Reflections on the Asian and Asian American Feminist Theologies Course
PANAAWTM partnered with Candler Foundry at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, to offer a short course on Asian and Asian American Feminist Theologies from May 18-June 15, 2021. Lynnette Li from Singapore attended the course and shared her reflections on the course.
Lynnette Li is an openly queer Singaporean clergy who works in an ecumenical mission organization based in Singapore. Prior to attending seminary at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana, she earned a Master's degree in Geospatial Sciences with a keen interest in the relationship between environmental hazards, social vulnerability, and social resilience. Lynnette’s research interests integrate intersectional and interdisciplinary scholarship to give attention to narratives of resistance against cultural and religious hegemony. Feminist, queer, liberation, and postcolonial theologies influence how she attends to and advocates for the often unseen, overlooked, and undervalued places in society. She uses creative resistance as a means of cultural jamming to bring attention to agency found in marginal spaces. Photography, watercolor painting, and comedy are tools of expression for her creative work that brings up issues of injustice and oppression caused by colonialism, imperialism, misogyny, homophobia, and racism. Her ecumenical work has presented her opportunities to teach a course on Gender, Sexualities and Empire in Fiji, lead workshops in Kiribati, participate in global theological consultations and participate in research around the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade. In her ongoing work, Lynnette looks into indentured labor trade around the Indian ocean and Straits Settlement and the theologies that shaped mission and evangelism.
What prompted you to take the Asian and Asian American Feminist Theologies course?
Visibility and embodiment matter to me. The power of embodiment is its ability to dismantle internalized stereotypes and limitations. A decade ago, I never thought it was possible to become an openly queer clergy until I met one. When professors and ecumenical colleagues encouraged me to do my doctoral studies in theology, I tuned them out because the pathway for Asian women in both Asian and American contexts to become feminist Asian theologians is unchartered, unmarked, and undefined. It also meant I was silencing my voice, and the prophetic witness I could offer. That in itself is self-censoring and self-limitation. It was also a reflection of my limited exposure to Asian women in theology. When the opportunity to take this course arose, I jumped on it. This was a great chance to hear from Asian and Asian American feminist theologians who are at the forefront doing countercultural theological work in the various settings they are in.
How do you find the transnational approach of the course, with speakers and participants from US, Asia, and other countries?
Asia as a continent is richly diverse linguistically, culturally, and religiously. The notion that Asian and Asian American communities is monolithic needs to be demystified. The transnational approach of this course is one such way to counter such narratives. The approach offers a robust dialogue between Asia and North America. It allows us to notice the ebb and flow of how we are interconnected beyond political boundaries or geographical borders. At the same time, I have to name the elephant in the room of how the transnational relationship between North America and Asia is unilateral. The Global North, which the U.S. and Canada are a part of, has been accustomed to holding its position as the center for trade, commerce, and epistemologies of knowledge. The dynamic of such power is colonial and imperialistic in nature. This is something many Asian countries with histories of colonization and imperialism are aware of. The course’s transnational approach allows us to interrogate the impact of these colonial histories have over public policies, inter-and-intra-faith interactions, and religious spiritual practices. With speakers and participants from Canada, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and the United States, this opened up the opportunity for us to meet colleagues and counterparts in different locations with shared solidarities and commitments toward justice, equality, and liberation.
What are some of the highlights for you?
There are many highlights in this course. The first was the use of creative elements within the presentations. In the ways Asian women are hushed, made invisible, and told to not take up space, the demonstration of spoken word, visual art, and dance offers creative resistance to thwart misogynistic narratives and stereotypes.
A deeply meaningful moment for me was when Dr. Sharon Bong of Monash University Malaysia described the resolute hostility mainline churches hold toward LGBTQ persons. Dr. Bong said, “it would take a seismic shift for churches to rethink their theology of the body.” In what seemed to be a lament of how daunting the task it is, as an openly queer Singaporean clergy working in an ecumenical mission agency, I heard it as an encouragement for me to keep pressing on so that I can contribute to develop new theologies of liberation that resist empire and its hegemonic oppressive ways.
Another highlight was at the last session on leadership and ministry. During the session, a prophetic challenge from Dr. Septemmy Lakawa, President of Jakarta Theological Seminary, called for us to “create resilient trouble-making for justice and healing that our trouble-making dance will be embodied in our various communities.” It was a clarion call. I hope to be among the many to answer it.
What do you want to learn more in the future?
Protest can be interpreted as an act of rebellious defiance against authority. Within the Asian culture, authority must not to be treated with contempt. Instead, it must be revered and respected. Yet at the same time, protest is a means to disrupt unjust ways. In the past decade, Asia has seen the mobilization of people contesting neo-capitalism and authoritarian rule through pro-democracy demonstrations in places such as Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand and Myanmar. We have also heard from our course speaker Dr. Aruna Gnanadason of the Indian farmers' protests against new laws that threaten their livelihood. I am aware that Dr. Kwok Pui-lan has a forthcoming book on postcolonial politics and theology. I would be keen to learn more about postcolonial approaches to political theology to better understand how protest movements can lead to social transformation.