It’s (the American Academy of Religion) Conference Time

It’s (the American Academy of Religion) Conference Time
I received an e-mail today thanking me for supporting the American Academy of Religion for the past 20 years and accordingly inviting me to pick up an “appreciation gift” at the upcoming meeting in Boston (Nov 18-21). Last week, my colleague Monica A. Coleman and I also led our (Claremont School of Theology’s) monthly PhD Colloquium wherein we spoke to doctoral students about academic conferences in general and the AAR in particular. Both of those events has gotten me thinking about this year’s AAR. Some of my current and former students are equal parts excited and terrified about it: they are presenting their research (a handful for the first time ever at the national level), interviewing for faculty positions, and meeting up with senior scholars. When solicited, I’ve done what I can to help prepare them for these high-pressure situations and now wish them well. Fortunately for me, this is neither a year where I am conducting interviews, nor interviewing. I do, however, have three papers to deliver (n.b. one is for a pre-conference event, so I am safely within the limit) and other professional responsibilities to attend to (viz., steering committee obligations, an editorial board meeting, appointments with current and prospective publishers). Now, about those papers…. I. The pre-conference event will be held on Friday, November 17 at the Old South Church (645 Boylston). We will be “Celebrating Asian North Americans in Theological Education with Frank Yamada.” The occasion for this session is Dr. Frank Yamada’s recent ascendancy to the Executive Director position of the Association of Theological Schools—the first Asian American to hold such a vaunted position. The panelists are Faustino Cruz, Boyung Lee, James Lee, and me. Along with the ATS, the panel discussion and dinner is sponsored by a host of Asian American organizations (please see the flier). I do look forward to this most happy occasion.   II. On Sunday (1-2:30pm, Hynes Convention Center-108 (Plaza Level), I’ll be on a “Teaching Animals and Religion” panel that is jointly sponsored by Animals and Religion and Teaching Religion. Here’s the description (A19-206): David Aftandilian, Texas Christian University, Presiding For this roundtable, presenters will discuss 1 or 2 specific pedagogical approaches that they have found to work well in teaching about animals and religion. Presenters have been selected to represent a wide range of types of institutions, courses, and instructional practices. Many are also senior scholars in the field who will bring years of experience in teaching about animals and religion to the roundtable. To allow more presenters to participate, and to leave more time for audience participation, the roundtable will follow a lightning-style format. In 5 to 6 minutes each presenter will specify the contexts (type of institution and course) within which they have taught using this approach, describe the pedagogical practice, and discuss how both they and their students have assessed its success. Finally, the audience will be invited to share their own practices of teaching (and learning) about animals and religion in various contexts. Panelists: Eric D. Mortensen, Guilford College Jay McDaniel, Hendrix College Aaron Gross, University of San Diego Barbara K. Darling-Smith, Wheaton College Barbara Ambros, University of North Carolina David Clough, University of Chester Lea Schweitz, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago Grace Kao, Claremont School of Theology I look forward to talking about my pedagogical approach in the Animal Theology & Ethics course that I’ve taught on three separate occasions since I began working with graduate students in 2009.   III. On Monday (9am-11:30am, Sheraton Boston-Beacon B (Third Level)), I’ll be a part of another panel with the theme “Animal Expression, Theological Thought: How Animal Encounters Ground Theological Construction.” Here’s the description (A20-104):...
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Announcing the 2017 Rosemary Radford Ruether Conference

Announcing the 2017 Rosemary Radford Ruether Conference
On October 7, 2017, five distinguished panelists will speak at a one-day event: the Rosemary Radford Ruether Conference for Justice and Peace. Co-sponsored by the Friends of Sabeel—North America (FOSNA), Claremont Area FOSNA, Claremont School of Theology, and the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University, the conference will be held at Pilgrim Place (Decker Hall)–the retirement community for folks serving in religious or charitable organizations where Dr. Ruether currently resides. Dr. Ruether is widely known as a pioneer of Christian feminist theology and ecofeminism and has enjoyed a long career as a prolific scholar, teacher, and activist in the Roman Catholic Church. A graduate of Scripps College (BA: Philosophy) and Claremont Graduate School (MA: Ancient History, PhD: Classics and Patristics), she is the Carpenter Emerita Professor of Feminist Theology at Pacific School of Religion and the GTU, the Georgia Harkness Emerita Professor of Applied Theology at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, and a visiting professor of feminist theology at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Ruether’s Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (1983) and Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing (1992) are widely regarded as classics in the field. Other notable publications among her 46 books include work on historical theology (viz., Women and Redemption: A Theological History (1998), Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History (2005)), interreligious encounters (Religious Feminism and the Future of the Planet: A Buddhist-Christian Conversation (2001), Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization, and World Religions (2005)), and the Israel-Palestine conflict (viz., The Wrath of Jonah: The Crisis of Religious Nationalism in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict (2002)). Beyond Dr. Ruether’s many accolades, I’ve long been impressed with Rosemary’s active mentorship and generous support of the next generation of feminist scholars. Since working at Claremont School of Theology from 2009 onwards, I have seen her serve on countless qualifying exam and dissertation committees of my students and, in several cases, write the forward to their first books. Longtime readers of this blog (Feminism and Religion) may recall that Rosemary supported it from the very start, including by authoring our  “What is Feminism?” section. For me personally, Rosemary is 2-2 in saying “yes” to my requests–that she guest-lecture in my Introduction to Christian Ethics course and serve as the respondent to a panel I had helped to organize on “Thinking Animals, Rethinking Race, Ethnicity, and Religion” at the American Academy of Religion (2012). About the Conference According to FOSNA, the purpose of the conference is to “honor Rosemary’s distinguished career dedicated to justice and peace, and to hear the voices of others advocating now for justice and peace in the Middle East.” Following a severe stroke last year that left her partially paralyzed and unable to speak, it is FOSNA’s hope that Rosemary might be present for some portion of the conference and, most importantly, that “the rest of us…carry on with the same passion [she] had for many years for justice and peace for the Palestinians.” Speakers will include Princeton theology professor emerita Jane Dempsey Douglass, FOSNA theology consultant Don Wagner, Churches for Middle East Peace executive director Mae Elise Cannon, and Kairos USA program director Mark Braverman. The banquet will feature FOSNA founder Naim Ateek, the first to articulate a Palestinian theology of liberation (cf. Ateek’s Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation (1989), with a forward by Rosemary). The cost for the general public to attend the full conference and banquet is $80; Pilgrim Place residents, $60; students $30. Those wishing to attend only the banquet and Ateek’s talk will be charged $30. A box lunch will be available for $6.75. After September 13, the...
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#NotYourWedge: Asian Americans and Affirmative Action

#NotYourWedge: Asian Americans and Affirmative Action
Asian Americans are making headline news as the nation once again grapples with affirmative action. There are two precipitating incidents this time around: A lawsuit, originally filed in Nov 2014, accusing Harvard University of discriminating against Asian Americans in admissions.   An internal memo from the Justice Department’s announcing its intentions to pursue “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”  Predictably, these headlines have generated a fresh round of discussions about the propriety        (constitutional or otherwise) of using race as a factor in admissions decisions. While disgruntled white students have traditionally been the most vocal opponents of doing so (witness the “politics of white resentment” or “Becky with the Bad Grades” — the plaintiff in last year’s Supreme Court affirmative action case), the focus is now on Asian Americans: an unnamed Asian American student who was denied admission to Harvard in 2014 is a plaintiff in that ongoing lawsuit and some 64 Asian American groups also filed a complaint against Harvard in March 2015 with the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. While it is common to talk about high-achieving Asian Americans (à la the “model minority” myth) or to debate the merits of race-conscious admissions policies, the Harvard lawsuit has the following two novelties: For one, it’s the first time that a private institution’s affirmative action policies have been challenged by the courts. The nation’s largest legal and civil rights organization, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, fears that the case “could lead to another fight before the Supreme Court,” which is why they joined the legal fight to defend Harvard’s current race-conscious admissions policies. Secondly, it’s the first time that disgruntled Asian American applicants were specifically recruited to serve as plaintiffs (n.b., in the previous Fisher, Grutter, Gratz, and Bakke Supreme Court affirmative action cases, the featured plaintiffs were white and usually female). That members of the Asian American community were specifically targeted to serve as new poster children for purported “victims” of affirmative action can be readily seen by the following website (Harvardnotfair.org) that the president of the anti-affirmative action group suing Harvard (Edward Blum of Students for Fair Admissions) created in 2014. What’s my response to all of this? I must begin by acknowledging the ways I’m a stakeholder in these debates — as a fellow Asian American, parent of two (likely) college-bound kids, graduate of two elite private institutions (disclaimer: Harvard is one of them), and U.S. citizen who cares about the fair provision of quality educational opportunities for all. In a nutshell, I stand with the ¾ majority of the Asian American population who supports affirmative action while fully acknowledge that race-conscious admissions procedures remain an imperfect mechanism to counter institutionalized racism. Still, as a professional educator and ethicist since 2003, I have seen firsthand how increases in racial-ethnic diversity on campuses translates directly into enhanced learning outcomes for all.  To use a few examples drawn from my own experiences, there’s simply no substitute for having actual Puerto Rican students talk about the complexities of U.S. imperialism and colonialism, African American and Korean American students providing firsthand accounts of their communities’ responses to the 1992 LA riots, or students of either Cuban or Vietnamese heritage speaking of their family’s history of migration, wartime trauma, and beginnings in the U.S. as asylum-seekers or refugees. I also recognize how affirmative action policies benefited the Asian American community in the past (quick history lesson: the 1954 landmark case Brown vs. the Board of Education helped Asian Americans, not just blacks, overcome the legacies of de jure segregation in schools) and why particular sub-groups of Asian Americans still need it, which is why...
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Let’s Talk About White Supremacy

Let’s Talk About White Supremacy
Sometimes I come across a resource that’s so fantastic that all I want to do is promote it. This incredible graphic from the blog site Radical Discipleship recently made the rounds on my Facebook news feed.     Entitled “White Supremacy (Overt & Covert), the visual invites the reader to reflect on the many ways that we perpetuate white supremacist logic. For instance, in one of the closed Facebook groups I shared it with–Progressive Asian American Christians–several members pondered aloud with lamentation how “police murdering POC” became “socially acceptable.” The answer, of course is that such events are not (by the “unwoke”) framed in that way: under white supremacist logic, it’s not the police via institutionalized racism that is murdering people of color, it’s either “a few bad cops” who are OR the victims, for one reason or another, had it coming (e.g., they resisted arrest, had a long rap sheet). Either excuse, of course, totally sidesteps the fact that prominent human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have been criticizing the U.S. since 1999 for its problems with police brutality, particularly directed at racial and ethnic minorities, and all 50 states + the District of Columbia since 2015 for failing to meet international standards for the use of lethal force by law enforcement. Two other things about this post merit comment. The first is that the graphic alone prompted me to find out more about who and what “Radical Discipleship” is about. From my understanding of their “about us” description, they value what I as a feminist Christian value: they want to live out the prophet Micah’s call to “act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God,” support “struggl[es] for church renewal and social change,” work for a world “defined by peace, justice, and dignity for every living being,” and embody all of that both collectively and concretely through practices that fall somewhere along the reformist/revolutionary spectrum. A glance at their “categories” provides an even better glimpse of what they’re about. My faves include art as resistance; biography as theology; feminist/womanist/queer liberation and theology; race, identity and history; sabbath economics; subverting empire. The second thing I noted was the range of comments the infographic generated (not on my closed FB group, but on its own page). At the time of this writing, Radical Discipleship’s post had garnered 36 comments, including this one that I could barely stomach [trigger warning: Nazi salute]: We, the chosen few, live in the “Socially Unacceptable” portion of the pyramid. We exist to balance our society against radicals that would see the White Man ghettoed and subjugated. We are not the Social Justice Warriors that the internet wants or needs, but the Social Justice Warriors that the internet deserves. Heil mein Fuhrer. I was aghast when I read that comment–and even more so when I noticed that the comment was signed (not anonymous, though I have not reproduced his first & last name here) and that Radical Discipleship had not blocked it. That wasn’t the only problematic comment, but clearly the one most beyond the pale. Radical Discipleship’s response to it, however, was fantastic: Truly an apocalyptic comment strand, “unveiling” an entire spectrum of white supremacy! This site continues to commit to hurrying and hobbling after Jesus, pledging allegiance to naming all forms of white supremacy as “unacceptable” and demonic. This requires, from each and all, confession–a practice opposed to justifying, rationalizing and glorifying what Dr. King called “the giant triplets of evil:” racism, militarism and materialism. Much love, respect, and gratitude to all who continue to oppose white supremacy in its many forms! *                *  ...
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A Time of Reckoning: The SCE and John Howard Yoder

A Time of Reckoning: The SCE and John Howard Yoder
  How does a professional society—a Christian one, no less—come to terms with the sexual abuse perpetrated over decades by one of its most vaunted members? At the recently concluded annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics, this question was at the forefront of many conference participants’ minds. John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) is often described as the most prominent Mennonite theologian of the 20th century. Author of the acclaimed The Politics of Jesus (1972) and a staunch proponent of Christian nonviolence, Yoder taught for many years at what is now the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary before joining the faculty at the University of Notre Dame in 1984. His decades of professional misconduct (i.e., his so-called “experiments”) with numerous women have been subject to two disciplinary proceedings in two contexts, but “the story of his abusive behavior remains painfully unresolved,” particularly as a 2015 report based on newly available documents and interviews makes clear. As fitting for a conference theme on “Structural Evil, Individual Harm, and Personal Responsibility,” the Society held several sessions for its members to come to terms with Yoder. A midafternoon panel comprised of two leading Christian ethicists (Stanley Hauerwas and Traci C. West) and the current president of the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Sara Wenger Shenk) used the John Howard Yoder case as an “opportunity for self-critical reflection.” The panel collectively pondered the responsibilities of ethicists, scholarly societies, and academic institutions as they reflected upon the following questions: “How should we handle morally compromised legacies in teaching and scholarship? What can we learn from Mennonite institutional responses to Yoder’s harmful legacy? How can we foster cultures of ethics within the SCE and beyond?” The SCE also hosted an evening ecumenical service of “lament for sexualized violence.” As the planning team for this service acknowledged, there had never previously been a space for the SCE as a whole (i.e., beyond individual papers or panels) to express their concerns. Given Yoder’s egregious, decades-long abuse of power and his leadership in the Society (n.b., he was President from 1987-1988), the organizers wisely acknowledged that “we as an academic society must also face the difficult questions of our own complicity and of how to foster a community of scholars in which sexualized violence no longer has a part.” Other responsibilities prevented me from attending the panel, but I was able to attend the approximately 1-hour service. The liturgical setting in my judgment was powerful–appropriately somber and intense. I was heartened by the explicit naming at the beginning of the “complex and perhaps even conflicting emotions” of those assembled there, the pained confessions and intercessions of various congregants during the “prayers of the faithful,” and the manner in which service concluded, wherein participants were invited to write their (signed or anonymous) thoughts in such a way as to either be archived for future generations or ephemeral (i.e., dissolved in water). While I have long associated the SCE with good papers and good conversations with friends and colleagues, this was the first time that SCE had functioned for me as church. John Howard Yoder was also the subject of other sessions at the SCE, two of which I’ll note here. The first was a joint effort sponsored by the LGBT and Queer Studies in Ethics Interest Group and the Ethics and Sexualities Interest Group. In a co-hosted evening session entitled “Breaking Silence: Calling Out the Sexual Violence Against LGBT/Queer/Transgender Persons and Perpetrated by John Howard Yoder,” the organizers first acknowledged that the “racialized and sexualized violence perpetrated against marginalized bodies of color (LGBT, queer and transgender)” is “distinct but related” to the sexualized violence perpetrated by Yoder. They then raised questions about (1) how various...
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Tipping Points in Academe

Tipping Points in Academe
I’ve been thinking a lot about tipping points of late. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s debut book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000), a tipping point is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” when an “idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” The term apparently originated in epidemiology to describe a situation when an infectious disease can no longer be prevented from spreading more widely. Tipping points are essentially turning points where whatever comes next can not be the same as what came or was before. In my fields of study, theology and philosophy, it’s clear that feminist scholarship reached its tipping point long ago—well before I began my graduate studies in the late 1990s. As many readers of this blogsite know, Women’s Studies is an established department in many institutions of higher learning (even as it continues to face questions about its legitimacy and continuing pressures of budget cuts in some quarters), feminist journals have long been producing high-quality articles (viz. the flagship Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion was founded more than three decades ago in 1983), and even academics who don’t explicitly identify as feminist can no longer simply ignore “the woman question” in their work as legions of (male) academics once did as a matter of course without repercussion. That feminist scholarship has long crossed the threshold at least in academia, however, does not, of course, mean that our work as feminists within the academy is complete. For instance, how many of you have ever attended a conference where all the panelists were men? That still all-too-common phenomenon even has a cheeky name – the “manel” or all-male panel. This hilarious “Congrats, you have an all male panel!” tumblr is attempting to document “all male panels, seminars, events, and various other things featuring all male experts.” For kicks, readers are encouraged to add a David Hasselhoff stamp to their photo or screenshot before submitting. (In all fairness to Hasselhoff, there’s no evidence that he approves of manels; the tumblr’s founder apparently selected him as a quasi-patron saint of all-male gatherings given his embodiment of “white masculinity” during his heyday on the hit 1980s t.v. show, Knight Rider). photo source *                *                * Any feminist who scrolls through the submissions will likely find herself laughing at the hilarity of the smug David Hasselhoff stamp, while simultaneously lamenting the fact that manels in this day and age still exist. Clearly then, gender diversity (on panels) has not yet reached the tipping point. Yet the “name and shame” strategy of this tumblr and development economist’s Owen Barder’s encouragement for experts to take “the Pledge” (“At a public conference, I won’t serve on a panel of two people or more unless there is at least one woman on the panel, not including the Chair” )– are clearly attempting to make manels a thing of the past.     There are so many more “tipping points” that I’d like to see in academia. Perhaps the biggest one is getting to a situation where it would no longer be acceptable to frame racial issues in black and white terms—as if the matter in the U.S. or elsewhere was binary. I’d also love to get to the tipping point where anthropocentrism in scholarship was as noticeable and problematic to readers as, say,  pro-slavery attitudes that one can find in many classical texts. What tipping point would you like to see? What small or big thing(s) are you doing to bring it about? Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor...
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Social Transformation in the Urban Context (a.k.a. PANAAWTM 2016)

Social Transformation in the Urban Context (a.k.a. PANAAWTM 2016)
  In a few days I’ll be heading to Chicago to attend another conference—PANAAWTM to be exact. PANAAAWTM stands for “Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry.”  As I’ve explained in a previous blog, PANAAWTM’s deepest roots can be traced back to two groups of women: 1) Asian American women in theology and ministry in the West Coast who, with the help of Bishop Roy I. Sano, had begun meeting together in the late 1970s for mutual support and encouragement, (2) women on the East Coast who had come predominantly from Asia for graduate school in theology or to work in ministry who, through the assistance of trailblazing feminist theologian Letty Russell, also began to come together in 1984 to “explore common interests and the possibility of forming a network.” Though I have only begun to attend PANAAWTM for the past five years, it has now become a part of my regular conference circuit. It’s frankly so different from the other annual conferences I attend. How so? First, consider its more intimate size. In the past several years that I’ve attended, I’ve spent a long weekend in March with approximately just 50-70 other participants – a far cry from the hundreds that regularly turn up to the Society of Christian Ethics in January or the thousands that show up in droves for the American Academy of Religion in November (the two other guilds to which I belong and in which I actively participate). The small conference size facilitates the ability for us attendees to get to know one another in light of the more relaxed, “family feel,” atmosphere. Second, consider its “niche” target audience—women academicians in theology and related fields (e.g., Bible, ethics) and women in ministry (whether ordained or lay) who are of Asian heritage. The all-women—and all Asian—constituency is really quite unique for conferences and unparalleled in my personal life that going to PANAAWTM has consistently felt to me like moments out of time. And to be clear, these are no ordinary women — the women who attend are bona-fide, groundbreaking leaders in their fields of study or other areas of influence. These are women who are or have been “the firsts,” who are continuing to upend the status quo in accordance with feminist values, and who will not be content with any secondary class treatment or any attempt at marginalization they receive in whatever segment of society (viz., family, church, academy, nonprofit sector, business world). Third, consider its unusual format when judged from the standards of either an academic conference or a more standard, church-style retreat. PANAAWTM meetings in my judgment have always blended really creative and beautiful opening and closing rituals, sessions devoted to formal presentations (on research or community activism), informal sessions dedicated to personal or professional development, and then special fun times of celebration that usually involve a gift exchange, an auction, and either singing or dancing or some other form of merrymaking. PANAAWTM for me is the space in which I both serve – and am served – by others. It’s where I can build more personal relationships with my colleagues  and also learn from the example of our senior scholars of their tireless service and dedication to PANAAWTM (e.g., in the ways in which they keep PANAAWTM running even with our modest budget as they fundraise and contribute honoraria they receive from speaking engagements to provide scholarships for students to attend). It’s also where I can do my part in helping to equip and train the next generation by leading workshops (n.b., past topics of mine include public speaking, work/life balance, publishing) or serving on panels in various capacities (presider, presenter, respondent). This year’s conference...
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A Prayer for our Troubled Times

A Prayer for our Troubled Times
A few days ago, I received a private message from an old friend who’s now living and working in Taiwan. We hadn’t corresponded in years, but he had heard about the recent shootings in San Bernardino and wanted to check-in after realizing that this was second set of mass shootings that I’d experienced so close to home (i.e., I live in a city just west of San Bernardino County and was faculty at Virginia Tech in 2007 during what became known as the deadliest shooting by a lone gunman in U.S history). As anyone keeping up with current events in the U.S. well knows, the news has been terrible of late. While liturgically speaking for me as a Christian, the season of Advent should inspire hope, it can be easy to grow despondent upon hearing about the latest act of global or domestic terrorism, the latest heartrending story of desperate refugees, the latest victim of U.S. police brutality, the latest occasion for heightened racial tensions on a college campus, or the latest sound bite of hatemongering by a politician or so-called “Christian” leader hoping to capitalize on the rising fears of an increasingly anxious American voting public. In such times, I find that I am at a loss of words. I feel like I can offer no critique of xenophobia (be it directed at Syrian refugees or at Muslims in general), no argument for greater gun control, or no commendation of nonviolent peacemaking initiatives over the recourse to violence to resolve conflict that has not already been offered by others. Though I’m much more a woman of action than of silent contemplation, it’s strangely times like these that I find myself turning to the wise and thoughtful prayers of others for guidance on how to articulate my own thoughts. So I’ve turned once again to one of my favorite collection of prayers, Prayers for the New Social Awakening: Inspired by the New Social Creed (2008) as edited by Christian Iosso and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty. The book commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 1908 Social Creed by featuring prayers with social justice themes from well-known Christian leaders. The following prayer by a fellow Presbyterian layperson and director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Rick Ufford-Chase, really resonated with me and I’ve reproduced (the majority of) it below. For Those Torn Apart by Violence O God, we confess that we are a fearful people. Each day we grow more afraid of those who are different rather than becoming more open to embracing that difference as the mysterious and marvelous gift you intend it to be. We assume the worst intentions in those whom we meet, and all too often we act in ways that fan further the flames of mistrust, causing the culture of fear to grow greater each day. …. We weep with you, O God, for countless families that have been torn apart by violence and war…. We confess our complicity in the vicious spiral of violence that grows steeper with each passing day…. We take what we want at the point of a gun or a missile. We misread the resistance to our tyranny by sisters and brothers around the world as an irrational hate that must be met by force. We turn to simple, foolish answers of violence as we feel more and more afraid. We are seduced by the ways in which we ourselves profit from our involvement in the vast military-industrial complex that drives us deeper and deeper into war. We confess, O God, that we are numbed by our media’s unrelenting reports of irrational acts of terror. Even as we are repulsed, something inside of us continues to be drawn inexplicably toward the commodification of suffering. As...
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Finding My Voice

Finding My Voice
In my work with doctoral students, I’ve noticed that what often sets apart “good” graduate students from “good” junior scholars is the ability for the latter to say something important and distinctive. That is, while it may be sufficient during coursework and qualifying exams to master the canon of whatever counts as good scholarship in one’s field, success beyond graduate school will require academic hopefuls to make a bona-fide scholarly contribution to her field of study. For this reason, I am frequently asked by the graduate students I mentor, particularly those who are women, about the process by which I came to find–or claim–my scholarly voice. What follows bellow is a version of a talk I gave at the annual conference of the Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM) in 2014 on this very question. The year was 2001. As an ABD, I was delivering a paper at my first academic conference (one for theology graduate students). There were four of us presenters, one from each of the schools represented in the Northeast (Harvard, Boston College, Yale, Brown). Naturally I was equal parts honored and nervous about making my debut. I remember stumbling over a few phrases, but being pleased overall with my performance. The Q&A that followed also generally went well. As it turned out, however, I had mentally prepared for nearly every question save one, which in hindsight had been the most important. In a nutshell, it was this—what say you? A senior white male faculty had noticed that I had let other thinkers do the talking for me. He observed that my paper had mostly been about advancing a theoretical paradigm of a particular scholar for a certain purpose and that I had responded to questions mostly by referencing what this same scholar or others would say. But that gentle soul kindly pressed to hear my authentic voice: he told me that those 50 or so assembled there were eager to hear me and that someday if he or others were to buy my books(!), it wouldn’t be because I had mastered the literature on any given topic, but because I had something unique to say about it. That exchange is one of my earliest and clearest memories of being invited to find and claim my own scholarly voice. Post-conference, I wish I could tell you that I experienced a Saul-to-Paul conversion and no longer deferred to the views of others. The truth is that the process of emerging as a scholar in my own right took longer than that. As I see it, I only started to grow comfortably into that new role in my second or third year as an Assistant Professor. Though certainty about our own motives ultimately remains inscrutable even to ourselves, my best guess of what initially kept me from speaking in my own voice was a fear of being wrong. I had always done well in school and had long grown accustomed to a conception of myself as a good student. And while I continued in grad school to succeed in absorbing and critically interrogating difficult material, the prospect of offering something constructive, something to take the place of what I had in whole or in part undermined, was much more daunting. Who was I to stake my claim on a weighty theological or philosophical question, particularly when some of the brightest thinkers throughout history had yet to resolve or reach a consensus on the matter? What I now interpret as enabling me to overcome this fear of being wrong was a combination of several factors: (1) a few “wins” or occasions where I took a decisive stand...
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Does the Term “Women of Color” Bother You?

Does the Term “Women of Color” Bother You?
I recently came back from a weeklong camping retreat for Christian faculty and their families in beautiful Catalina (an island an hour’s boat ride away from the Southern Californian mainland). This year’s conference theme was “Power Revealed: Gifts, Dangers, and Possibilities.” Not surprisingly, the topics of race, race relations, and institutional racism came-up repeatedly in sessions and informal conversations. As they had last year, the conference organizers again provided an optional time/space for faculty women of color to gather together for a luncheon. Last year’s meeting (which I also attended) had been so successful that an assemblage of faculty women of color in the greater LA-area have been getting together periodically ever since for networking, mutual encouragement, and fun. Without betraying the confidentiality of what was disclosed in our luncheon, something that surprised me was the ambivalence that a few attendees expressed about the very term “women of color.” I also became privy to some confusion—and even discomfort—that some other folks (outside of the luncheon) felt about the term. For example, one Asian American woman had not thought that the term “women of color” included her since she had assumed that the phrase was simply the newest (perhaps politically correct?) way of referring to black or African American women. And one white guy told me that he had long found the phrase “[X] of color” (e.g., “communities of color,” “people of color”) odd, because wasn’t it simply a reversal of the antiquated and maligned term “colored people”? The ambivalence, confusion, and discomfort I encountered at the conference about “women of color” was something I hadn’t anticipated. For in the academic and professor circles I frequent, the descriptor “[X] of color” is commonly used without comment (e.g., I’m on the steering committee of the Women of Color Scholarship, Teaching, and Activism group of my professional organization and arguably the most-respected leadership/professional development organization for Christian ministers and scholars in my field provides substantial grant and fellowship opportunities for students “of color,” by which they mean persons of African, Latino/a, Asian, and First Nations descent.) I have since done a quick internet search to see if the hints of dissonance I heard at the conference were echoed elsewhere. Sure enough, questioning the purpose, scope, and desirability of the term is a “thing.” Here are three examples: DiversityInc’s popular “Ask the White Guy” column has provided a response to the question “Is ‘People of Color’ Offensive?” (Short answer: no, “it’s a respectful-sounding phrase…in common use” that is reminiscent of “Dr. Martin Luther King[‘s] us[e] [of] the phrase ‘citizens of color’ in his 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech”). The NPR program “Code Switch” did a piece a few years back entitled “Feminism and Race: Just Who Counts as a ‘Woman of Color’”? (Short answer: the term is inclusive of Asians and Latinas, among others). The feminist digital media site Everyday Feminism recently introduced a video clip (reproduced below) about the origins of “women of color” with this lead-in: “Have you ever wondered where the term ‘women of color’ came from? Have you mistakenly assumed that it was created by white people? Are you unsure about how you feel about it?” I was heartened to see several sites pointing to well-known human rights and feminist activist Loretta Ross’s mini-history lesson of how the term came to be. Methinks the three minutes it’ll take to watch it will be well worth your time. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82vl34mi4Iw&w=420&h=315] For those wanting these ideas to simmer, gratefully Andrea (AJ) Plaid of Racialicious, has provided a transcript: Loretta Ross: Y’all know where the term “women of color” came from?  Who can say that? See, we’re bad at transmitting history. In 1977, a group of Black women from Washington, DC, went to the National Women’s Conference, that [former President] Jimmy Carter gave $5 million to have...
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