaching and theorizing the virtues, including both the narrative theory of Ricoeur, and the literature of Tolkien and Buechner.

Unregistered Participant
Teaching for Civic Agency in a Polarized Society: Insights from Ricoeur’s Narrative Hermeneutic

Recent debates concerning public policy at our nation’s southern border have not only proved polarizing but have underlined the need to reckon with the many ways in which narratives of ethnic and racial superiority and inferiority persist. My proposed paper/ presentation will ask: In our culture of polarization, how can religious education promote healthy dialogue and work towards naming and healing oppressive narratives? To that end, I explore how Paul Ricoeur’s theory on narrativity and selfhood - developed in his Time and Narrative volumes and in Oneself as Another - may provide important extrapolations for a useful narrative pedagogy.

Unregistered Participant
Was Tolkien a Moral Theologian? Exploring the Virtues in Middle-Earth

Contrary to the views of Tolkien’s religious admirers, Ronald Hutton has argued that Tolkien is a “pagan author” (2011). He does not mean that Tolkien was not a Christian writer but that to look for formalized Christian themes in his work is a mistake. He even shows that Tolkien denies that he does theology. However, his thought was deeply shaped by his Catholicism and nowhere does this manifest itself more clearly than in his narrative portrayals of the various virtues and vices of his characters. Tolkien’s characters exemplify the virtues. And we can plausibly see him as a “narrative” ethicist. Moreover, his views on myth and eucatastrophe in On Fairy-stories provide the theoretical backdrop for this claim. Hutton’s contention that Tolkien is no theologian is superficially true, but fails to address the wider scope of the term with regard to narrative theology. Tolkien is, in fact, a moral theologian

Unregistered Participant
Feet of Clay: Frederick Buechner on Virtue, Saintliness, and Narrative

What does it mean to be a saint? For many, the word conjures up images of tonsured monks or nuns in habits or rare individuals whose apparently single-minded dedication to serving others provokes moral awe. Whatever a saint is, she is someone who ought to be taken as an exemplar of virtue. But, problematically, these images reinforce an ideal of sainthood as an unattainable goal: one does not typically consider oneself a viable candidate for sainthood. Here I explore an alternative view. The novels and essays of Frederick Buechner present a more mundane picture of saintliness. But, for reasons to be explained, this statement can have its full effect only if it is embodied in a particular narrative that shows its meaning. It is the narrative that turns this formal definition into an illuminative, and evocative, statement.

Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society Unit and Law, Religion, and Culture Unit
Theme: Race, Law, and Asian American Religions
Unregistered Participant, Presiding
Saturday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM

This panel examines the relationship between race, law, and Asian American religions, particularly the difficulty of categorizing Asian religions as religion in American law. One paper introduces how White Christian privilege in American law oppresses racial and religious minorities. Another paper examines an autopsy case to show how Hmong spiritual beliefs and practices related to health confound Western categories of religion. A third paper explores legal strategies Reiki practitioners use to defend their healing modality from charges of unlicensed medical practice. A fourth paper traces how the Orientalist origins of the brainwashing concept reappear in lawsuits alleging the Unification Church is a mind control cult, not a religion. Together, these papers reveal how state governance delimits Asian American religious liberty claims and how practitioners of immigrant religions advocate for their constitutional rights. They also consider how Asian American and transpacific perspectives illuminate broader issues in the study of American religion.

Unregistered Participant
Asian American Religions: A Window on Christian Privilege in America

As the U.S. makes meaning of religion and grapples with its own religious diversity in a world increasingly shaped by faith as a social force, Asian American experiences can be a window on the dynamics of Christian privilege and vehicles for exploring, examining, and investigating White Christian privilege in America. Examining their experiences, and placing them in historical and social context, allows us to investigate the religious oppression of minority religious groups and non-believers in ways that are more broadly applicable and relevant. This interdisciplinary paper shows that a Christian norm, often intertwined with and sometimes indistinguishable from a White racial norm, has been part of the edifice of U.S. policy, politics, and pluralism and has been since before the founding of the Republic, and lets us consider the place that “new” minority religions are building for themselves in a nation that promises to be “a more perfect union.”

Unregistered Participant
The Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS) Crisis and the Creation of a Hmong American Religion

This paper investigates how the Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS) crisis of the 1980s changed the cultural and legal status of Hmong spiritual beliefs in the U.S. Drawing a variety of historical primary sources, it considers how religion and spirituality figured into both Hmong and non-Hmong responses to the SUNDS crisis and, in turn, how this engagement with Hmong spirituality had both short- and long-term consequences for Hmong Americans. This paper argues that, in the realm of both culture and law, the SUNDS crisis was a pivotal moment when American institutions began to take Hmong beliefs about spirituality, healing, and sickness seriously and started to treat them as religious beliefs that merited respect, accommodation, and legal protection. This case study reveals how adherents of indigenous Asian religions have used the First Amendment to secure protection and make their beliefs and practices legible as religion in the U.S.

Unregistered Participant
Negotiating the Legal Status of Reiki and Other Spiritual Therapies in the United States

Reiki is a widespread spiritual therapy in the United States that was brought from Japan to Hawaii in the 1930s. It began spreading extensively on the mainland beginning in the late 1970s, after being adapted for audiences not of Japanese heritage. Like practitioners of other unregulated healing modalities, Reiki practitioners express anxieties about being charged with practicing medicine without a license. Practitioners have employed various strategies to address this anxiety. Some Reiki practitioners protected themselves by subsuming their practice within the sphere of religion (by becoming ordained in a legally-registered religious organization) or medicine (by becoming a licensed massage therapist). More recently, practitioners have begun lobbying statehouses to pass “health freedom” legislation explicitly protecting spiritual therapies, with some success, in part from building alliances with groups with similar interests, including homeopaths and anti-vaccine activists. This introduces new legal questions regarding how courts will define spirituality outside of officially-recognized religious organizations.

Dusty Hoesly, University of California, Santa Barbara
Orientalism, Brainwashing, and the Unification Church

This paper examines allegations of brainwashing against Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church (UC) during the 1970s-1980s through the lens of Orientalist fears, Cold War anxieties, and emergent legal claims in civil lawsuits about coercive persuasion versus autonomous choice. The brainwashing concept developed during the Korean War as CIA agents and psychologists tried to explain why American POWs supported Maoism after their release. “Brainwashing” reproduced “yellow peril” figurations of “Asiatic” despotism infiltrating America, undermining individual freedom. As brainwashing shifted from a political term reflecting fear of Communist mind control to a social fear of allegedly “totalitarian” new religions like the Korean-based UC, anti-cult leaders employed it in conservatorship/guardianship cases to “free” converts from “mind control cults.” I argue that brainwashing lawsuits involving the UC, such as Molko and Leal vs. Holy Spirit Ass’n (1988), perpetuate Orientalist discourses that delegitimize certain Asian immigrant religions as coercive cults rather than freely chosen religions.

Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit
Theme: Pagan and Non-Pagan Cultural Interfaces: Co-Creating History and Authenticity
Vivianne Crowley, Nottingham Trent University, Presiding
Sunday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM

The four papers in this panel explore the ways in which Pagan practice, or even popular beliefs about Pagan practice inform the development of non-Pagan cultural practices and which help shape people’s beliefs about their culture and past.

Jennifer Uzzell, Durham University
Looking Forward to the Past: The Emergence of Neolithic Style Barrows for Cremated Remains in Contemporary Britain and Their Implications for Pagan Communities

This paper will examine the emergence in the Southern British landscape of a number of Neolithic and Bronze Age style barrows designed to receive cremated human remains. Since the first barrow was built by a Wiltshire farmer in 2014, a company (Sacred Stones Ltd) has emerged with the intention of building barrows in as many parts of Britain as possible. (At the time of writing there are four completed barrows.) The barrows are designed as religiously neutral places in which families can carry out rituals and commemoration in any way that is meaningful, but not surprisingly they have proved popular with Pagans, particularly Druids and Heathens.
Using information from interviews and an online survey, the paper will examine the implications of these barrows for Pagan communities and for the ways in which they interact with non-pagan communities around them, the past, the landscape and the media.

A. Athanasios Apostolopoulos
Re-Hellenization in the Greek-American Diaspora: Hellenic Perspectives on Authenticity, Identity, and Conversion

The issue of ‘authenticity’ concerns all Pagan practitioners; however, the experience and handling of the matter will vary from one community to another. This article investigates the commonalities and differences in this conversation in the broader U.S. Pagan community with that taking place within the Greek diaspora with individuals identifying with the Hellenic ethnic religion. While being actively engaged on the international stage, at venues such as the Parliament of Religions of the World and European Congress of Ethnic Religions, the Pagan/ethnic Greek community’s participation within the United States has mainly remained localized to the greater New York area. The perspectives on the topic of authenticity and the accompanying subjects of identity and conversion from the Pagan/ethnic Greek community’s viewpoint offer both confirmations of and correctives to the picture derived from the broader community.

Keywords: contemporary Paganism, Hellenism, Hellenic ethnic religion, authenticity, identity, conversion.

Tõnno Jonuks, Estonian Literary Museum
Contemporary Paganism and Vernacular Interpretations: Deposits at Sacred Places in Estonia

This presentation will present a recent project of recording and studying contemporary deposits at sacred places in Estonia, but drawing also comparisons from Finland, Latvia and Belarus. I will present the main character of deposits, and demonstrate how deposits associate with the public activity of Estonian major contemporary pagan community, Maausulised. By studying the vernacular practices on the basis of material remains, it is possible to see how general audience reacts and follows the views that are presented in numerous newspaper articles by pagan spokesmen. The main purpose of this presentation is to study how this particular pagan group became the major one and why their views are followed by the majority of the population even if they do not identify themselves as pagans.

Unregistered Participant
Cornwall as a Site for Discourses of Authenticity in Contemporary Witchcraft

The politics of Cornish Celtic ethnonationalism have been driving forces in the development of Cornwall for over a century, yet Cornish Celticity still exists in a romanticized and contested area. Cornwall’s governance as an English county has created a tension: while many ethnically Cornish people feel wholly unEnglish, many English experience simultaneously a sense of belonging and an otherness in Cornwall, creating the perfect conditions for a fully accessible Celtic Otherworld. These factors make Cornwall a center for displays of authenticity in debates about the nature of religious witchcraft practice. The upsurge in what is known as Traditional Witchcraft in Cornwall has intersected with Cornish revivalist activities, creating a feedback loop that is both reinvigorating Traditional Witchcraft, and supporting activities such as the creation of cultural festivals, which support an experience of Cornwall’s Celtic difference.

Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit
Theme: Locating Pagan Politics
Damon Berry, St. Lawrence University, Presiding
Sunday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM

There are many ways in which contemporary Paganisms transcend Left/Right distinctions, yet both Left- and Right-wing Pagans see their own understanding of Paganism as central to often very polarized political positions. These papers demonstrate examples in which the effectively ‘loose’ boundaries of Contemporary Paganisms contribute to issue-focused spiritual practice, which sometimes defies a consistent response within the wider Pagan milieu. This session with be followed by the Contemporary Pagan Studies Business meeting.

Helen Berger, Brandeis University
Ethics, Contemporary Pagans, and the Alt-Right

Thinkers such as Steve Bruce, relying primarily on a Christian model of morality, have accused religions like contemporary Paganism of an inability to police its boundaries and borders and hence to have any real moral impact. Others, for example Michael York, have argued that contemporary Paganism has a different type of morality. The response of contemporary Pagans to the growth of a subset of Heathens, who are populating and providing rituals and images to the alt-right, brings into question the moral stand of contemporary Pagans. Relying on a review of online sites this paper examines primarily U.S. contemporary Pagans’ responses to alt-right as these reflect on contemporary Pagan ethics and morals.

Unregistered Participant
The "Politics of Desire" among Southern-Italian Neo-Pagans

The relationship between neo-Paganism and politics has been the protagonist of two sets of contributions on recent issues of The Pomegranate. In this paper, I add to this conversation by presenting some observations I collected during two ethnographic researches in Southern Italy: one on Italian feminisms, and the other among local neo-Pagans. I frame the neo-Pagan experiences and practices as a “politics of desire,” and I read them in relation to recent developments of Italian feminisms and with the history of Italian women’s movements. In particular, I claim that Southern Italian neo-Pagans, similarly to Italian feminists, conceive themselves as “subjects-in process”, “mutants”, “the other of the Other” (Braidotti 2002), and that they mobilize “difference” for political purposes. In conversation with Rancière’s dissensus, I argue that the “imagination” embedded in the practice of “desiring” among neo-Pagans is a political transformative one rooted in a “politics of becoming.”

Business Meeting:
Unregistered Participant
  • Books under Discussion
Religion in Europe Unit and Religion in Premodern Europe and the Mediterranean Unit
Theme: Author-Meets-Critics: John Tolan, Faces of Muhammad: Western Perceptions of the Prophet of Islam from the Middle Ages to Today
Anna Moreland, Villanova University, Presiding
Sunday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM

Faces of Muhammad reveals diverse Western visions of the Prophet, portrayed not only as a heretic, an impostor, and a pagan idol but also as a visionary reformer, an inspirational leader, and a brilliant general. Tolan shows how these depictions of Muhammad reflect the concerns of their respective authors. Panelists in this roundtable will engage Tolan's work in relation to traditional Islamic biographies of the Prophet, medieval Islamo-Arabic depictions of Christians, and broader dynamics in premodern and modern Christian representations of Islam.

Stephanie Yep, Emory University
Unregistered Participant
David Freidenreich, Colby College
Unregistered Participant
Unregistered Participant
Business Meeting:
David Freidenreich, Colby College
Ritual Studies Unit and Women and Religion Unit
Theme: Making Motherhood: Ritual Narratives of Pregnancy and Its Perils
Andrea Dara Cooper, University of North Carolina, Presiding
Sunday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM


Unregistered Participant
Radical Inclusion and Inevitable Exclusion in the Sacred Living Movement

The Sacred Living Movement began in the United States in 2012 with the goal of bringing the sacred back to the rites of passage of pregnancy and childbirth. Geographical and programmatic expansion has been rapid as retreats are now offered internationally and online and programs address many life stages and a variety of age and gender demographics. This paper will present field work on the Sacred Living Movement with a focus two key elements: first, the radical inclusion demonstrated through a fluid cultural blending of mostly eastern, pagan, and new age traditions and second, the inevitable exclusion that results from central focus on bodily processes and rites of passage that can never be universal experiences. Through these themes of radical inclusion and inevitable exclusion, the paper will analyze the possibilities and pitfalls of this and other new movements straddling the lines between the religious, the spiritual, and the secular.

Unregistered Participant
The Sense of An Ending: The Role of Ritual in Pregnancy Loss and Newborn Death

This paper will address the need for ritual practices, both institutional and personal, among many Christian believers who are affected by experiences of infertility, pregnancy loss and newborn death, drawn from interviews and questionnaires I have conducted or collected from individuals and couples in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain, and the desires they identify about the role of ritual in relationship to their experiences of loss. While some denominations have begun to incorporate some related materials, there is still very little recognition of the need for the ritual acknowledgment of these often-hidden losses. This paper, then, will articulate, in their own words, the expressed need of Christian individuals who have suffered pregnancy losses and infertility for both institutional and self-created ritual.

Unregistered Participant
The Specter of Motherhood: Supernatural Trauma and/in the Female Body in Japan's Modern Ubume Boom

Among Japan’s folk pantheon of monsters is the ubume, a frightful female apparition representing women who died in childbirth or failed to have a baby in life. In 1994, the publication of Kyōgoku Natsuhiko’s best-selling novel Ubume no natsu [The Summer of the Ubume] sparked an “ubume boom” in Japan, with multiple manifestations of the monster appearing across popular culture. This paper focuses on the reconstruction of the ubume legend within Kyōgoku’s story, which conceives the female body and its natural functions as monstrous, casting “unnatural” pregnancies and supernatural transformation as the result of sexual repression and trauma. The ubume boom, however, attests to the appeal of these themes to an audience of modern women. Analyzing the influx of ubume-based fertility and childbirth rites, I argue the ubume figure expresses ongoing anxieties surrounding the form and function of the female body, as well as societal expectations of motherhood.

Colleen D. Hartung, Holy Wisdom Monastery
Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit
Theme: Exchanges with Other-Than-Human Realms
Unregistered Participant, Presiding
Monday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM

These papers focus on enacted relations with and beliefs about other than human entities in a variety of Pagan contexts.

Zachary Montgomery, University of Missouri, Religious Studies
An Angry Goddess Challenges Monsanto: The Creation of Boundaries in Contemporary Pagan Discourse

This paper focuses on a contemporary Pagan ritual which occurred at Three Gates Gathering in the summer of 2018 in southern Missouri. As a participant-observer, I use actor-network theory to analyze the ritual to show 1) how Monsanto’s politics shape what it means to be “Pagan” and 2) how the Greek goddess Demeter, channeled during the ritual, challenges Monsanto’s political discourse. The human and non-human actors contained in a discourse shape the meanings, practices, and experiences within it, creating a stable social network where each actor supports and explains the others. Actors, however, rarely belong to only one social network, which creates competition between social networks to set boundaries. The analyzed ritual demonstrates this contestation of boundaries and shaping of actors within. This research is part of a larger ethnographic project which explores the creation of new “Pagan” discourses and their relationship with contemporary “Pagan” religion.

Unregistered Participant
When Belief Arises from Interaction: Pagan Relationships to Other-Than-Human Spirits

Grounded theory and cultural modeling were used to analyze the data from a 2013 national survey of Pagans (N=799) to describe areas of consensus and difference in spiritual practice and belief related to other-than-human spirits (including nature spirits, ancestors, and deities). Core research questions included: Can we characterize Paganisms while retaining attentiveness to their pervasive individualism and diversity? How does Pagan belief and practice challenge conventional, Christo-centered perceptions of religiosity? Three dimensions of relationship are explored: experience (and its relationship to belief); closeness (the quality of relationship with spirits); and responsibility (obligations and reciprocity). Two important contrasts arise to Christo-centric forms of characterizing religion, both related to Pagan traditions’ general lack of religious authority: belief as integrated with individual mystical experience (in contrast to orthopraxy) and the need for “bottom up” approaches to characterize the emergent branches of Pagan communal identity as they arise from the roots of individual practitioners.

Barbara Jane Davy, University of Waterloo
Wyrd Relations: Relational Ontology and the Gift Ethic

Practices of making offerings and sumbel, a ritual in which drinks are shared, gifts given, and toasts spoken, in contemporary Heathen practice enact a relational ontology, or way of being, and create a gift ethic that sustains a distributed network of social ecological relations that Heathens understand as the web of wyrd. While “wyrd” is often translated as “fate” Heathens understand it as the bonds that sustain us, and through which we sustain the world in gifting relations. This paper reports on ethnographic findings of a study of Heathens in Canada, and relates their rituals of gifting to Emmanuel Levinas’ discussions of reciprocity and the origins of ethical subjectivity. While Levinas locates the origin of ethical sensibility in a transcendence of being without expectation of reciprocity, Heathen practice shows that the gratitude felt for gifts received, and the desire to give in turn in a delayed reciprocity, sustain ethical relations.

  • Presidential Theme: Scholarly Workers in Public Spaces
Cultural History of the Study of Religion Unit and Religion, Media, and Culture Unit
Theme: Curating Religion: Museums and Their Visual Publics in Global Context
Unregistered Participant, Presiding
Monday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM

Museums have long been endowed with the authority to curate public understanding and consumption of religion. This role has entailed their intervention in a number of pressing debates as to the relationship of religion and science, race and racism in the US, nationalism and immigration, and the politics of religious and cultural “heritage.” How have conventional museum spaces responded to critiques of their role as well as to the rise of alternative venues including digital platforms, performance art, etc.? How do various aspects of museum work, including preservation, collections management, and digitization, shape what gets read or counted as religion?

Katja Rakow, Utrecht University
Curating Religion in the “Harmony in Diversity Gallery” in Singapore

The paper analyses the Harmony in Diversity Gallery (HDG) in Singapore and how religion is curated within the gallery. To understand the aim and purpose of such a gallery in the context of Singapore, the paper provides background information on how the religiously diverse, but secular state of Singapore regulates religion. While religion is seen as providing moral values much needed in a functioning society, religious heterogeneity is also perceived as a potential threat to a harmonious and prosperous nation. The paper situates the HDG within this larger state discourse about the need for "religious harmony". The second part of the paper will analyze three installations from the exhibition more closely to show how the discourse about religious harmony materializes in the exhibition space in order to inculcate in its visitors not only an understanding of religious diversity but also the duty to actively contribute to and uphold religious harmony.

Louis Ruprecht, Georgia State University
Curating the Profane: A Classical Scholar and a Public Profane Museum

Few contemporary visitors to public art museums consider the religious oddity of most such collections at their inception. From the so-called Elgin Marbles in the British Museum, to the Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre, to the Apollo Belvedere and Laocoön Group in the Vatican Museums, Classical statuary constituted the heart (if not the soul) of most public art museums in the first generations of the “museum era.” Here, I present archival evidence from the Vatican Library and Secret Archives which confirms that Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), better known as a Neoclassical evangelist, was the semi-secret curator of the Vatican’s first “Profane Museum.” Founded in 1792, looted by French Revolutionaries in 1797, and repatriated in 1819, this Museum enabled the domestication of pagan idols in the name of fine art and national treasure, offering a casual flirtation with pagan form that would have a long reach and influence.

Christina Pasqua, University of Toronto
Visualizing the Bible in a Christian Museum

In 2013, Martin Wiedmann, son of German artist Willy Wiedmann — responsible for creating The Weidmann Bible (2018) — discovered the original illustrations from his father’s sixteen-year visual project, left abandoned in his attic prior to his death. During his life, Wiedmann’s project was rejected by various publishers due to the quantity of images that needed processing and the complexity of its overall structure. In this image-based book, 3333 illustrations are pasted together in leporello, that is, folded leaflets whose pages form a continuous concertina, or an “accordion-style” binding, spanning about a mile long. Now, Wiedmann’s son sees it as his duty to share his father’s work with the world, particularly among those “who are afraid of the written scriptures, because they often have trouble understanding them.” This mission, rooted in facilitating access to and interest in the Bible through visual art, is multifaceted. This paper, however, focuses on The Wiedmann Bible special exhibit currently on at the Museum of the Bible to understand how such institutions of display validate, if not authorize, visual media as concurrent with the missionizing goals of print media, namely of scripture in the Christian worldview.

Sally M. Promey, Yale University
Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society Unit
Theme: The 50th Anniversary of the Creation of Ethnic Studies: Asian American Genealogical and Cross-Disciplinary Reflections
Unregistered Participant, Presiding
Tuesday - 8:30 AM-10:00 AM

2019 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of the first department and college of ethnic studies in the United States. Since 1969, however, we have witnessed significant changes in how we think about and study Asian Americans. First, the Asian American population has become more ethnically and religiously diverse, causing a broadening of the category of “Asian American." In addition, scholars are not only focusing on Asian Americans located in the United States, but also viewing Asian American life through a transnational frame. As a way to reflect upon these developments in light of the current moment, this session features papers that draw upon literature, archival materials, and critical theories to help excavate and enrich our understanding of ethnic studies, religious studies, and theology from a distinctly Asian American and transpacific perspective.

Teng-Kuan Ng, Georgetown University
An Asian American Journey of Faith: Historiography, Missiology, and Theology in Lin Yutang’s From Pagan to Christian

Whether within the academy or beyond, Lin Yutang (1895–1976) was regarded not only as the preeminent interpreter of Chinese culture to the West, but also as a pioneer of Asian American literature. The crucial role that religion played in his intellectual and intercultural endeavors, however, is considerably less well-known. My paper explores Lin’s seminal work of religious reflection – the autobiographical From Pagan to Christian – from the vantage point of Asian American theology. Taking a cue from Peter C. Phan’s stress on the dialogically constructive potentials of being “betwixt and between,” I frame Lin’s evolution of faith as a journey of “faith seeking understanding” that illustrates three key trajectories via which Asian American theology can be done: the historiographical embrace of non-Western, non-institutional, and non-canonical accounts of religiosity; the missiological affirmation of inter-cultural dialogue over proselytization; and the emphasis on interreligious engagement as a veritable source of theological knowledge.

Girim Jung, Claremont School of Theology
Dictee Revisited: Towards a Transoceanic Approach to Asian American Religious Studies

This paper offers a comparative reading of Theresa Hak-Kyung Cha’s Dictee with Huayan Buddhist philosophy and Black Atlantic thought. Specifically, I examine the concept of hauntings in Dictee as articulating an understanding of subjectivity and identity not in terms of ontology or racialized identities but rather as intersubjective assemblages. I compare this concept with the Huayan notion of tathagata-garbha intersubjectivity and bodhisattvic agency. I also examine it in relation to Edouard Glissant’s notions of antillanite, creolite, and tout-monde as well as Frantz Fanon’s understanding of ‘posthuman consciousness.’ The result of such reading points to a transoceanic reading of Dictee that does not reduce to ethnocentric overidentification with the allusions to Korea, nor dissolves into abstraction that erases the fragmentary memories of han that haunt the reader and voices in the text. It also bridges between the descriptive social-scientific readings with the theoretical constructive-theological approaches in Asian American religious studies.

Unregistered Participant
The Miseducation of Model Minorities: The "Gospel of Schoolvation" in Asian American Studies

Drawing from the publication of Gary Okihiro's Third World Studies (2016) and inspired by David Kyuman Kim's (2003) conceptualization of Asian American studies as a field of theology and religious studies in its totemic embrace of diaspora, this paper is an attempt to show that Asian American studies, in its opposition to the myth of the model minority, shows itself to be invested in the postsecular enterprise of revealing the presence of gods and heroes, spirits and ghosts, within Asian America. The method that I use is philosophical, as opposed to social scientific and historical, and draws from an engagement with the philosophy of education, especially Sam Rocha's (2015) concept of 'the gospel of schoolvation,' to theorize the model minority as both a mythos of miseducation endemic to American social formations as well as a theological perversion to be countered by other theologies in our communities. I hope to argue, then, that Asian American studies presents a theological intervention into the myth of the model minority by revealing the gospel of schoolvation to be a miseducating one that prevents Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and indigenous peoples from engaging in a world that is truly inhabited by spirits. Indeed, as I shall show, this impulse toward the spiritual and the postsecular lies at the heart of Okihiro’s reconceptualization, and thus in the impulses of Asian American studies itself.

Unregistered Participant
Rearticulating an Asian American Theology of Liberation

This paper presents a hermeneutics of retrieval of Asian American theologies of liberation developed in the 1960s and 1970s, primarily by Japanese Americans such as Roy Sano, Paul Nagano, and Fumitaka Matsuoka, influenced by contemporary liberation movements and the Japanese incarceration. Distinguishing this from the methodologies of Asian American theologies of inculturation such as by Peter Phan and Sang Hyun Lee, and also Asian liberation theologies such as by Chung Hyun Kyung, Andrew Park, and Aloysius Pieris, I draw from archival research in the Pacific and Asian American Center for Theology and Strategies (PACTS) collection, and discuss the disappearance of this Asian American liberation theology from collective memory. I argue that the movement transformed under the changing face of Asian America post-1965, but its key principles were sustained and elaborated upon by Asian American feminist theologians, and that a rearticulation of Asian American liberation theology is urgently needed today.