Old Research Grant Awards

A History of the Swaminarayan Sampraday in North America

Bhakti Mamtora
Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, South Asian Studies
The College of Wooster

This project examines the history of the Swaminarayan Sampraday, a Hindu devotional tradition founded by Swaminarayan (1781-1830) at the beginning of the nineteenth century in the western region of India, now known as Gujarat, in North America during the last fifty years. This project expands research on place-making, civic engagement, and religious expansion through the use of ethnographic and archival research methods. By conducting individual and small group interviews and analyzing, newspaper articles, sectarian publications, and religious paraphernalia, this project aims to uncover how individual conceptions and experiences of gender, race, ethnicity, caste, and socioeconomic class inform identity and community formation in the diaspora.

American Muslim Humor and the Politics of Secularity

Samah Choudhury
Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies
Ithaca College

American Muslim Humor and the Politics of Secularity will be the first book-length analysis of contemporary American Muslim standup comedy as an embodied performance of secular communication. It explores how a sense of humor has come to be thought of as a civic and cultural expectation in secular societies and why Muslims are consistently figured as lacking this critical comportment of modern personhood. By examining the standup comedy routines, television shows, and films produced by South Asian American Muslim comedians between 2010 and 2020, this project seeks to understnad how these performers cultivate a funny Muslim self that displaces stereotypes about Islamic terrorism, violence, and misogyny while also providing a representation of the Islam that ultimately aligns with – and is limited to – hegemonic state visions of multiculturalism and diversity.

Antara Yātrā: Collecting Oral Histories of Hindu-American Faith Journeys

Vineet Chander
EdD candidate, Higher Education Administration
New York University

Foundational scholarship on Hindu-American emerging adults has generally examined this community only with reference to cultural identity or the problematic embrace of Hindutva. To date, few studies have examined Hindu-Americans’ faith journeys; practically no scholarship centers their voices in articulating their own stories. While theorists have explored faith development in emerging adults, none of these studies have looked at Hindu-Americans. As a result, the faith component is not acknowledged as component of Hindu-Americans’ stories and risk the erasure or their narratives. This project seeks to remedy this gap by collecting the oral histories of Hindu-Americans with regard to their faith journeys. Utlizing this method recognizes the agency of the narrators in articulating their lived experience. With an interest in the power of place and time, both faith development theory and pilgrimage studies are employed as conceptual lenses to better understand the histories.

Ethnic Churches and Racial Attitudes: A Comparative Study of Chinese- and Vietnamese-American Congregations in Houston, TX

Bianca Mabute-Louie
Graduate Student, Sociology
Rice Univesity

This research project interrogates the extent to which religion shapes the racial attitudes of Asian American Christians. Christianity influences the ways Asian Americans adapt to the U.S. and their involvement in ethnic churches shapes their perceptions of race and racism. This project interrogates how Chinese- and Vietnamese-American Christians, two of the largest Asian American groups, employ cultural-religious explanations in their conceptualizations of racial discrimination, racial boundaries, and anti-Blackness in this comparative congregational study. Overall, this study aims to contribute to the scholarly conversation on race, religion, immigration, and politics, with public implications on immigration, Asian American civic engagement, and broader movements for racial justice.

How Religion Shaped Sexual Mores Among Japanese American Women, 1920s-1930s

Chrissy Lau
Assistant Professor, History
California State University, Monterey Bay

This book project focuses on a history of religion and sex/sexuality in Japanese American communities during the 1920s and 1930s. The first chapter will explore how the Young Women’s Christian Associations and the Japanese Christian Student Associations collaborated with the social hygiene movement to shape sexual mores among Japanese American women. Drawing from archival research on digitized Rafu Shimpo at the Hoover Institution Archives, the digitized YWCA of the USA records at Smith College, and the digitized Social Hygiene Association records through the University of Minnesota.

Identity, Community, Belonging: Imagining the Creation of a Postcolonial/Asian American Kachin Christian Community

Htoi San Lu
Graduate Student, Religion
Vanderbilt University

This dissertation examines theological, ecclesiological approaches to Christian community, identity, and belonging from an Asian/American and postcolonial feminist perspective: specifically examining how the Kachin Baptist community in the U.S. constructs their ethno-nationalist religious identity in changing geopolitical contexts. The Kachin are an indigenous, minoritized ethnic group who began to migrate from Burma/Myanmar to the United States in the 1950s. Divisions within the U.S.-based community emerged between 2011 and 2014, a period marked by intensified militarized conflict in Burma which resulted in thousands of civilians killed and more than 100,000 Kachin displaced. Kachin immigrants and resettled refugees in the U.S. have debated intensely about the contours of their community: differing about alliances and loyalty (to Kachin churches in Myanmar). I argue these divisions are best understood by examining the influential role of American Baptist missionaries and the Burmese sociopolitical context beginning in the 19th century to the present.

Model Christians, Model Minorities: Asian Americans, Race, and Politics in the Transformation of U.S. Evangelicalism

Jane Hong
Associate Professor, History
Occidental University

This book project uses the history of Asian American evangelicals to explore the changing relationship of race, religion, and politics in post-civil rights America. Drawing from archival research and over one hundred oral history interviews, the book charts how post-1965 Asian (along with Latinx) immigrants and their children have changed historically white evangelical institutions and politics. In so doing, the book connects and explores the intersections of two developments that have reshaped racial and religious politics in America over the past fifty years: the rise of the Religious Right and the demographic transformations resulting from the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act.

(Re) Presenting Sikh American History: The Rise of Stockton Gurdwara as the Capital of Sikhi in the United States

Tejpaul Bainiwal
PhD Candidate, Religious Studies
University of California, Riverside

Sikhs have been a part of the social fabric of the United States for more than a century. Most, if not all, studies of Sikhs in this country follow a similar trajectory, which includes initial immigration at the turn of the twentieth century, discrimination and hardships faced by Sikh immigrants, the Ghadar movement, Punjabi-Mexican families, and prominent Sikh Americans such as Bhagat Singh Thind and Dalip Singh Saund. Scholars have focused on a socio-political descriptive analysis of the immigration and subsequent settlement of Sikhs throughout the early 20th century. Despite the fact that Sikhs are a religious group, a thorough analysis remains to be done on the role of religion. This projects seeks to redefine these historical incidents in Sikh American history through theories of racialization while emphasizing the role of religion and placing them into a larger context of identity; power, resistance, and liberation.

Refugee Reconnections: Vietnamese-American organizing in the California Carceral State

Victoria Huynh
Graduate Student, Ethnic Studies
University of California, Berkeley

This research project centers Vietnamese-American grassroots organizing as a site to theorize a framework of healing from refugee trauma. As Vietnamese refugees in the United States are continually displaced by war, incarceration, and deportation, this project asks: how do Vietnamese refugees draw from their spiritual and cultural traditions in order to address the fractures of trauma? How might these embodied, epistemological practices help activists to challenge the state structures responsible for displacement? To examine these questions, in-depth interviews and participant-observation will be conducted with a California-wide network of organizations fighting to free Vietnamese communities from incarceration and deportation: the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, API-RISE, and VietRise. This research project aims to interrogate refugee trauma as the consequence of the U.S. carceral and immigration systems, and to explore spiritual modalities of healing.

Routed Communities: Race, Religion, and Labor in the Punjabi American Trucking Industry

Loveleen Brar
PhD Candidate, American Culture
University of Michigan

This project examines the rising number of Punjabi Sikh truck drivers, and the Punjabi owned truck stops, called dhabas, that have popped up across the major US interstates. While narratives about Punjabi Sikhs in the trucking industry have focused on their entrepreneurial successes, they have ignored the xenophobic and nativist sentiments Punjabi Sikhs face within the industry. This project explores how Punjabi Sikhs have turned to each other to find safety on the road. My dissertation asks, what network of care are created and recreated in the diaspora? In what ways does the dhaba become a site for diasporic culture, faith, and survival? Using ethnographic methods, this project will look at two truck stops that have constructed makeshift Sikh temples on-site. The objectives of this project are to understand how the dhaba functions as a site of spiritual safety, and how Sikh truck drivers make up a mobile congregation.

Spiritual Beliefs and Buddhist Practices: Narratives of Survival, Aging, and Community-Building Among Cambodian American Women in Long Beach, California

Sophea Seng
Assistant Professor, Asian American Studies
California State University Long Beach

Out of the turmoil of war, displacement, and resettlement, over the past four decades, Cambodian refugees have rebuilt lives through the vehicle of Buddhism. Drawing upon participant observation and ethnographic life histories with Cambodian survivors, this project explore the key role of women refugees in sustaining the community through Buddhist practices. The central question is: How does religion mediate Cambodian women refugees’ sense of community belonging, as well as their relationship with the “homeland” and wider diaspora? In Cambodia, one of the first institutions the Khmer Rouge destroyed was Buddhism. Out of 65,000, fewer than 100 monks survived the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge genocide in which 1.7 million perished. From the time that Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge, those in exile sponsored monks in order to rebuild temples and restore a sense of community. Even though some Cambodians have converted to Christianity, Theravada Buddhist temples remain places where community thrives.

Spiritual Legacy of Fred Ho: Monkey as Matriarchal Socialist Spiritual Transformation

Brett Esaki
Assistant Professor of Practice
Arizona State University

Fred Ho was a major figure in Afro-Asian solidarity through music, community organizing, and scholarly contributions. In his theatrical production of Journey Beyond the West: The New Adventures of Monkey, Ho showcases a unique combination of music, martial arts, and spirituality. This proposed project consists of interviewing the writers, cast, crew, and musicians of his play, who are now in Brooklyn and Chicago along with archival research. Ho was notoriously dedicated to practical and political ideals. This project seeks to discover the experience of spiritual transformation, if any, of the writers, cast, crew, and musicians as they trained and performed the martial arts opera.

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.

Skip to content