Keeping (and Losing) Faith, the Asian American Way (Repost)

Originally posted on AAPI Voices May 22, 2014

Keeping (and Losing) Faith, the Asian American Way

The Top 11 from ’13: Academic Journals of Sociological Research on Religion


It’s 2014 and time for an annual review of the religion-related articles in the top journals in sociology. As I have done in the past, I use the ISI Web of Knowledge Journal Citation Reports to create the ranking of all sociology journals ranked by last year’s Impact Factor. In this review I noticed that 2012 was an anomalous year; last year I only needed to review the first 10 journals to get my top 11; this year I had to search down to the first 19. Even the newly discovered European Sociological Review had only 2 articles on religion compared to 5 in the previous year. I skipped two journals (noted below) that I had not heard of in any paper or book I have read in the past year in mainstream sociology. Interestingly some journals have gotten a much lower impact factor rating while others that were low last year have gotten a boost. A few remain constant and it’s those that many scholars view as consistently prestigious. Below I include a marker “tie” for those that appear in the same journal in the same year. It’s the journal rank that counts so those articles should be more or less ranked about the same. That said, 7 of the first 19 journals with the highest impact factor contained 11 articles related to religion. As of this writing the December issues of the American Journal of Sociology and Sociological Theory were not available so it’s possible that these rankings will miss important articles here. Hat tip to all those listed for their contributions!


Tie (1) Edwards, Korie L., Brad Christerson, and Michael O. Emerson. 2013. “Race, Religious Organizations, and Integration.” Annual Review of Sociology 39:211-228.

Tie (1) Gorski, Philip S. and Gulay Turkmen-Dervisoglu. 2013. “Religion, Nationalism, and Violence: An Integrated Approach.” Annual Review of Sociology 39: 193-210.

[apologies to the second author, I don’t know where the umlaut symbol is and how to work it.]

(3) Goldstein, Adam and Heather A. Haveman. 2013. “Pulpit and Press: Denominational Dynamics and the Growth of Religious Magazines in Antebellum America.” American Sociological Review 78:797-827.

Annals of Tourism Research: skipped

(4) Mathias, Matthew D. 2013. “The Sacralization of the Individual: Human Rights and the Abolition of the Death Penalty.” American Journal of Sociology 118:1246-1283.

Social Networks: 0

Sociological Methodology: 0

Journal of Marriage and Family: 0

Journal of Consumer Culture: 0

Sociological Theory: 0

Population and Development Review: 0

Socio-Economic Review: 0

(5) Scheible, Jana A. and Fenella Fleischmann. 2013. “Gendering Islamic Religiosity in the Second Generation: Gender Differences in Religious Practices and the Association with Gender Ideology Among Moroccan- and Turkish-Belgian Muslims.” Gender and Society 27: 372-395.

[this article might also be awarded the “longest title of the year”]

Cornell Hospitality Quarterly: skipped

Tie (6) Charsley, Katharine and Anika Liversage. 2013. “Transforming Polygamy: Migration, Transnationalism and Multiple Marriages Among Muslim Minorities.” Global Networks 13: 60-78.

Tie (6) Singh, Gurharpal. 2013. “Religious Transnationalism, Development and the Construction of Religious Boundaries: the Case of the Derra Sachkhand Ballan and the Ravidass Dharm.” Global Networks 13: 183-199.

Tie (8) Immerzeel, Tim and Frank van Tubergen 2013. “Religion as Reassurance? Testing the Insecurity Theory in 26 European Countries.” European Sociological Review 29:359-372.

Tie (8) Davies, Scott. 2013. “Are There Catholic School Effects in Ontario, Canada?” European Sociological Review 29:871-883.

Sociological Methods and Research: 0

Politics and Society: 0

Law and Society Review: 0

Tie (10) Cao, Liqun and Edward R. Maguire. 2013. “Class, Religiosity, and Tolerance of Prostitution.” Social Problems 60: 188-205.

Tie (10) Guenther, Katja M. and Kerry Mulligan. 2013. “From the Outside In: Crossing Boundaries to Build Collective Identity in the New Atheist Movement.” Social Problems 60: 457-475.


Cultivating Ethnic and Religious Identities for Chinese Americans

This past summer I continued my readings in social scientific and popular readings of ethnicity, race, and religion. In one popular reading I was introduced to early 20th century Chinese history through the perspectives of nationalists and Christian converts. More than a work of history, it is an invitation into Chinese mythology and the sense of the spiritual that animates the minds of many young people.  

Noted author and artist Gene Luen Yang, a second-generation Chinese American, recently published a two-volume series called Boxers and Saints. Told from two different perspectives, it revisits the Boxer Rebellion of the early 1900s as seen from two young Chinese people, a man and a woman. Boxers, the larger of the two works sets the stage for the events that are retold in Saints. It’s reminiscent of the two-part film series by Clint Eastwood chronicling the Battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of US forces (Flags of Our Fathers) and Japanese forces (Letters From Iwo Jima). For film fans, both Eastwood and Yang’s works are preceded by the classic film Rashomon directed by Akira Kurosawa.

For those wanting to know more about the Boxer Rebellion, Boxers and Saints is an easy introduction into this pivotal moment in world history. I say “world history” because while it takes place in China, it is very much the story of western imperialism and evangelicalism which prompted these events in the first place. Yang, an educator at heart, ends both volumes with a list of readings that helped shape his understanding of the events he chronicled. My focus in this post is on the work’s significance for Asian Americans, particularly those with a religious background.

Boxers invites us into a world filled with Chinese gods and demigods who inspire and empower young peasant men to resist what they see as an encroaching Western presence in their homeland. Westerners and their foreign religion of Christianity are cast as devils that must be purged from the land, and only the power of China’s old gods can resist them. Saints similarly imagines a world visited by Catholic saints from the perspective of a young peasant woman who is introduced to this religion by foreign missionaries from the west and converts she meets along the way. She is empowered by Saint Joan of Arc to side with the religious Westerners, Catholic and Protestant missionaries and new Chinese converts. Interestingly, from the perspective of the Christians, the Boxers’ violence is not spiritualized as demonic but rather remain an earthly violent force set on killing them. The turn to the saints is for physical protection.

What struck me was the introduction of this spiritual dimension which plays a significant part for both the participants in the Boxer movement as much as the Christians. In typical readings of these moments, the spiritual is irrelevant apart from a few sidebars of the folklore that ran through local villages who encountered the Boxers or the Christians. But for Yang, the spiritual is very much a part of lived reality and whether it is “real” in some scientific sense may be less important than the notion that spiritual characters motivate people to act in heroic, compassionate and violent ways. Such is the power of belief whether Chinese mythology or Western Christianity, at least during this period.

Boxers and Saints accomplishes more than presenting two sides of an event. For readers who are second-generation Chinese American (or know someone who is) and searching for a sense of rootedness, this work highlights a part of the history that they likely have not heard in any course they have taken in school or college. And perhaps it is not told by their family members who are often working long hours to make ends meet. In the contemporary context, without available resources to help young Chinese Americans take hold of their Chinese roots, their ethnicity might signify little if anything. Boxers and Saints becomes an important means by which ethnicity can be socialized for young people. Sociologists note that ethnicity and religion are both social constructions; understanding Chinese identity and Christian identity require materials that describe the origins and meanings for the group’s existence, along with rituals, and relationships with others who help reinforce what one is learning. In this way Boxers and Saints, geared at a younger audience, is one such material resource to help inculcate a sense of being a part of the folk religious Chinese people and Christian Chinese people.

Given the fairly strong presence of Christianity within Chinese American circles (about 30 percent based on last year’s Pew Research Center survey on Asian Americans), the second book, Saints, serves a similar function as Boxers by conveying a sense of rootedness with a faith that perhaps seems distal to their Chinese heritage. Reading Boxers and Saints still conveys a sense that Christianity is not Chinese culturally; it is imported by white Westerners. But it does remind readers that Chinese Christians have been around for more than a century. Wrestling with this reality, and coming to terms with it is an important exercise, and perhaps one that could be done in community for these young men and women.

Boxers and Saints extends beyond the Chinese American community as well; second-generation Asian Americans have fairly diverse networks relative to whites and blacks. For those who have friends in the Asian American community, this work can help introduce a perspective that is altogether new as well. It invites non-Asian Americans to consider what it might mean to be both Chinese and American (read: Western). In particular it asks us to think about what it means to be rooted in a culture that is animated by a pantheon of gods rather than one God? With that in mind, what might it mean to encounter the god of foreigners particularly in the midst of geopolitical turmoil involving exploitation? As Chinese immigration continues steadily through the 21st century, successive waves of second-generation Chinese Americans will continue to face these same questions of identity be it religious, ethnic or both. Boxers and Saints could prove a useful tool in helping individuals and groups understand their place in the world, and their place in history.


The March on Washington remembered

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington from which we gain many of our most iconic images of that era and the Civil Rights Movement. Thousands have arrived in DC today to remember that moment. Here is a youtube clip of Martin Luther King’s speech:

YouTube Preview Image

And here’s a link to catch current coverage (as of 2pm EST):

nbcnews coverage

President Obama will give a speech approximately at 2:45pm. It might be interesting to compare and contrast King and Obama’s speeches, to understand better what has changed and what has stayed the same.