Asian American Religions

Asian American Religions: The Making and Remaking of Borders and Boundaries

Tony Carnes
Fenggang Yang
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 399
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  • Book Info
    Asian American Religions
    Book Description:

    Asian American Religions brings together some of the most current research on Asian American religions from a social science perspective. The volume focuses on religion in Asian American communities in New York, Houston, Los Angeles, and the Silicon Valley/Bay Area, and it includes a current demographic overview of the various Asian populations across the United States. It also provides information on current trends, such as that Filipino and Korean Americans are the most religiously observant people in America, that over 60 percent of Asian Americans who have a religious identification are Christian, and that one-third of Muslims in the United States are Asian Americans. Rather than organizing the book around particular ethnic groups or religions, Asian American Religions centers on thematic issues, like symbols and rituals, political boundaries, and generation gaps, in order to highlight the role of Asian American religions in negotiating, accepting, redefining, changing, and creating boundaries in the communities' social life.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-3437-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-37)
    Tony Carnes and Fenggang Yang

    The border between heaven and earth swings low when Asian immigrants cross national borders to America. Most Asian immigrants come with distinct religious beliefs and practices, and some gain them here. Asian Americans who have been here for five generations have also built a plethora of religious sites and organizations. Consequently, religion and related Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) are one of the most significant cultural and social features of Asian American life. Stereotypes of the heathen Oriental, inscrutable Asian, model minority, and ethnic political activist are deeply flawed, not least because they don’t recognize the deepness of the Asian American soul....

  5. The Religious Demography of Asian American Boundary Crossing
    (pp. 38-52)
    Pei-te Lien and Tony Carnes

    Charting the religious demography of Asian Americans is not an easy task because of the scarcity of statistical information. The lack of demographic research may be attributed to a lack of interest among academics and the absence of questions on religion in survey data collected by U.S. government and other agencies (Warner 1998). Another major reason, which also contributes to the absence of survey research on Asian Americans in general, is that their population in the United States is small, extremely dispersed, and heterogeneous (Lien 2001).

    A large step toward improving our portrait of the religious demography of Asian Americans...

  6. PART I Symbols and Rituals

    • 1 Liminal Youth among Fuzhou Chinese Undocumented Workers
      (pp. 55-75)
      Kenneth J. Guest

      Entering the Church of Grace is strikingly reminiscent of walking into a church anywhere in rural China, particularly the churches around Fuzhou. The language and narratives change. The clothing changes. Personal kinship and village networks become revitalized. The food changes. Even the smells change. The foyer of the Church of Grace is a liminal space for young Fuzhounese Christian immigrants, a place of transition between one reality and another, a place that removes them, even if temporarily, from their day-to-day reality and affords them a glimpse of something different (Turner 1969). Young immigrants who outside these churches are foreigners in...

    • 2 The Creation of Urban Niche Religion: South Asian Taxi Drivers in New York City
      (pp. 76-97)
      Elta Smith and Courtney Bender

      Numerous studies have confirmed that “new” immigrants forming religious communities in the American context effectively fashion mosques, temples, and gurdwaras into structures that exhibit cultural and structural elements similar to those constituting Christian and Jewish congregations (Warner 1994; Warner and Wittner 1998; Ebaugh and Chafetz 2000a; Yang and Ebaugh 2001a). The emerging “structural adaptation” model, as it is sometimes called, focuses attention on the ways in which immigrant religious groups change their organizational structures to resemble American congregations. However, this focus does not adequately address the immigrants’ religious experience outside the congregation and the way it alters the immigrants’ expectations...

    • 3 Paradoxes of Media-Reflected Religiosity among Hindu Indians
      (pp. 98-111)
      Ashakant Nimbark

      This chapter explores some paradoxical and puzzling patterns of revived religiosity among nonresident Indians (NRIs). The focus of the chapter is on Hindu Indians in America. I critically review the ethnic media of NRIs to find out whether their media is a mirror or a modifier of their community. My general question is: Does the ethnic media simply reflect the shifting characteristics of a community or does it modify them? More specifically, does the NRI ethnic media serve as a mirror of the obvious shifts in the mind-set of Hindu Indians in America, or does it contribute to the process...

    • 4 Global Hinduism in Gotham
      (pp. 112-138)
      John Stratton Hawley

      The global dispersion of Hinduism has ancient roots. Despite the brahmanical proscription against crossing “the black waters,” Indian traders whose religious sensibilities would today be called Hindu have plied oceans west and east of the subcontinent for at least two millennia.¹ The worship of Shiva apparently dominated the Cambodian court in the fourth century c.e., and soon afterward there were settled communities of Hindus in Java (Coedes 1968, 49). Hindu traders were probably also a regular presence in East Africa since they were noticed there by Periplus in the first century c.e., though we know few specifics until large numbers...

  7. PART II The Boundaries of Time:: Events, Generation, and Age

    • 5 Negotiation of Ethnic and Religious Boundaries by Asian American Campus Evangelicals
      (pp. 141-159)
      Rebecca Y. Kim

      On a southern California campus an African American student started attending an Asian American Christian club. But after three meetings he stopped coming. Two white men walked into another Asian American Christian meeting after hearing the praise music from the outside. After ten minutes, they walked out. Incidents like these are profoundly disturbing to local Asian American Christians, who believe that their religion should be inclusive. One Korean American campus leader reflected, “It is kind of a shame if we can’t go beyond our little circle. I don’t even have any Christian friends who are not Korean, so it is...

    • 6 Christian by Birth or Rebirth? Generation and Difference in an Indian American Christian Church
      (pp. 160-181)
      Prema A. Kurien

      Dissatisfied with the way the church was meeting their needs, some of the younger generation members of the St. Thomas church of Bethelville¹ formed a youth focus group in 1998 to analyze the problems and come up with suggestions for reform, which they then planned to present before the congregation.

      “We met in the classroom behind the church every month. We started with the basics, what is our church about, what is the purpose of a church? We also went on field trips to a few churches. I kept theAchen[pastor] closely informed about everything. But the adults in...

    • 7 “Korean American Evangelical”: A Resolution of Sociological Ambivalence among Korean American College Students
      (pp. 182-204)
      Soyoung Park

      Today, second-generation immigrants are engaged in innovatively constructing their identities. InLegacies(2001), Portes and Rumbaut consider second-generation success under an explanatory scheme of either doing poorly in school life because they become Americanized too quickly or succeeding because they hold onto the relationships and values of the first generation. However, their own evidence indicates that second-generation immigrants are innovating multiple “successful” resolutions. Religion, which Portes and Rumbaut have tended to overlook, is often a key ingredient in these resolutions. Some are socially effective, some are not. In fact most carry a degree of ambiguity that signals success while at...

    • 8 Gender and Generation in a Chinese Christian Church
      (pp. 205-222)
      Fenggang Yang

      Women’s leadership roles in the Chinese American Christian church have been a controversial issue. The immigrant generation at the Chinese church usually goes the extra mile to try to avoid this controversy, whereas the younger generation of American-born Chinese sometimes stumbles upon it in anxiety. This was what happened at the Chinese Fellowship Church, a midsized, nondenominational, evangelical church in a metropolitan area on the East Coast. It was founded in 1958 by a group of Chinese immigrants and has received several waves of new immigrants of diverse sociocultural backgrounds. In 1986 it began a separate English Sunday service and...

    • 9 Faith, Values, and Fears of New York City Chinatown Seniors
      (pp. 223-244)
      Tony Carnes

      Chou is one of the earliest immigrants from Fujian Province on Monroe Street in New York City’s Chinatown. In his old age he wants to have a morally good heart and a body refreshed by the wind from Heaven. He is typical of Chinese American elderly in Chinatown. Every day, he practices a taken-for-granted spirituality that only occasionally brings him into a temple or church. But don’t misunderstand—religion is important for him as it is for 41 percent of Chinatown seniors. They attend over forty-eight religious temples and churches as well as practice religious exercises, rituals, and customs at...

  8. PART III Political Boundaries

    • 10 Religious Diversity and Social Integration among Asian Americans in Houston
      (pp. 247-262)
      Stephen L. Klineberg

      There is a new way of doing religion in Houston.¹

      The demographic revolution has transformed this Anglo-dominated biracial city into one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse metropolitan areas in the country. This diversity is vividly displayed in the Asian American houses of worship from the Houston Chinese Protestant megachurch to a little bit of Saigon at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Drawing on the most comprehensive survey ever undertaken in all four of Houston’s major ethnic communities, this chapter explores the distinctiveness of the Asian experience in urban America. It documents the striking religious, socioeconomic, and political differences among...

    • 11 Religion and Political Adaptation among Asian Americans: An Empirical Assessment from the Pilot National Asian American Political Survey
      (pp. 263-284)
      Pei-te Lien

      According to the most comprehensive survey of the religions and politics of Asian Americans, most Asian Americans are religious and their religiosity often makes a difference in the way they define their ethnic identity and participate in American politics. Yet scholars of Asian American studies have been slow to systematically study the religious factor in Asian American politics.¹

      A cursory review of the Asian American studies literature suggests that the study of religion in the political adaptation of Asian Americans is a doubly marginalized research frontier. Generally, scholars of Asian American religions have not adopted the quantitative approach, and quantitative...

  9. PART IV Transcending Borders and Boundaries

    • 12 Creating an Asian American Christian Subculture: Grace Community Covenant Church
      (pp. 287-312)
      Russell Jeung

      These two evangelical Christians¹ espouse two separate discourses regarding their Christian identity and racial-ethnic background. Cameron suggests that one’s religious identity is primary—not a mere descriptor—and that the ethnic church is often too culturally bound. Complaining about churches that are too exclusive and focused on cultural preservation, he asserts, “In Korean churches, unless you’re Korean, you’re going to feel like an outsider. Korean culture comes out a lot.”² On the other hand, Nic believes that the church should acknowledge people’s backgrounds and differences so that members can learn from one another. In promoting racial reconciliation and Christians of...

    • 13 Sasana Sakon and the New Asian American: Intermarriage and Identity at a Thai Buddhist Temple in Silicon Valley
      (pp. 313-337)
      Todd LeRoy Perreira

      After a brief chant in the ancient language of Pali, Phramaha Somchai leaned forward to wish the young Lukchai and the others, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” Buddhism is changing in America. At Wat Buddhanusorn located in Fremont, California, mixed-race Thai American families came from celebrating Christmas midnight mass at the Roman Catholic church to perform merit ceremonies in the afternoon at thewat(temple).

      The emergence of interracial-interreligious families among Thai Americans has created a complex relationship between Thais andfarangs(whites) and multivalent religious identities. The diverse, multiethnic-multicultural environment of the Silicon Valley has affected the development...

    • 14 We Do Not Bowl Alone: Social and Cultural Capital from Filipinos and Their Churches
      (pp. 338-360)
      Joaquin L. Gonzalez III and Andrea Maison

      Memorial Day, one of the biggest holidays in America, is popular as a day for travel and recreation with friends. At Classic Bowl in Daly City, one of the largest bowling centers in the San Francisco Bay Area, all sixty lanes are occupied by just one associational membership group—the players and their supporters are ministers and members from the Philippines-based Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC).¹ Many members of the church’s Daly City locale bowl together every week, and sometimes even twice a week. But brethren from throughout the Northern California district have been gathering to bowl at annual tournaments like...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 361-394)
  11. About the Contributors
    (pp. 395-396)
  12. Index
    (pp. 397-399)