One of the quirkiest examples of Jesus in recent America was in the film 21 Jump Street. A spoof on the 1980s television show, the cinematic 21 Jump Street featured a moment when the character played by Jonah Hill tries to pray to a "Korean Jesus." (warning, clip has many curse words) His prayer is marked by confusion and profanity. At the end, the lead officer played by Ice Cube shouts at Hill. He verbally fills the sonic silence left by the Korean Jesus, explaining that Korean Jesus does not care about Hill's problems. As if there were not enough wrinkles to the scene of a black man speaking for a Korean sacred figure to a white nonbeliever, in the 1990s, Ice Cube was known for his particularly anti-Korean rap lyrics. The cinematic example reveals that there is much to consider in the realm of Asian American history and depictions of Jesus ... much more than is on display in The Color of Christ or American Jesus or Jesus in America or The Black Christ. Because of this, and with the encouragement of our friend Paul Lim of Vanderbilt University and his terrific workshop, we decided to convene a three-part online round table to address questions of "Asian Americans and the Color of Christ." Today's post from Joshua Paddison, who is the author of the fabulous book American Heathens: Religion, Race, and Reconstruction in California, will be followed by posts by Derek Chang and by Beth Hessel.
Joshua Paddison, Indiana University
One of the challenges of writing a book as ambitious and wide-ranging as The Color of Christ is that many topics will necessarily be excluded. So rather than bemoan the lack of Asian American material in the book, I thought it would be fruitful to consider why it was (by and large) left out and how the inclusion of Asian American perspectives might have changed the book. (These comments build on a conversation with Edward J. Blum that occurred at a panel focusing on The Color of Christ at last fall’s American Studies Association meeting.)
Despite Laurie Maffly-Kipp’s call in Re-Telling U.S. Religious History (1997) for “a reconsideration of religious history from the perspective of the Pacific Rim,” Asian American religious history remains largely unexplored. This is especially true for the nineteenth century, my own area of research, despite the fact that, according to the census, there were 114,189 people of Asian or Pacific Islander descent in the United States in 1900, a figure that omits all those who had lived in the U.S. and returned to China, Japan, Korea, India, or Hawaii in earlier decades. Yet historians of the nineteenth-century Asian American experience—I’m thinking of Gunter Barth, Sucheng Chan, Ronald Takaki, Judy Yung, Charles McClain, Yong Chen, Mary Ting Li Lui, John Kuo Wei Tchen, Madeline Hsu, Erika Lee, Mae Ngai, and others—have mostly focused on social, political, and legal history, mentioning religion only in passing. This lack of monographs means that, when synthetic works like The Color of Christ are written, there is not a stack of books for authors to turn to. (click to read on)