During his keynote address to the tenth anniversary of the Asian Pacific American Religions Research Initiative (APARRI 2008), PANA Executive Director Fumitaka Matsuoka recounted an experience of overhearing a Japanese American church-goer’s response to a fiery demand from the pulpit: “Do you love Jesus?!” Sotto voce, the man answered, “Sometimes yes…sometimes no.” The complexity of that answer and the myriad possibilities embraced by it are emblematic of the richness inherent in Asian Pacific American (APA) experiences of faith.
The 2008 APARRI conference, held August 7-9 on the Pacific School of Religion campus, reflected upon the multi-dimensional character of APA religions. Ten years ago when the network was founded, Asian Pacific Americans and their religious expressions were largely considered peripheral to American religious studies, more often than not a footnote usually linked to accounts of the transplantation of “Eastern religions” to North America. Ten years on—and in no small part thanks to the research of APARRI scholars—APA religions are increasingly recognized as distinctive phenomena with logics and motivations and societal impacts different from the faith practices of other groups.
“(Re)Defining Religious Studies: The Next Decade of APARRI”—the theme to this year’s conference emphasized an intent to take stock of how far APA religious studies has come. How are the different disciplines of religious studies, theology, ethnic studies, sociology, biblical studies, anthropology, and history responding to the challenge of interrogating APA expressions of faith? And how do the understandings of scholars impact and dialogue with actual APA communities as they engage everyday struggles? The sessions of the conference addressed issues as far-ranging as ministries to Southeast Asian refugees, Asian American readings of the Bible, memories of the Japanese American Internment, and the visibility of APA lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
—Christopher Chua, Program Director