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A Teaching and Learning in Theological Education Project

under the Teaching and Learning Small Grants Program of

the Association of Theological Schools


A Teaching Theology and Religion Grant Project of

the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion


Rita Nakashima BROCK

Jung Ha KIM

KWOK Pui-lan

Nantawan Boonprasat LEWIS

Greer Anne Wenh-In NG

Seung Ai YANG

Gale A. YEE

November 1999


Who are We? 5

Why this Project? 5

Mid-term Progress 6

The Consultation 6

Asian and Asian North American Presence in ATS Schools 8

Curricular Constraints 9

Alternate Venues 10


Challenging the Canon of Theological Knowledge 11

Development of Asian and Asian North American Women’s Theologies 14

Pedagogical Approaches 17

Learning Styles, Teaching Styles 21

Teaching about Racism 22

Classroom Dynamics 23

The Use of Multimedia in Teaching 26

Issues Facing the Faculty 29

Differences between Asian and Asian North American Students 32

Issues Facing Asian North American Women Students 34

PART IV RECOMMENDATIONS TO INSTITUTIONS (through appropriate channels via the Association of Theological Schools and the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion) 37

  1. Selected Bibliography on Asian and Asian North American Women’s Theologies 47

  2. Selected Bibliography on Teaching and Pedagogy 52

  3. Selected Novels and Audio-visual Resources 55


Rita Nakashima BROCK received her doctorate from Claremont Graduate School and is Director of the Bunting Fellowship Program at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. She is the author of Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power and co-author of Casting Stones: Prostitution and Liberation in Asia and the United States. She was an editor and contributor to Setting the Table: Women in Theological Conversation as well as Guide to the Perplexing: A Survival Manual for Women in Religious Studies. Currently she is co-authoring a book about feminist theological reflections on the death of Jesus.
Jung Ha KIM was academically trained in religion and theology and teaches sociology at Georgia State University. She considers herself an “organic intellectual” and is a community organizer and educator at the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, Inc. She has published articles on Asian American women and the family and religious experiences of Korean American women. Her most recent book is Bridge-Makers and Cross-Bearers: Korean American Women and the Church.
KWOK Pui-lan is William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA. She received her doctorate from Harvard Divinity School and has published extensively in Asian feminist theology, biblical hermeneutics, and postcolonial criticism. Her books include Chinese Women and Christianity, 1860-1927, Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World, and Introducing Asian Feminist Theology (forthcoming). She is the co-chair of the Women and Religion Section of the American Academy of Religion.
Nantawan Boonprasat LEWIS is Professor of Religious Studies and Ethnic Studies at Metropolitan State University, Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota. Her doctorate is from Princeton Theological Seminary and she has written many articles on the struggles of Asian and Asian American women and has edited several books including Revolution of Spirit. She recently serves as co-editor of Remembering Conquest: Feminist/Womanist Perspectives on Religion, Colonialization and Sexual Violence (forthcoming). Her current research is on women, religion, and AIDS in Thailand and neighboring countries.
Greer Anne Wenh-In NG is Associate Professor of Christian Education at Emmanuel College, Victoria University in the University of Toronto, Canada, and faculty coordinator of its Centre for Asian Theology. She is committed to feminist and liberative pedagogies in theological and church education, to doing theology in an interdisciplinary fashion as an Asian in the North American diaspora, and to women's struggle for leadership in church and academia. For eight years she served on the Task Force for the Globalization of Theological Education of the Association of Theological Schools. She is a contributor to Harper's Enclyclpedia of Religious Education and the Dictionary of Feminist Theologies, and more recently to People on the Way: Asian North Americans Discovering Christ, Culture and Community and Multicultural Religious Education. She is ordained in the United Church of Canada.
Seung Ai YANG was born in Korea and came to the US for graduate studies in 1984. She received her doctorate from the Divinity School, University of Chicago, and is currently Assistant Professor of Old Testament at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity of the University of St. Thomas. From 1994 to 1998, she was Assistant Professor of New Testament at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union. She has also taught at Sogang University in Seoul, Korea. Her current research focuses on a Korean interpretation of the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount.
Gale A. YEE is currently the interim director of Studies in Feminist Liberation Theologies at Episcopal Divinity School. She received her doctorate from the University of St. Michael's, Toronto School of Theology and was Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN. She is the author of Composition and Tradition in the Book of Hosea, Jewish Feasts and the Gospel of John, the Hosea commentary in The New Interpreter's Bible, and the editor of Judges and Method. She has chaired the Women in the Biblical World Section as well as the Committee on Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Minorities in the Profession of the Society of Biblical Literature. She is the current president of Ethnic Chinese Biblical Colloquium.


Who Are We?

The Asian and Asian American/Canadian women faculty who form the research team of these two projects come from both theological schools and departments of religion and sociology in universities in the United States and Canada. We had become acquainted with one another chiefly in our role as faculty advisors to a network of Asian and Asian American/Canadian women students and women in ministry who gather annually for a conference known as Pacific, Asian, North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM), now in its 14th year of existence.1 In this report, Asian North American refers both to Asian Americans and Asian Canadians.

Why this Project?

As faculty advisors, we usually found ourselves acting in a variety of mentoring, supporting, advising, leading, and generally “giving” capacities, which left us with not much opportunity to get to know and engage one another as Asian and Asian North American scholars. It was, therefore, a deeply felt need to spend time together as scholars engaged on a research project of common concern that motivated us, among other reasons, to apply for a Teaching and Learning in Education small grant from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) in the spring of 1998. The research topic was agreed on because of its own significance and urgency, as well as its relevance to our historical association with PANAAWTM. An additional grant from the Wabash Center enables those of us teaching in universities to participate in the project. We are deeply grateful to the support of the ATS and the Wabash Center.

Mid-term Progress

As outlined in the proposal, the project consists of pre-Consultation, Consultation (scheduled for June, 1999), and post-Consultation phases. In February 1999, three members represented the team at the ATS mid-point Teaching and Learning in Theological Education Conference in Pittsburgh, and helpful feedback was received from the scholars present. At that time, syllabi pertinent to the research area were collected and a tentative list of pedagogical topics generated. In March, each member of the research team agreed to a common reading list and a particular topic for a working paper.

The Consultation

Seven of the team met from June 10 to 15, 1999 at the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, as planned.

1. We devoted the first part of the consultation to what we called “sharing our intellectual journeys” after a brief, holistic, Asian-rich opening ritual. This sharing was an informative, richly textured and moving time that allowed us to appreciate our history, struggles, successes, and questions as serious scholars, spanning a range of disciplines and subject areas (Bible, Theology, Sociology, Pastoral Theology/Religious Education, Women’s Studies, Ethnic Studies) and institutions.

2. We then discussed the common texts we had read, using the following to focus our reflection:

  • Name three things that you find most helpful.

  • From the perspective of an Asian or Asian North American teacher, name two things you want to add.

Our common texts included Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach (1998), Rebecca Chopp’s Saving Work (1996), bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress (1994), Confronting Diversity Issues on Campus by Benjamin P. Bowser, Gale S. Auletta, and Terry Jones (1993), Rey Chow’s Writing Diaspora (1993), two additional essays by Chow and a report on Asian American women in academia by Shirley Hune.2 Each member was asked to read a novel written by an Asian American/Canadian female author. Numerous insights and learnings were shared and a number of questions around the teaching realities of Asian and Asian North America women faculty were raised, including that of student evaluation and possible alternative course evaluation tools and strategies.

3. Working paper topics ranged from the canon of knowledge/ways of knowing and pedagogical issues in the teaching of Asian and Asian North American women's theologies, the social-cultural issues facing Asian and Asian American students and their surviving and thriving in academia, to the identity of and challenges facing Asian and Asian American/Canadian women faculty (as one paper puts it, “What difference does it make if the teacher is an Asian American and a woman at that?”). They evoked reflective, impassioned questioning, and often “aha” responses in an honest and open exchange of ideas and sharing of experiences. The results of these discussions are incorporated into the “communal paper” making up Part II and Part III of this report below.

4. Copies of syllabi collected were circulated. We noticed, as will be explained in Part I below, a number of features about them. Our response came in the form of some of the recommendations under “Curriculum” later on. We agreed to keep on exchanging any new courses on similar topics that we may develop in the future.

5. We concluded our time together by evaluation of the consultation, formulating recommendations to ATS and the Wabash Center, and identifying some follow-up steps. An important follow-up step is the writing up of a final report that includes both our final recommendations and a communal paper incorporating our discussions and reflections at the consultation as well as the working papers. We also developed plans to share the findings of the report with Asian and Asian North American colleagues and other faculty interested in multicultural issues in theological education.

6. Worthy of special mention is the strengthening of the sense of community among these scholars that happened not only in the scholarly exchanges and serious working sessions, but just as powerfully in the informal times we spent together: in the personal connections during walks or subway trips, in good natured banter and comraderie erupting over good food and drink, in other seemingly insignificant day-to-day encounters. For this nurturing of personal as well as professional friendships in a “time of our own,” we owe our granting agencies undying thanks, and know that we go forth better equipped in more ways than one for our continued work.


Asian and Asian North American Presence in ATS Schools

In a project on teaching Asian and Asian North American women's theologies, one needs to come face to face with certain realities of the theological education scene in North America. According to ATS statistics, the percentage of Asian and Asian American/Canadian faculty, including male and female, is about three percent.3 All of these faculty teach in institutions which are predominantly Euro-Anglo in culturo-ethnic mix: in other words, in most cases they are the sole Asian or Asian North American member on the whole faculty. What impact does this isolation have on their functioning as faculty, and specifically in their attempt to introduce Asian or Asian North American perspectives into their respective theological disciplines? What extra constraints or requirements are placed on their struggle to teach as effectively and faithfully as they would like? And, for the even rarer Asian American or Asian Canadian women faculty, what special opportunities or hindrances surface as they carry out their teaching among a student body that is usually more Asian than Asian North American, even when the Asian-heritage presence is noticeable? (We realized early on that, where Asian North American studies are concerned, much more had been done in universities than theological schools--hence the inclusion of women teaching in secular universities in this project became crucial.) And what about the dynamics of teaching primarily white or other non-Asian students? These issues became central in the deliberations of the team during their June consultation.

Curricular Constraints

As team members shared their existing course materials and hopes for new courses, they soon came to the realization that almost none of them had the luxury of offering within the formal curriculum of their schools complete courses devoted to Asian or Asian North American theologies, let alone women’s theologies from these contexts. What they have had to do is to include these as components in their courses whose “explicit curriculum” might be spirituality/women's spirituality, ecofeminism, biblical studies, contextual theology, or women's religious lives. Sometimes it was possible to include it within or alongside a ministry or pastoral rubric. And, because so much of Asian and Asian North American women’s theologies grow out of women’s life and religious experience, works of fiction are found to offer a rich source for theological reflection from such perspectives. Apart from regular courses, some have found a channel in directing graduate women students who wish to major in Asian or Asian North American women’s issues in their dissertations and related guided tutorials/reading courses.

Alternate Venues

What this means is that many team members find themselves teaching some form of such theologies and spiritualities outside as well as in the classroom at theological school--congregationally, denominationally, or ecumenically-sponsored continuing education events, as theme speakers in conferences or as workshop leaders within conferences, or as guest preachers. Some of these events are sponsored by Centers for Asian and Asian American/Canadian Theology and/or Ministry such as those that exist at Princeton Theological Seminary, the Claremont School of Theology, McCormick Theological Seminary, Garrett-Evangelical Seminary, Knox College in Toronto, and Emmanuel College in Toronto. And often they exercise their ministry of teaching in the books and articles they write for publication in both North America and in Asia (see bibliography in Appendix 1). Perhaps there needs to be more intentional “linking” between the Centers and the schools, so that the teaching that goes on can be made available to a wider audience, and so that their publication can benefit not just church people, but also academia, especially for those faculty and students seeking resources in this particular area.





Challenging the Canon of Theological Knowledge

During the last two decades feminist, womanist theologians, and scholars of color have challenged Eurocentric assumptions of what counts for knowledge in general and theological knowledge in particular. These are assumptions that theological educators bring to the classroom about knowing and who knows. Such assumptions affect the “what and how” of the transmission of knowledge and have important implications for whose scholarship is included and whose is left out. The challenges from the formerly marginalized groups cast doubts on the so-called “master narratives” in our disciplines and on the canon of theological knowledge in general. As Kwok Pui-lan has stated: “In theological education, a large part of the curriculum has been the study of the lives and thought of white, male, Euro-American theologians, to the exclusion of many other voices. More importantly, the theologies done by these people are considered normative, which set the standards and parameters of what ‘theology’ should be.”4

Asian and Asian North American women theologians point to the contextual, historical, and political nature of knowledge, and urge theological educators to embrace a plurality of knowledge and diverse cultural styles of knowing. Resistance to integrating other perspectives into the curriculum to a great extent stems from the assumption that the canon of knowledge is fixed and universal, defined by the white, male, European experience. This assumption was fostered by the way most of the theological educators were historically trained in our disciplines. Throughout our graduate training, many of us were minimally exposed to the scholarship of feminist theologians and theologians of color, and seldom had the privilege of having been mentored by faculty of color. With more and more scholars of color entering the profession, we hope this trend will be changed in the near future.

To critically examine how the white, male, European canon of knowledge was shaped, feminist educators have called attention to the issues of privilege and power that are implied in the mainstream curriculum. As Karen J. Warren points out:

Feminists argue that the mainstream curriculum is a feminist issue because an understanding of it can and should contribute to an understanding of the oppression of women. With regard to mainstream scholarship, feminists continually press the questions “For whom?” “According to whom?” This penchant for contextualizing discourse in this way has led feminists to insist on marking traditional academic disciplines with their appropriate prefixes . . .With the appropriate prefixes, it becomes at least an open question whether that philosophy is truly representative or inclusive of the realities of workers, women and men of color, non-Westerners, of the multiple realities of diverse groups of people.5

Challenging the biases in the traditional assumptions of knowledge production and transmission is a critical step in transforming the existing curriculum. It will clearly imply a paradigm shift in our theoretical and theological framework and assumptions of knowledge that one brings to the classroom. In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks shares her vision of education as the practice of freedom. She writes:

If we examine critically the traditional role of the university in the pursuit of truth and sharing of knowledge and information, it is painfully clear that biases that uphold and maintain white supremacy, imperialism, sexism, and racism have distorted education so that it is no longer about the practice of freedom. The call for a recognition of cultural diversity, a rethinking of ways of knowing, a deconstruction of old epistemologies, and the concomitant demand that there be a transformation in our classrooms, in how we teach and what we teach, has been a necessary revolution.”6

Transformation of the curriculum from monocultural to multicultural needs to be accompanied by pedagogical change from the faculty in order to live out their convictions in the classroom. It will require some new learning of the history of groups that have been invisible, their cultures and their lived experience as well as the social construction of categories such as race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and disability. At times this new learning creates resistance from the faculty, as they feel inadequately prepared to deal with the diverse teaching materials and dynamics in the multicultural classroom. As hooks correctly observes: “The unwillingness to approach teaching from a standpoint that includes awareness of race, sex, and class is often rooted in the fear that classrooms will be uncontrollable, that emotions and passions will not be contained.”7 Thus, it is important that faculty are provided with the continued support they will certainly need as they implement a transformative curriculum and pedagogy.

Ways of knowing certainly imply ways of teaching. The construction of a gender and race balanced curriculum must first be embraced by the whole faculty. As Johnnella E. Butler states: “A review of feminist pedagogy over the past fifteen years or so reveals a call for teaching from multifocal, multidimensional, multicultural, interdisciplinary perspectives.”8 To be able to live out an understanding of the plurality of knowledge and ways of teaching that takes seriously differences of students’ experience, is to use Paulo Freire’s phrase, to practice a pedagogy of hope—a defense of tolerance and radicalness and a true practice of education as liberating action.

Development of Asian and Asian North American Women’s Theologies

Asian feminist theology developed in the context of women’s heightened awareness of their subordinate position in the church and society. Earlier feminist writings of Christian women can be found in church yearbooks, college bulletins, pamphlets, religious journals, and YWCA magazines. Since the late 1970s, Asian Christian women began to create their own theological networks through the Women’s Desk of the Christian Conference of Asia and the Women’s Commission of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians. The Asian women’s theological journal In God’s Image was launched in 1982 by Sun Ai Lee Park, and the Asian Women’s Resource Centre for Culture and Theology was established in 1988. At the same time, associations of theologically trained women were formed in various countries, including Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, India, and the Philippines. Asian women have met nationally and regionally to discuss patriarchy in the church and society, the relationship between Gospel and culture, feminist biblical interpretation, and collaboration with women of other faith traditions.

Since the Bible is preeminent in church life in Asia, many feminist theological writings focus on reinterpretation of the Bible. Some emphasize women’s heritage in the Bible, trying to recover the memory of biblical women such as Naomi and Ruth, Hannah, Miriam, Deborah, Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, as strong role models. Others have reclaimed biblical women as subjects with their own thoughts, feelings, and voice through storytelling, dramatization, and creative performance. Asian feminist theologians have also tried to demonstrate the relevance of the Bible to contemporary struggle using insights from socio-political analyses and cultural anthropology. Through the process of dialogical imagination, they tried to relate the biblical story to the myths, legends, and folklore in Asia. An emerging approach is to interpret the Bible with the help of cultural studies and postcolonial theories. These various approaches have shown that the Bible is a complex document, which must be critically scrutinized through the lens of women’s struggles in order to be used as a resource for liberation.

Living in a religiously pluralistic world, Asian feminist theologians are influenced by the religious language and symbolic structure of their cultural environment when they speak about God. They have begun to formulate new theological constructions of God, Christ, Mary, and the Church. Jesus is seen as a fully liberated human being, a priest of han, and the embodiment of the feminine and creative principle of the universe, shakti, in different contexts. An emerging life-affirming, compassionate, and energizing spirituality celebrates religious and cultural diversity, the interrelatedness of all things, and the sacredness of the earth. Rediscovering the power of subversive protest in popular Asian religions, such as shamanism, Asian feminist theologians pay increasing attention to the theological aspirations of the indigenous peoples, the dalits, minorities, and refugees, who are left out in the so-called economic “development” of Asia.9

Asian North American women’s theology emerged from multiple oppression as racial minority women in America. Many Asian North American women in divinity schools and religion departments have to find their “theological home” because of marginalization within both the churches and the Asian North American communities.10 They have not been encouraged to seek advanced degrees in theology and many go into ministry after their theological studies because they do not see the possibilities of going into teaching and research, since there are so few role models and mentors. Asian North American women’s theology must address their multiple and hybridized identities, and their sense of always situated “in-between.” As Rita Nakashima Brock has written, Asian North American feminist theology destabilizes fixed national, ethnic, and cultural boundaries and struggles to express “interstitial integrity,” true to their multiple selves.11

Since Asian North American communities are so diverse, theological reflections from Asian North American women also take very different routes. Several significant studies evaluate how Christian women in immigrant and ethnic churches negotiate their identities and the role of religion in cultural passage from Asia to America.12 Others recover archival materials on early history of Asian immigrant women and their autobiographies and writings as resources to understand their religious experience and theological quest.13 A group of scholars are developing an anthology on critical understanding of Asian American religions and cultures. Those in religious education and pastoral fields focus on developing inclusive worship and liturgical resources for use in the local congregations.14

Although Asian and Asian North American women theologians and scholars have developed a sizable amount of written materials, these resources have seldom been integrated into the theological curriculum to enrich the understanding of students. There is a dire need to develop syllabi and curricular materials to teach this emerging body of literature.

Pedagogical Approaches

We teach our best when we “teach from the heart,” by being who we genuinely are, with our full integrity and ignoring no facet of our identity. This much Parker Palmer has convincingly demonstrated in his latest volume, The Courage to Teach. It is the inner life of the teacher, rather than any number of techniques or skills, that makes teaching effective. To what extent, then, is the conscious choice of one pedagogical approach over another a real choice? Would it not already be dictated by who we are as teachers/learners? For many Asian and Asian North American theological educators whose cultural identity is so much shaped by a Confucian ethos (whether we are conscious of it or not), it might be assumed that Confucian ways of teaching would predominate. It might also be assumed that our Asian and Asian North American students would have been similarly socialized and therefore expect to be taught in certain ways.

A selection of such assumptions internalized by both faculty and students of Asian heritage includes the following, taken mostly from examples in the Analects.

1. Teaching by example. On one point, at least, both Palmer and Confucius agree: the personal integrity and quality of life of the teacher is paramount. This is something the teacher attains after much striving, not something born with. In this sense, part of the authority of the teacher is what has been described as “achieved authority” in addition to “ascribed authority,”15 that which is given because of the teacher’s rank (professor). Social status, age or sex are major considerations in Asian cultures. One can easily see the problem when the teacher is either of the same age or younger than the students (a not infrequent occurrence in theological schools these days), and female when many Asian theological students are male.

2. Employing dialogue in teaching, as in the Analects. Students can help determine the curriculum by bringing questions and problems to the Master. Sometimes Confucius would initiate questions himself as well. Since only men were accepted into his circle of students (reputedly three thousand in all, with seventy-two in an inner circle), women’s lives, issues, and perspectives never formed part of this great classical educator’s curriculum. Hence the need for our present project!

3. Teaching without distinction of [social-economic] class. Confucius was among the first who set up “private schools” to make classical and moral teaching-learning available to the “cotton clothed,” that is, commoners rather than the aristocracy. He would charge a sliding scale of fees according to the student’s ability to pay, sometimes taking in payment in the form of farm animals or produce.

4. Teaching according to the potential of the student. In this respect Confucius practiced “individualized teaching” and “customized curriculum” long before our time. Taking both the knowledge level and the personality traits of individual students into account, he would often give different responses to the same question, or advise contrary courses of action for the same problem posed. Such an approach may seem too idealistic for overworked professors trying to survive. And how much flexibility would be allowed by institutions anxious to maintain “standards?”

5. Teaching morals and wisdom, not just “knowledge.” Confucius was wont to declare that he was not an innovator: he only wanted to preserve the wisdom, teaching, ritual practices and skills (including writing poetry and playing musical instruments) of the ancients and pass these on to those who are sincere in desiring to learn. The analogy in theological education today would be advocating the importance of spiritual formation as well as theological knowledge and ministry skills.16

Asian and Asian North American women faculty, however, are not replicas of Confucius, nor do we wish to be, no matter how much Confucian ideas and practices still influence us. For one thing, all of us have been educated in the west. Those among us growing up in North America have been exposed to Dewey with his attention to experience in learning, to process, and to social learning. Many of us have been captivated by Paulo Freire’s analysis of the ills of the “banking” system of education and have moved more toward a “learning circle” approach of teaching.17 Most of us have adopted feminist practices that try to downplay hierarchy in the classroom, opting instead for a more democratic way of functioning.18 The question arises when these convictions are not shared by our students, especially students coming from Asian and other “high context” cultures19 who do not appreciate the attendant democratic practices. Trying to be faithful to Confucius’ example of contextualizing teaching, how do we discern when to employ which approach, and when to make concessions because of students’ needs?

Some Asian students need to view “the professor” as the expert with the requisite store of knowledge and wisdom which they expect to have transmitted to them--expectations fitting the traditional “banking” model rather than either a Freirian or feminist circle model or a “homemaking” model of instruction.20 For optimal learning, at the start they may need to listen to us give input more than being required to share their own ideas or to raise questions. At the same time, as Asian and Asian North American feminist teachers, we may have to recognize that to “give our power away” too drastically in the classroom may strip us of much of our authority as teachers, on top of its unconscious erosion by the perceptions of society in general because of our ethno-cultural and gender minority status.

A related dilemma arises when as adult educators we urge students to bring their own experience and perspectives to build up the store of knowledge of a particular course. These students may feel cheated of their expectations of “being taught” by the receiving of objective knowledge instead of what they feel to be “sharing the ignorance” of their classmates. This sharing is particularly indispensable in courses on Asian and Asian North American theologies and spiritualities, where resources are limited and where much of the issues to theologize on must therefore come out of people’s and their communities’ lives. We have discovered that using novels by Asian and Asian American/Canadian writers is one way of providing some “material” and “objective” content they can then learn to reflect on.

Add to this felt need by these students to observe the hierarchy between professor and student, the pedagogical challenge gets more complicated, as identities are constantly being renegotiated. We might have to discern where some compromises, such as allowing oneself to be addressed as “Professor so and so” rather by one’s first name, can be done with integrity, or that to permit a male Asian student to carry one’s heavy books is not to bow to male chauvinism, but simply to allow that student to feel he is being true to his role as he perceives it.

Learning Styles, Teaching Styles

Another value brought by the traditional Asian student is the expectation of learning in a highly literary form--that is, using the written word. Verbal discussion (lectures excepted), pictures, music, movement, embodied exercises--all are discounted as being of lesser or no learning value. This poses a dilemma for the enlightened teacher who is aware of the variety of people’s learning styles and wishes to incorporate more active learning activities in the classroom.21 The dilemma is accentuated for teachers convinced by the multiple intelligences theory of Howard Gardner and wish to be more holistic in their classroom practice. They want to make sure that they tend to the needs of those high in spatial (visual), musical, and kinesthetic (bodily) intelligence as well as to the needs of those high in the more traditionally prized linguistic (word) and mathematical-logical intelligence; to those who are high in personal (self-reflective) as well as interpersonal intelligence.22 Perhaps the call here is for teachers to find out enough about their students, and to trust their good will, to introduce more inclusive and holistic activities gradually, and not to expect instant acclaim! Incidentally, this will apply whether our students are of Asian heritage or not, although the Asian heritage ones may have suppressed their non-linguistic, non-logical intelligences more because of cultural factors.

Teachers would do well, therefore, to become knowledgeable about their own as well as their students’ learning styles so that they may avoid teaching only in their favorite style, or simply because they feel students need to learn something new in fresh ways. David Kolb’s “Learning Styles Inventory,” an instrument to identify the extent to which individuals naturally prefer the “abstract conceptualization” pole as opposed to the “concrete experience” pole, or the “reflective observation” pole as opposed to the “active experimentation” pole, could be a helpful diagnostic tool for both teacher and student in a new classroom encounter.23 Then we could vary our approaches to ensure that everyone’s preferences are taken into account, and yes, that occasionally everyone is also invited to try to learn in some ways not familiar to them.

Teaching about Racism

In Canada and the United States, issues between the blacks and the whites dominate much of the discussion on racism, to the extent that very few students have adequate knowledge about the diverse cultures and histories of Asian North Americans and their struggles. While Asian and Asian North American faculty face racism on a daily basis, teaching and facilitating discussion on volatile issues, such as race relations, require much training and skills. Sometimes, minority faculty become scapegoats for bringing up the issue of race, especially when the school is not ready for it and the political culture of the school is against it. Two resources are helpful for minority faculty. In her analysis of modern racism, Valerie Batts identifies the following behavioral patterns of those who display modern racism and those who internalize oppression, and these patterns often reinforce one another24:

Behavioral Manifestations of Modern Racism and Internalized Oppression
Modern Racism Internalized Oppression
1. Dysfunctional rescuing 1. System beating
2. Blaming the victim 2. Blaming the system

3. Avoidance of contact 3. Anti-white avoidance of contact

4. Denial of difference 4. Denial of cultural heritage

5. Denial of political 5. Lack of understanding of the

significance of differences political significance of differences

Another resource is Beverly Daniel Tatum’s important study of the diverse patterns of racial identity development for white students and African American students and their implications in the classroom.25 Her study would be helpful for Asian and Asian North American faculty to develop appropriate strategies for helping students to talk about race.
Racial Identity Development Theory
White Students African American Students
(by Janet Helms) (by William Cross)
1. Contact 1. Preencounter
2. Disintegration 2. Encounter
3. Reintegration 3. Imersion/Emersion
4. Pseudo-Independent 4. Internalization
5. Imersion/Emersion 5. Integration/Commitment
6. Autonomy

Classroom Dynamics

While much has been written on feminist pedagogical issues, there has been a critical lack of research on the complex and multilayered power dynamics in the classroom when the teacher is a minority woman. The complexity is a result of her multiple subject positions in the classroom: as a teacher, she has some authority over the students, but as a racial minority woman, she is marginalized by the white mainstream. Thus, white feminist assumptions of pedagogy, which center on discrimination because of gender, may not apply to her situation.

The stereotypical images of Asian and Asian North American women as gentle, soft-spoken, and submissive often work against them, as they want to claim authority as teachers in the classroom. On the other hand, students may find these faculty members to be too strict and demanding, because most of them have grown up in cultures with tremendous respect for their teachers, who have high expectations for their students. The cultural difference of American and Asian styles of teaching and learning is compounded by the pedagogical debates surrounding the feminist classroom. While it is generally accepted that a feminist teacher should agree to share power, some students have used it as an excuse to undercut the authority and power of minority women faculty. While some educators have hailed a student-centered pedagogy, this model could translate into the domination of the white students over the discussion and agenda of the whole class, if steps have not been taken to empower minority students. Letting the white students set the agenda could change the class into a therapeutic session, in which students become preoccupied with their own issues or individual pain, instead of focusing on broader social and political issues. Racial minority students have to take enormous risks to name their own truth and oppression. Seldom having the luxury of a “safe space,” racial minority students could be accused of ruining the “safe space” of white students when they raise the difficult issue of racism.

Negotiating the unspoken cultural and gender-based assumptions of authority and power is not easy, as one teacher shares her story of coming to terms with the identity of being a teacher. Reflecting upon her reluctance to see herself as a teacher, she begins to understand that it has much to do with the multiple layers of cultural translations and seemingly contradictory role expectations attached to being a racial, woman, minority, and a teacher all simultaneously. Furthermore, the “naturalized” and “universalized” assumption of what Audre Lorde calls “what the white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am”26 also plays an undeniable role in inhibiting her from making a self-definition as a teacher. Taught to rely on the individualistic and cognitive process as the normative way of learning, she has been asked to relegate her learning experiences based on gut-level feelings and guidance from ancestors as secondary. Since much of her own valuable learning experiences were thought to be insignificant, no wonder she has to struggle with her self-identity as a teacher.

Growing up in a white-dominated culture, Asian North American women faculty often find that they have to rely on survival strategies learned in other contexts. For example, a 1.5 generation Korean American woman shares her story of learning from childhood experience. One of her early recollections of being a “teacher” of some sort took place in the form of becoming a translator and a representative of her parents. As they used their native tongue to express and communicate, she was assigned the role of translating what they said into English. Translating one language into another is not a mechanical process, but a skill that requires both cross-cultural knowledge and sensitivities. Forced into a position of a “child-teacher,” she had to communicate across lines of generation, language, and life experiences. It was a peculiar status she occupied, in which none of the assumed dichotomies and hierarchies maintained their conventional power and meanings. She intuitively understood early on that teaching could lead to the state of anomie that was both discomforting and exciting.

If the “child-teacher” in her has learned the process and the state of anomie in teaching, the community-activist-teacher in her has learned that teaching can take place as bridging cultures and advocating necessary structural changes to realize “justice for all.” Deeply rooted in and working with locally based pan-Asian communities, she concurs with Katie Geneva Cannon that “liberation ethics is something we do; epistemology is accepting the findings we come to know.”27 Just as Cannon suggests womanist pedagogy to be “the process by which we bring this kind of knowing about African American women into relation with a justice-praxis for members of our species and the wider environment in which we are situated,”28 Asian American women’s pedagogy is also deeply rooted in lived experiences of being cultural/linguistic translators, representatives, cultural brokers, and advocates for social changes to actualize “justice for all.”

Teaching with a commitment to anti-racism is a fine balancing act. While some students would embrace such a pedagogical approach, others might hesitate to accept it or even feel resistance. Constant check-in and feedback throughout the semester is, therefore, crucial to bring all students on board. The students are not without power in the educational setting. Their evaluation of the performance of faculty and their critical feedback to the administration often affect the hiring, retention, and promotion of the teacher. In reviewing evaluation of the class, the administration needs to be sensitive to cultural assumptions and power dynamics in a multicultural classroom.

The Use of Multimedia in Teaching

Except for the few students who have studied Asian culture and civilization, North American students hardly know the facts and realities of Asian peoples’ lives out of which Asian women’s theology emerged. Many lack the knowledge of the diversity of Asian cultures, languages, and histories, and Chinese culture is often mistaken as representing all Asian cultures because of the early immigration of the Chinese. To help students understand the richness and diversity of Asian cultures, students must be exposed to the different facets of Asian cultures, both inside and outside the classroom. Some of these strategies will also be helpful in teaching Asian North American women’s theology.

  • Assign students to read religious classics, such as the Tao Te Ching, and feminist novels, such as The Butcher’s Wife by Li Ang (Taiwanese).

  • Show slides from The Bible through Asian Eyes by Masao Takenaka and Ron O’Grady, and on Asian arts, temples, and architecture.

  • A tour through Chinatown to discuss problems facing new immigrants and refugees.

  • Visit Buddhist, Muslim, and religious sites in the neighborhood.

  • Teach students songs from Sound the Bamboo, published by the Christian Conference of Asia or from other resources from the Asian Institute of Liturgy and Music.

  • Other resources include movies from Asia and entries in the Encarta Encyclopedia (CD)

In introducing resources from Asia, care must be taken to avoid the attitude of “cultural sampling” or even voyeurism. This often relies on the integrity of the teacher and the way the course is conducted. In addition, both the strengths and the weaknesses of Asian cultures must be discussed to avoid the impression of a monolithic Asia and the one-sided portrayal of some Asian countries in the news media, as they are often clouded by current political agenda.

A very powerful way of introducing students to the Asian religious and community life is through religious rituals, which reenact the beliefs and values of Asian peoples. Religious rituals open the window to understand the religiosity of the masses, which cannot be gleaned from studying religious texts and philosophical ideas. The rituals in their original settings should be explained and students must be given the opportunity not to participate if they are not ready to do so. Students should also be encouraged to create their own rituals for class. Again, the teacher needs to cultivate a sense of respect for these rituals and the issues of misappropriating other people’s spiritual and cultural resources need to be discussed.29 Some of the rituals, chanting, and movements that can be introduced include:

  • Rituals created by Asian women found in In God’s Image and the proceedings of their ecumenical meetings.

  • Ritual for International AIDS Day and other events by Christian Conference of Asia.

  • Buddhist chanting and walking meditation, Tai Chi.

  • Videotape of Chung Hyun Kyung’s presentation at the 7th Assembly of the World Council of Churches.

Since most theological schools or religious departments do not have a collection of Asian or Asian North American audio-visual materials, the teacher has to encourage the school to set aside budgets to acquire these materials. The following are beginning steps to build a collection.

  • Maintain contacts with ecumenical organizations in Asia, such as the Christian Conference of Asia, to be informed of their resources.

  • Acquire slides on culture, religion, and architecture of Asian countries.

  • Order videos from PBS (e.g. Bill Moyer’s Healing of the Mind series, vol. one is on Chinese healing)

  • Visit local video stores: Chinese and Chinese American movies such as To Live, Farewell my Concubine, and The Wedding Banquet are readily available.

  • Use community resources: Buddhist Zen Center, Kung Fu Tai Chi Institute.

  • Borrow slides and materials from other university libraries

  • The World Wide Web offers tremendous resources for classroom teaching if the school has adequate equipment.

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