The Romance of American Democracy: Asian American Fiction as Secular Scripture

Kathy Chow
PhD Candidate, Religious Studies
Yale University

This dissertation research is on the formation of American democratic community as narrated in the genre of the romance. Arguing that the romance of American democracy is the secular scripture of American political life, this project traces the origin of the romance of American democracy to the American Romantics (Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman); and then then track how the romance has been taken up in Asian American fiction. Two chapters examine the remarriage plot in the Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) and Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker (1995), and the romanticization of the American landscape in C. Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold (2020) and Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari (2020). By juxtaposing American Romanticism and Asian American fiction to theorize the secular scripture of democracy, the project pioneers a new method in Asian American religious studies that offers an alternative beyond liberal multicultural projects.

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