Chicago Theological Seminary
My Chinese husband ... told me one day that he thought the stories in the Bible were more like Chinese than American stories, and added: "If you had not told me what you have about it, I should say that it was composed by the Chinese." (Sui Sin Far: 78)
This citation begins Russell C. Moy's contribution to this volume on "The Bible in Asian America." Sui Sin Far (or Edith Maude Eaton), a Eurasian, is to "our" knowledge the first published writer of what "we" call today Asian American literature. (1) Originally written in the late nineteenth century, these quoted lines tell "us" not only of the Bible's place in America but also that Asian Americans have been reading and writing about the Bible for a long time. Despite its long history, this is (over a century since Sui Sin Far) the first time that an academic journal on biblical studies has devoted an entire issue--indeed, a double issue--to exploring this subject. In this "introduction," I would like to provide some rationale for this volume, point out some of the contents and challenges presented within, and propose several possible directions for future explorations.
On one level, readers may read this volume as an attempt to "bridge" biblical studies and Asian American studies. The "bridging" of these two disciplines should seem logical to many, given the increasing number of Asian Americans in biblical studies (2) and the emergent interest in religion within Asian American studies. (3) I would like to suggest, however, two additional reasons for this interdisciplinary endeavor.
In my opinion, interdisciplinary studies make special sense for Asian Americans once "we" realize that the same language or concepts are being used to patrol boundaries of academic disciplines and those of the nation-state (David Palumbo-Liu; Liew, 2001a:326-28). With emphasis on "origins" and "purity," gatekeepers of both geographical and intellectual space insist that "trespassers" and/or "transplants" will lead only to pollution, confusion, and destruction. Perceived to be perennially illegitimate "border-crossers" and thus perceptive to the oppressive power dynamics of most boundary constructions, Asian American biblical scholars should at least be open to the possibilities of interdisciplinary biblical studies in general and its "bridging" with Asian American studies in particular. This is especially the case if current practices of biblical studies do not meet the needs of Asian Americans (Kwok Pui-lan: 69-71). "We" need new interdisciplinary studies of the Bible that question current practices and imag ine how biblical studies can be practiced differently.
What about people within Asian American studies? Why should they be interested in crossing this "bridge"? "We" should remember that as part of ethnic studies, Asian American studies have been interdisciplinary since the beginning, and thus been the targets of much disciplinary gaze (that is, "disciplinary" in Michel Foucault's double sense). More explicitly, should remember that Asian American studies started in the 1960s as part of the Third World students' strike for changes in admission policies and curriculum designs (Keith Osajima: 59). (4) While the demand regarding admission policies had to do with increasing enrollment of students of color, the dispute regarding curriculum designs revolved around several issues: raising the number of faculty of color, incorporating ethnic histories and perspectives in course contents, and connecting with communities to make the classroom sociopolitically relevant. In other words, Asian American studies have always aimed to be inclusive in terms of both personnel ("who gets to teach, learn and participate") and programs ("what gets taught"; Stephen H. Sumida and Sau-ling Cynthia Wong: 4). I would argue that this inclusive ethos should imply an openness to religious and/or theological studies (and by extension, biblical studies), despite an understandable hesitation out of (1) a commitment to an anti-authority and anti-establishment tradition of the Asian American movement; and (2) a concern over accusations of mixing church and state. (5) Indeed, I contend that Asian Americanists should welcome this "crossover" in light of the recent lament over their own "professionalization," which refers to a disappearing radical politics as well as a shrinking interdisciplinary workspace (Michael Omi and Dana Takagi: xiii). The "cross-addressing" that this volume promotes will provide a new and emerging interdisciplinary workspace. In addition, it has the potential, as I think this volume illustrates, to help foreground Asian American studies as (radical) cultural politics. Considering the "cultural capital" that the Bible assumes in the U.S., biblical studies are very much a part of its (multi)cultural context and contest, notwithstanding the rhetoric about "church-and-state separation" (Liew, 1999:16-21).
While contributions to this volume do demonstrate the permeability between biblical studies and Asian American studies, I am in the final analysis personally not satisfied with the "bridging" language. Despite the popular understanding of Asian Americans as "bridge builders" (Aihwa Ong: 132-34, 169-70), the idea of a "bridge" seems to imply a "soft call for interdisciplinarity---that bane of serious scholarship that both keeps the disciplines in place (just use two!) and justifies not amateurism but superficiality" (Paul A. Bove: 305). (6) If Bove's language of "abandoning" disciplines seems too extreme, I would at least prefer the term "transdisciplinarity," with the prefix denoting "both moving through space or across lines, as well as changing the nature of something" (Ong: 4). (7) That is to say, if interdisciplinarity risks a benign understanding of inclusion, transdisciplinarity represents a dynamic explosion in the sense of a transgression and a transformation. (8) Transdisciplinarity questions assumed understandings and challenges accepted practices of an established discipline. As I begin to describe the contours and contents of this volume, I hope to delineate its transgressive and transformative aspects.
THE WHATS AND SO-WHATS
Continuing the tradition of Asian American studies, this volume raises the question of personnel participation. This question is not just about admitting and acknowledging Asian Americans as biblical scholars. Neither is it just about accepting Asian American studies as a rightful repertoire of reference by Asian American biblical scholars. As significant as these two steps are, this volume seeks to push a little further. Will biblical scholars be open to biblical interpretation by Asian Americans who do not even identify themselves as biblical scholars? Out of all the contributors to this volume, only four are "technically" speaking "specialists" of the Bible (Mary F. Foskett, Uriah [Yong Hwan] Kim, Henry W. Rietz, and myself). (9) Yet there is, as Jacques Derrida points out and proves in practice, a long tradition of biblical interpretation by continental philosophers (1995:23, 48-49). (10) And as the citation of Sui Sin Far shows, the Bible has always been read and referred to by Asian Americans in differe nt fields. Within the pages of this volume, readers will find Asian American scholars who have been trained as historians, rhetoricians, sociologists, and theologians (both constructive and pastoral), as well as Asian American scholars who are in the midst of career and academic transitions--including one queer ordained clergyperson who is now a graduate student at Harvard Business School, and one queer graduate of Harvard Law School who is now a seminary student and a practicing minister--writing about the Bible and its reading. Immediately chastising these nonwhite and nonbiblical scholars for not knowing "our" field and its mod us operandi would effectually, of course, control what kind of questions one may or may not ask of the Bible and delegitimate what "outsiders" may have to say about the Bible and its reading. In this train of thought, I think it is worth quoting at length what the Japanese Canadian writer, Joy Kogawa, has to say about the operation of "standards":
Yet just let us get a little too close--let us stub our toes on the line of privilege--and then watch the reaction from even your most liberal do-gooders. If we don't get our facts exactly fight, you whites say, "Look, look, she made a mistake on the third line." You look for errors in our remarks rather than for the truth beyond our errors. And that too is racism. We're all trapped in it.... Every one of us lives and breathes in structures of racism from the moment we're born. We're caged in standards controlled by people of privilege--standards of truth and goodness, standards of excellence, standards of beauty which are standards of privilege through and through, and those are the bars that deny our specific realities and lock us out of even your most anti-racist institutions. (226)
Rather than eliminating all standards or all talks regarding standards, I am evoking the endless need to question/or what and/or whom standards are working. A blind and rigid stance on "standards" might rob biblical studies of the possibility that an "unprofessional" approach to and reading of the Bible may actually help advance knowledge and thinking (Bove: 302). By now, many biblical scholars are willing to incorporate other disciplines in their reading of the Bible, but that is not the same as inviting scholars from other disciplines to write about Bible reading. In my mind at least, this volume not only disputes the claim of monopoly that Anglo Americans may make of the Bible but also disallows biblical scholars from monopolizing biblical interpretation.
Does this shift in personnel translate into changes in the practice of biblical studies? While much scholarship within Asian American studies seeks to dispute the erasure of Asian American presence, (11) and African American readings of the Bible can wrestle with the question "[w]ould or should the agenda of the study of the Bible ... necessarily be focused around the identification of Africans as biblical characters" (Vincent L. Wimbush: 2), essays in the first section of this issue, "Reading the Bible in Asian America," tend to do something else. They tend to look at how the Bible, as a culturally embedded and culturally powerful (library of) text(s), constructs ethnic identities from majority and/or minority perspectives. For example, Eleazer S. Fernandez looks at how such constructions in Genesis 11 and Acts 2 involve a politics of exclusion and inclusion, while Rachel A. R. Bundang scrutinizes Jer 29:4-23 to see if it sheds any light on diasporic existence. That is not to say, of course, that the long hi story of ethnic erasure suffered by Asian Americans (both textual and physical) does not play a role in these essays. It is interesting to note in that regard that both U. Kim …