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Asian/Asian American Interpretation

Addressing what constitutes Asian/Asian American interpretation is an arduous task, and perhaps an impossible one because of the heterogeneity of practitioners and the fluidity of contexts. Nonetheless, the collective identity of the Asian/Asian American in biblical interpretation has been conceived of as a response to the hegemony or parochialism of Western interpretation. Given the minority position of Asians and Asian Americans in geopolitics and in society, the modifier “Asian/Asian American” signifies the ethnicity of interpreter, the particularity of context, and the partiality of interpretation. Thus, “Asian/Asian American” is not merely a cultural and geographical identifier but also a social and political designator (Foskett and Kuan, 2006, p. xiii). Recognizing that there are many dangers in mapping Asian/Asian American interpretation owing to the political nature of geographical and demographical divisions, this article will begin with brief descriptions of biblical interpretation conducted in different regions of Asia and in the United States. Then it will introduce different approaches to interpretation that demonstrate Asian/Asian American interpretation as it has emerged as a discourse within the discipline of biblical interpretation or biblical studies. Finally, hermeneutical issues in Asian/Asian American interpretation that intersect with gender studies will be addressed.

Interpretation in Asia.

The descriptions below do not represent the totality of biblical interpretation in a particular region but make an attempt to grasp the characteristics of Asian biblical interpretation, which is in conversation with Asian cultural religious traditions or sociopolitical realities. Although the continent of Asia includes the Middle East, the countries of Central Asia, a large part of Russia, and a portion of the Pacific Islands, this discussion will limit its scope to East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and North America. Even limiting the discussion of Asian/Asian American interpretation within these demarcated regions, it should be acknowledged that “Asian” and “Asian American” refer to multiple peoples and diverse cultures and histories. Not only do geographical and geopolitical situatedness and social formation distinguish Asians and Asian Americans, but Asia itself is heterogeneous. Even in a single country with a presumably homogeneous population like India, there are a multitude of indigenous people.

East Asia.

East Asian biblical interpretation generally addresses cross-textual and cross2004b-cultural issues on the one hand and liberative concerns on the other. East Asian interpretation cannot be discussed without considering the tremendous influence of Chinese culture, in which sacred texts of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism were produced. When the Bible was first translated into Chinese at the beginning of the nineteenth century, enculturation figured significantly in its interpretation. As China has been the site of continuation and contestation of Western imperialism, nationalism, communism, modernization, and globalization, the Bible has functioned along with the aforementioned sacred texts as a sacred text promoting not only personal and spiritual but also moral and social formation. Yet these canonical traditions in the other sacred texts, which biblical interpretation engages with, may be viewed as patriarchal and elitist. In addition, ordinary people, especially women and the marginalized, find that stories such as legends and folk tales provoke dialogical imagination—a creative hermeneutical process that seeks to negotiate complexities and contradictions in the encounter of two different worlds, the Bible and Asia (Kwok, 2005, pp. 38–39).

On the other hand, minjung (literally, “the mass of the people”) theology emerged as a Christian response to political oppression, economic exploitation, and social injustice, witnessing minjung as the subject of history in South Korea. This theology regards the social biography of Asians as the text of minjung hermeneutics, along with the biblical text produced by the people (minjung) in biblical times. However, the political exigencies of the 1970s did not allow minjung theologians to consider adequately the most oppressed group under Japanese or Western colonialism, patriarchal social structure, and the Confucian family structure—that is, women among minjung.

South Asia.

As in China, the translation of the Bible into vernacular languages and the incorporation of Indian religious concepts and methods in biblical interpretation played an important role in the development of South Asian interpretation. The multireligious and multiethnic formation of Indian society facilitated interreligious and pluralist Indian readings of the Bible. In Indian theology and biblical interpretation, Jesus is represented as a moral and social reformer (Ram Mohan Roy), avatara (a manifestation of God, Vengal Chakkarai), or as a liberator (Stanley J. Samartha). In Waters of Fire (1988), Sister Vandana’s interpretation focuses on the symbolism of water in the Gospel of John and in Hindu traditions, particularly the Upanishad, and seeks to dialogue with Hindu religiosity and spirituality. Yet as the scriptures and theologies of Indian religions, including those of Christianity, have legitimized male domination over women, the need for a new vision of biblical interpretation is advocated by oppressed minorities such as tribals (Soares-Prabhu in Sugirtharajah, 2006) and Dalits.

In spite of the significance of Indian interpretation in its history and practice, India is not the sole representative of South Asia. While there may be other diverse readers of the Bible that scholarship fails to recognize, R. S. Sugirtharajah is a prominent Sri Lankan scholar who, although located in the United Kingdom, nonetheless positions himself “between and betwixt cultures and countries and engage[s] in a processual hermeneutic” (1998, p. 109). From that location, his contribution to Asian biblical interpretation, particularly in conjunction with postcolonial criticism, is extensive.

Southeast Asia.

Since the population in Southeast Asia is much more diverse than that of East and South Asia in terms of race and ethnicity, culture, religion, and language, Southeast Asia shows most clearly how “Asian” and “Asian American” flounder as concepts that suggest any type of uniformity with regard to interpretive identities and practices. If there is something almost all Southeast Asian countries have in common, it is the experience of colonization, which can become a costly source and contested site of liberation or postcolonial biblical interpretation. Yet Christians constitute a small percentage of the population, and the Bible most often appears in the languages of colonizers. The scarcity of Bible-reading communities makes biblical interpretation from the region largely inaccessible and unavailable (Chia in Foskett and Kuan, 2006, p. 46). Therefore, biblical interpretation in Southeast Asia is quite a recent development, and it is even harder to find the voice of women in biblical interpretation. In such a circumstance, the task of biblical interpretation as a local endeavor might be to engage with indigenous cultures and religions. Such interpretation also would not only engage people who are marginalized in society and excluded in religious systems but also pursue solidarity with Asian minjung and women.

Interpretation in Asian America.

The collectivity assigned to Asians is also applied to Asian descendants in the United States. Despite their immense diversity in terms of ethnicity, language, generation, and class as well as in their relations to the homeland and the dominant American culture, they have been essentialized as a monolithic group by the dominant culture. Furthermore, the title “model minority” attached to Asian Americans reinforces racialization and ethnicization by controlling racial dynamics among minority groups. Being conscious of this forced reality, Asian American interpreters find a subjectivity that emerges from “complex and contested processes of differentiation and renegotiation of discourses” (Ling, 1997, p. 325). The consequence of this is that Asian American interpreters tend to strategically take an “essentialist” position to politicize their marginalized subjectivity as a group movement, while mutually acknowledging their respective power positions and differences of identity. A similar tactic can also be seen in feminist practice. Hence, Asian American interpreters utilize the unified category of Asian American as a strategic device to collaboratively resist Eurocentric bias in biblical studies. Nevertheless, this strategic unification does not occur without cultural complication. A frontier for Asian American biblical scholarship, in parallel to specifically Asian contexts, is to promote more particularity in Asian American biblical scholarship within the presumed whole of Asian American identities.

Identifying “Asian American.”

A variety of concepts for self-identification have been employed. While later generations of Asian immigrants tend to assimilate into American culture, the experience of earlier generations may be described in terms of liminality. Other interpreters highlight the creative and constructive aspect of in-betweenness in being neither Asian nor American. The hyphen between Asian and American is often discussed as symbolizing such in-betweenness (Wan in Foskett and Kuan, 2006). It is even argued that persons at the margins stand not only between the two worlds but also beyond them. While hybridity may also describe the status of in-betweenness, some Asian American interpreters employ the concept of hybridity to intentionally disrupt the homogeneity of Asian Americans and the convention of rational either/or choices. Moreover, the interpreter’s construction of liminal cultural identity promotes intertextual hybridity, where interpretive moves refuse the fixed boundaries between the biblical material, texts from Asian American culture, and contemporary theory (Yamada in Foskett and Kuan, 2006).

Forming “Asian American.”

Although who Asian Americans are and what Asian Americans do are fundamental issues, the question of “how” to make sense of “Asian American” in Asian American biblical interpretation demands attention. Tat-siong Benny Liew suggests legitimizing Asian American biblical hermeneutics through “an inventive tradition of citation, or of reference” rather than seeking authenticity through racial/ethnic or cultural identity (2008, p. 7). The repeated practice of such citation will not only form and transform the tradition of Asian American biblical hermeneutics but also cause a “re-vision” of the field of biblical hermeneutics, in which Western interpretation is positioned as historically and mistakenly presuming universal value. Instead of biblical interpretation consisting merely of the effort to find (original) meaning in a biblical text, it becomes a way of using the biblical text to illuminate how meaning and its accompanying power are produced through interpretation. This proposal by Liew more constructively addresses what counts as “Asian American” than the prevailing discussion of the cultural identity of Asian Americans does, in that it promotes the agency and discursive power of Asian American interpretation not by describing what it is but by suggesting how to make it. Given the Asian/Asian American emphasis on the performative quality of interpretation within and against the power structure that produces knowledge, therefore, Asian/Asian American interpretation is understood as a discourse rather than methodology.

Place of gender in “Asian American” hermeneutics.

Whether one seeks sophisticated and wide-ranging cultural definitions for Asian and Asian American or focuses on how to make meaning, sense, and reality through discursive practice or production of interpretation, it is crucial that any advance in Asian and Asian American hermeneutics take seriously the category of gender. The identity politics of Asia and America often pass over women, who are marginalized by racial discrimination, cultural norms, and gender stereotypes at multiple levels. The immigration history of Asians bears witness to how Asian men have been suppressed by the dominant white American culture, but have also struggled with their invisibility by making women invisible. Here the construction of gender operates both within and outside Asian American communities: first, Asian American men are feminized by the dominant culture; second, Asian American women are oppressed not only by racialization but also by the Asian and Asian American patriarchal system. Thus, although “Asian American” may be considered a racial/ethnic label, the problem of gender is inherent in what constitutes Asian American, whether the term refers to the subject, object, or practice of interpretation. The concept is further troubled by how gender is marked when issues of sexuality such as queer and transgender are involved in biblical interpretation. In addition, these others in gender and sexuality have been silenced among racial/ethnic others and have had neither power nor text from which to produce knowledge and make tradition. Asian American women and other minorities may be suspicious of forming both their cultural identity as Asian American readers and the tradition of Asian American biblical interpretation.

Interpretive Approaches.

Just as the racial/ethnic notions of “Asian” or “Asian American” cannot be adequately understood apart from the factor of gender, so methodologies, approaches, and discourse employed in Asian American biblical interpretation are informed by and intersect with gender studies in multiple ways. It should be noted that approaches introduced here—cultural hermeneutics, cultural studies, liberation hermeneutics, and postcolonial interpretation—are not mutually exclusive, but can overlap in the practice of interpretation.

Cultural hermeneutics.

One of the prevalent approaches in Asian and Asian American interpretation is represented by contextual readings of the Bible, particularly in the form of cross-cultural or cross-textual interpretation. This can be seen in the comparative analysis of the history of religion, as in the Western comparative analysis of Near Eastern and Mediterranean religions within traditional historical criticism. Khiok-Khng Yeo deals with the issue of Chinese ancestor worship, which was condemned by Western missionaries, through examining the rhetorical hermeneutics of 1 Corinthians 8 (in Sugirtharajah, 2006, pp. 371–385). Although by finding correlation between the Bible and Asian traditions he makes the Bible more culturally accessible, his cross-cultural interpretation also challenges existing Chinese social order and policies. Another comparative analysis of religious texts, which is called the “vernacular reading,” appropriates ancient Asian reading practices such as Sanskritic or Brahmanic traditions (Sugirtharajah, 1998). However, given different understandings of scripture in religious traditions, comparative analysis or cross-textual engagement is not a simple matter. Additionally, these scriptures are not only viewed as sacred but also as ideological products.

From a gender-critical perspective, both Asian religious texts and the Bible, as well as their canonical interpretations, are vulnerable to criticism because of their logocentric and elitist tendencies. In addition, the formation and use of the texts have excluded and marginalized women and other minorities. While cross-scriptural interpretation is usually conducted by elite males, others may find rich resources for alternative cross-cultural interpretation in dialogue with folk religions such as shamanism, which does not have sacred texts and has been practiced mostly by women and common people. Some vernacular readings adopt the method of storytelling, that is, the retelling of old stories instead of the rereading of old texts (Melanchthon, 2010, pp. 117–118). However, such approaches are often dismissed in biblical interpretation because of their lack of methodological rigor.

Cultural studies.

Cultural hermeneutics has been reformulated in the Asian American context by employing methodological and theoretical frameworks borrowed from cultural studies. Asian American biblical interpretation in this mode critically engages with the text, interpretation, and interpreter in an interdisciplinary manner. The main issue in cultural studies is to move toward a system that engages the production of truth and the construction of reality. In this regard, biblical interpretation intersects with Asian studies, postcolonial studies, gender studies, and so forth. Examples of such an interdisciplinary undertaking are displayed in Liew’s interpretations of a variety of New Testament texts.

Critical research on how Asian and Asian American women have been silenced in the process of national and cultural identity formation in contestation with Western masculinity can challenge existing Asian and Asian American biblical interpretation, which concentrates on race/ethnicity at the expense of gender. Asian and Asian American feminist interpretation can benefit from Western feminist theory in advocating for women’s identity and agency in the face of the patriarchal language system. However, Asian and Asian American feminist interpretation is also aware of feminism’s tendency to essentialize women’s experience and its accompanying failure to represent the third-world woman’s experience. In this regard postcolonial feminist theory is a useful tool to address the interlocking problem of gender and race in Asian/Asian American interpretation.

Suspicion of the heavy use of theory may arise on the part of some Asian readers, who acknowledge that the experience of colonialism influences their identity formation and thus take a critical stance toward Western theory. There are examples, however, of critical theory that is distinctly Asian or a modification of Western modes of thought with Asian interests. Using Western theory and method is inescapable and can even be considered a witting tool, used by the colonized when they try to “write back and work against colonial assumptions, representations, and ideologies” (Sugirtharajah, 1998, p. x). The Filipino Jeepney hermeneutics is one such venture, demonstrating the capacity to transform tools of mass destruction into resources for life (as in the writings of Revelation E. Velunta). Thus while cultural studies is not just an Asian American interpretive mode of discourse, it may be utilized by Asian interpreters in a more critical manner.

Liberation hermeneutics.

Given the experience of colonization and oppressive social structures among the majority of Asian peoples, liberation constitutes an important context for Asians’ reading of the Bible. Readings of Indian Dalits, Japanese Burakumin, Korean minjung, indigenous people, and Asian women are motivated by the liberative impulse, which emphasizes freedom from bondage and oppression. The Bible plays a crucial role in empowering people to participate in the process of struggle. For example, Korean minjung biblical hermeneutics rereads the Exodus, the prophets’ messages, and the Jesus movement in the present context in which people suffer from oppression and the concomitant struggle for liberation (Kim, 1981). According to Ahn Byung-Mu, the ochlos (crowd) in the Gospel of Mark do not merely constitute the background of Jesus’s ministry but bear witness to the Jesus event. Mark describes Jesus as siding with the minjung. Jesus is the Messiah mainly in the sense that he struggles together with the suffering minjung on the frontline of the advent of God’s kingdom (in Sugirtharajah, 2006).

Similarly, Dhyanchand Carr proposes a biblical paradigm for Dalit theology through interpreting the Gospel of Matthew from an Indian perspective. Matthew appears to affirm God’s preference toward the socially ostracized and stigmatized people, who are identified with the untouchables, those outside the traditional social system of caste (Carr, 2009, p. 82). In the Dalit reading, Jesus is perceived as a “truly dalit deity” (Premnath in Foskett and Kuan, 2006, p. 7). In this Dalitness of Jesus, the Dalits recognize the goal of liberation, the realization of full humanness and full divinity. Among the Dalits, the 80 million women in India are multiply oppressed, not only by the social systems of patriarchy, caste, and class but also by androcentric Christian theology and dogma. Thus, the sociocultural, political, and economic reality of Dalit women and their experience ordain the hermeneutical starting point and provide its goal of survival and liberation. Dalit women’s hermeneutics is a significant move/movement in Asian biblical interpretation in that it attempts to destabilize any oppressive systems—whether Christian or traditional religions—and their texts, which legitimize the subordination of women (Melanchthon, 2010).

Postcolonial interpretation.

Asian liberation hermeneutics holds a diversity of viewpoints regarding biblical authority, Christology, and the oppressed. For Asians, the Bible is the Word of God in the living community, but the texts that legitimize domination and violence over women and minorities are questioned. Jesus can be a minjung or Dalit; even a minjung is the Messiah. Liberation is not only for the poor but for those multiply oppressed in terms of gender, caste, class, and ethnicity. Some liberation hermeneutics overlap with postcolonial criticism in that they are concerned with the aftermath of liberation. The appropriation of postcolonialism especially sheds light on Asian feminist interpretation. This interpretation provides insights into the role of gender and sexuality in the ongoing struggle of the postcolonial Asian situation, in which resistance to colonialism and struggle for liberation are facilitated by the nationalistic impulse. However, anticolonial discourse often duplicates hegemonic colonial values by retaining cultural identity and superiority through the justification of women’s domesticity. Not only is the conflict between genders in view, but competition between masculinities is also displayed. Imperial and anticolonial masculinities attempt to control women’s sexuality according to their own respective desires: the desire of imperial masculinity for the colonized to be territorially/sexually dispossessed, on the one hand, and the desire of anticolonial masculinity for sexual/territorial repossession from whiteness and white civilization, on the other hand (Gandhi, 1998, pp. 98–99). Jean K. Kim’s reading of the Gospel of John in the context of Korean nationalist movements testifies that this struggle between masculinities sacrifices women (Kim, 2004).

Although the practitioners of these interpretive approaches are predominantly males, the above discussion suggests some ways to strengthen and expand Asian/Asian American interpretation by positively incorporating gender as a category or consciousness in each approach. Women’s religious experience and practice can be a text along with (or against) Asian and Christian scriptures (cultural hermeneutics). Asian women’s reality and struggle for liberation become sources for refurbishing minjung or Dalit theology (liberation hermeneutics). Asian and Asian American women can write back to both colonial/imperial and androcentric/patriarchal discourse in biblical interpretation (cultural studies and postcolonial interpretation).

Hermeneutical Issues.

While there are a variety of hermeneutical issues raised in Asian and Asian American interpretation, this entry focuses on analysis of how gender and sexuality are constructed in and through biblical interpretive work rather than introducing the traditional feminist approach to women characters in the Bible (Kinukawa, 1994; Satoko, 2002).

Cultural identity and gender.

In the Asian American context, cultural identity is a predominant issue, challenging the dominant culture and disrupting the hegemonic mode of Anglo-Eurocentric interpretation. This issue not only covers a variety of experiences such as immigration, exile, and diaspora but also becomes even more complicated by multigenerational, multiracial, and adoption experiences. A common approach is to discover one’s cultural identity by engaging with characters in biblical stories who are analogous to Asian Americans. Focusing on the politics of identity, Uriah Y. Kim’s inter(con)textual readings of the stories of Josiah and Uriah the Hittite not only lead Asian Americans to find themselves in these stories demonstrating Israel’s identity struggle but also make the text a site of struggle for his own identity and for Asian American collective identity (in Foskett and Kuan, 2006). Liew similarly employs the concept of yin-yang as the basic forces of life bound together in tension to understand the identity of Asian Americans and interpret the Bible. Reading with yin-yang eyes, a contradictory look, helps negotiate his multiple identity in contradiction to, and functioning to disrupt, the normative authority of the Bible (Liew, 2008).

Yet for Gale Yee, a third-generation Chinese American, there was nothing that culturally identified her as Asian other than her name and face, and thus she claims, “Yin/Yang is not me.” Yet her identity is forced to be constructed as an Asian based on her appearance. She in turn inscribes her own Asian American identity in reading the story of Yael in Judges 4–5 with the story of the Chinese woman warrior Fa Mulan, while interrogating the role of gender in contestation of forming one’s identity as “foreign” (in Foskett and Kuan, 2006).

As seen in these few examples, Asian American male and female interpreters inter(con)textually read both biblical materials and their experiences, which are the sites of struggle for cultural identity. In many cases, however, the category of gender is subsumed under the identification of race/ethnicity, while in fact race and gender ideologies are inextricably encoded in the process of identity formation. In this regard, Mai-Anh Le Tran’s postcolonial feminist reading of narratives of Lot’s wife, Ruth, and Tô Thị is distinct in its attentiveness to the intersection of gender and race. Her cross-textual reading engages simultaneously with these two biblical stories and with traditional Vietnamese folklore concentrating on common motif of a pillar. By juxtaposing these stories, she deconstructs the normative narratives, which have functioned to inscribe domination and subordination on women in ancient and contemporary societies. Moreover, Tran’s reading demonstrates how gender representations are distorted in the patriarchal symbolic system as represented by “sin” and “redemption.” Her reading overcomes the limitation of feminist theory by arguing that this is the genderizing and racializing language that reveals “interstructured forms of subordination” and that sustains both ancient and contemporary “patriarchal/kyriarchal and ethnocentric/imperialistic ideologies” (in Foskett and Kuan, 2006, p. 135).

Asian women’s experience and body.

Another hermeneutical issue that can be explored in the intersection of gender and race/ethnicity is the body. Many Asian American interpreters acknowledge that their bodies are a readable text upon which social reality is inscribed, as they often experience the body in which the racist rule of the dominant culture is engraved. Memory plays a significant role in this regard. Yamada’s reading of Genesis 2–3 implies that the earlier generation of Japanese Americans’ experience of shame in the internment camps was inscribed on the bodies and on the identity of the third generation in the form of memory. It is a memory of “human survival in the midst of a life of adversity” (in Foskett and Kuan, 2006, p. 175).

While “memory is a powerful tool in resisting institutionally sanctioned forgetfulness,” for multiply oppressed Asian women it is “inscribed on the body, on one’s most private self, on one’s sexuality” (Kwok, 2005, pp. 37, 77–78). Asian women’s conception of body is distant from the French feminist discourse of body, which approaches the female body by focusing on a woman’s own individualist sexuality or sexual freedom. In contrast, for many Asian women, the colonized body speaks a language not only of poverty, exploitation, and violence but also of resistance, healing, and hope. Therefore, memory is not only a sign of life but life itself: it is hope for the continuation of life (Song, 1979, p. 144).

Asian women’s biblical interpretation, therefore, is a life-affirming reading in the commitment to communal survival and healing, as represented by the hermeneutics of salim, which means in Korean “making things alive,” “mending broken things,” “feeding everybody,” and “creating peace, health, and abundant living.” Thus the hermeneutics of salim is a life-centered and relation-oriented Bible reading practice. In employing salim hermeneutics, Seong Hee Kim recalls Korean women’s experiences in their colonial and postcolonial history and identifies the way that women read biblical stories by using dialogical imagination and inspiring reciprocal healing and well-being. Similarly, “hermeneutics of compassion in detachment,” proposed by Hyun Ju Bae, highlights the faith community’s “art of friendship” with both people today and the written text(s) in creative dialogue and interaction, while taking a critical stance against the oppressive function and use of the Bible. This hermeneutics, rooted in the multireligious and multiscriptural context of Asia, is best evoked by the image of “dancing around life.” When a person dances, she attunes her body to the rhythm of life, while all human faculties participate in the movement of the body.

Dalit women’s biblical hermeneutics values alternative sources in reading the Bible, such as feeling, wisdom, and the heart, womb, and body. Like Korean feminist readers, Dalit women’s interpretation advocates on behalf of their own silenced voices and seeks the transformation of life in all its wholeness, which means celebrating plurality, diversity, mutuality, and partnership (Melanchthon, 2010, pp. 113–114).

Although C. S. Song is not a biblical scholar, his reading of biblical stories with rich stories of Asian people, which embody their suffering, evokes powerful female/feminine images regarding life and hope. A young Vietnamese woman, who has just lost her husband in the midst of cruel war, “looks down at the seed coming to life” (Song, 1979, pp. 127). This instinctive feeling for the seed in the womb, which in turn signifies the seed of hope, becomes a lens for interpreting the story of Sarah, Isaiah’s prophecy to King Ahaz, the birth of Jesus Christ, and the birth of Cain. This hope is an outlook on salvation, which is grasped by the experience of life in the mother’s womb.

Feminization of Asian America.

While the characters and images of women in the Bible, which come to life through Asian women’s experience, are embodied, life-centered, and interdependent, another potential hermeneutical issue in Asian and Asian American interpretation in the intersection of gender and race/ethnicity is the feminization of Asian America. The competing desires of imperial and anticolonial masculinities, as discussed above, produce competing anxieties, since the imperial man defines himself by emasculating the colonized man: the colonized land is colonizable because it lacks real men. As Western colonization was facilitated by constructing the image of the East as feminine, in the history of Asian immigration the racialization of Asians in the United States has been reinforced by constructing “Asian men” as powerless and thus harmless. In this way, Asian men are distinguished from other minorities like African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Alongside this feminization of Asian men, Asian women were “ultrafeminized,” being represented as desirable sexual partners who are willing to serve and please (Ling, 1997).

In this Asian American context, the author of this entry reads the body of Jesus represented in the Gospel of Mark as feminized in contrast to the Roman imperial construction of the body. Moreover, this feminized body, along with the bodies of the silenced and passive colonized subjects, resists the dominant discourse of the body. Asian/Asian American interpretation, therefore, furthers feminist interpretation. This is not only about female or feminine, because Asian and Asian American males represent the most feminized sexual identities among males in North American culture as well as in the scheme of Orientalism. Can Asian bodies be a cultural text that is cross-read with the Bible? In this regard, Asian/Asian American interpretation is a discursive space where other issues of sexuality such as queer and transgender could be both compelling and complicated (Liew, 2009).

Looking Forward.

While Asian/Asian American interpretation is heterogeneous and fluid, it constitutes a discourse that decenters the universalizing discourse of Anglo-Eurocentric biblical interpretation in multiple ways. First, it claims that other Asian scriptures and the Bible are equally authoritative for or inspire lives. Second, it resists the use of the Bible and biblical interpretation to colonize and oppress Asian people. Third, in order to disrupt the hegemonic discourse and practice of biblical interpretation, Asian American interpreters apply identity politics and reinvent the tradition of biblical hermeneutics, focusing on the production of meaning and power. Last, it writes back to the dominant culture, which racializes and feminizes Asians and Asian Americans and provides the normative script regarding gender and sexuality. In envisioning the future of Asian/Asian American interpretation, a reconsideration of gender and sexuality in its discourse and practice will reinforce the ethos of liberation and decolonization. In this regard, a promising move can be made by minjung or Dalit interpretations from Asian and Asian American feminist perspectives, which affirm and transform life and celebrate its mutuality and plurality.




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  • Yee, Gale. “‘She Stood in Tears Amid the Alien Corn’”: Ruth, the Perpetual Foreigner and Model Minority.” In They Were All Together in One Place? Toward Minority Biblical Criticism, edited by Randall C. Bailey, Tat-siong Benny Liew, and Fernando F. Segovia, pp. 119–140. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009.

Jin Young Choi

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