PANAAWTM began as a small group of women, predominantly from Asia, who were enrolled in graduate theological institutions or working in ministry in the United States. With the assistance of Professor Letty Russell of Yale University, these women convened in the fall of 1984 to explore common interests and the possibility of forming a network. Out of this gathering, thirteen Asian women formed the group, which was called Asian Women Theologians (AWT), Northeast U. S. Group. Within a year, a small number of Asian American women were added to the group from the West Coast, affiliated with PACTS (Pacific and Asian Center for Theology and Strategy). The main activity of the group was to hold an annual conference where women could share their concerns and deepen networks. In the first few years, the conferences were held in the Northeast, but as the network broadened, seminarians, faculty, graduate students, and clergywomen in the various locations, such as Atlanta, Toronto, Chicago, and Berkeley, hosted the conference.
As the network has matured, its concerns have evolved and changed. From a more academic, theological focus the orientation has broadened to include the concerns of those preparing to engage in church and social ministries. Early members, who earned their doctoral degrees, took on responsibility for becoming faculty advisors, working with local groups to create and host the annual conference. New faculty advisors were added as more women with doctorates began teaching in theological education and religious studies.
A major development in the group over the years has been the increasing participation of Asian American women who bring perspectives and issues that often differ dramatically from those of their Asian sisters. Asian American issues have included racism, identity, and sexism within the Asian American community, as well as tokenism and marginalization within U. S. society at large and homophobia. In the early 1990s, Asian Canadian women began to join and become active in the network. In response to these changes, the group’s name became Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PAMAAWTM).
Over the years, the annual conference has held sessions on many subjects including: the differences between Asian and Asian American, being Asian and women, theology, hermeneutics, youth ministry, sexuality issues, and institutional leadership.
PANAAWTM consists of board of advisors, who are religion scholars, faculty members, and administrators in churches, universities and divinity schools and who represent a broad range of denominations and backgrounds. The steering committee provides leadership for the organization. Each year they work with a group of volunteers who are students and women in various ministries in schools, hospitals, and social agencies to create and hold the annual PANAAWTM conference. The conference provides a way for changing issues and important questions of justice and theology to be part of the on-going conversations that the conference generates, both locally and internationally.
- Rev. Myung Ji Cho (United Methodist Church)
- Dr. Grace Yia-Hei Kao (Claremont School of Theology, Presbyterian)
- Dr. Su Yon Pak (Union Theological Seminary in NY, Presbyterian)
- Dr. Haruko Nawata Ward (Columbia Theological Seminary, Presbyterian)
BOARD OF ADVISORS
- Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock (Soul Repair Center, Brite Divinity School, Disciple of Christ)
- Dr. Wonhee Anne Joh (Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, Presbyterian)
- Dr. Jung Ha Kim (Georgia State University, Methodist)
- Dr. Kwok Pui Lan (Episcopal Divinity School, Anglican)
- Dr. AHyun Lee (United Methodist Church)
- Dr. Boyung Lee (Pacific School of Religion, Methodist)
- Dr. Lai Ling Elizabeth Ngan (Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, Baptist)
- Dr. Christine Keun-Joo Pae (Denison University, Episcopal)
- Dr. Seung Ai Yang (Chicago Theological Seminary, Roman Catholic)
- Dr. Gale A. Yee (Episcopal Divinity School, Episcopal)
WIDER IMPACT OF THE ORGANIZATION
As mentioned above, some of the early student members of PANAAWTM have become faculty advisors, mentoring the next generation of women ministers and scholars. Over the last five years, some of those mentored by these faculty have also become advisors, moving the organization into its third generation of leadership. Out of this process have come some of the leading scholars in Asian and Asian North American Theology and Religious Studies, including those listed above as faculty advisors, as well as scholars such as Jane Naomi Iwamura, University of the West, Grace Kim, Moravian Theological Seminary, Won Hee Anne Joh, Phillips Theological Seminary, and Nami Kim, Spellman College.
As a greater number of scholars emerged, the annual PANAAWTM conference began in 1996 to include an opening public panel, held at the local host institution, to make the work of Pacific, Asian, and Asian North American women visible in that community and to share our ideas with the larger theological community. Hence, these panels have exposed the theological communities of the Toronto School of Theology, Chicago Theological Seminary, Episcopal Divinity School, Harvard Divinity School, and Graduate Theological Union to our ideas. The panels have attracted large numbers, between 70-100 in every venue, drawn from theological school faculty and students, as well as clergy and lay members of local churches and community activists.
In 1998, the faculty of PANAAWTM received an Association of Theological Schools grant and a Wabash Center grant to create a resource for teaching about Asian and Asian North American women and religion. The team met together for a week-long seminar, intensively working to create such a resource. The result was a final report of essays, recommendations, and a bibliography, which was distributed widely, including to all theological schools in North America. A panel on this project appeared at the 1999 annual conference at the Graduate Theological Union in the opening public panel presentation, which was attended by over 70 people from the various GTU schools and the local church communities who engaged the panelists in lively conversation following the presentation.
Because it is a grassroots organization, the larger impact of PANAAWTM may not be obvious, but it has had an important influence on the theological academy. The first panel on theology ever presented at the American Academy of Religion (AAR) by Asian or Asian North American women was organized in 1986 by AWT and published in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (1987)This program then led to the first panel specifically on Asian American women at the AAR, which resulted in the creation of the AAR Asian North American Religion, Society, and Culture Group, an on-going program unit of the religion academy. Out of that program unit, the first Consultation on Asian North American Theologies was held at the 2002 Annual Meeting of the AAR. In addition, Jane Naomi Iwamura was instrumental in starting the Asian Pacific Americans and Religion Research Initiative.
In addition to contributions to religious scholarship and seminary education, participants in the early years also have gone on to become ordained and to serve churches across North America and in Asia, as well as to work in social service agencies and other non-profit work. In 1998 during the Toronto annual conference, a group of women in ethnic ministries of the United Church of Christ joined the meeting, and the annual conference has regularly invited local ministers and scholars to speak on panels and participate in the entire conference.