Religious Experience Among Second Generation Korean Americans

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Mark Chung Hearn
Asian Christianity in the Diaspora
  • New York, NY: 
    Palgrave Macmillan
    , May
     2016.
     139 pages.
     $46.51.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781137594129.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Mark Chung Hearn’s Religious Experience Among Second Generation Korean Americans is a valuable addition to the rapidly growing body of scholarly works in the field of Asian American theology and religious history. Hearn focuses on the lived experiences of second-generation Korean American men, and explores the role of faith in navigating their multiple senses of identity as Korean American men, Christians, and spiritual beings. Engaging resources from various disciplines to examine Korean American men as “complex sociohistorical beings,” Hearn makes a practical theological claim that Korean American men need individual and communal healing (2). What are some of the unresolved tensions and pains that Korean American men often struggle in their faith journey? How can faith leaders help these men to develop healthier understandings of manhood? How can Christian communities become safe places of healing and restoration for Korean American men?

Seeking to answer these vital questions, Hearn critically engages with “multiple lenses to comprehend the vast experiences and realities of Korean American men and the communities in which they participate” (2). After stating the necessity for close examination of the religious experience among second generation Korean American men in chapter 1, Hearn situates Korean American men within the larger US history by giving the historical overview of Asian American experiences from the late 1800s in chapter 2. Hearn carefully narrates how Asian Americans’ racial and ethnic identities have been socio-culturally constructed by the mainstream media. These stereotypical representations of Asian Americans—such as “the Model Minority” and “the Forever Foreigner”—have been injurious in that these “compile all Asian Americans into one category when in reality, it is a heterogeneous group with varying histories, cultures and classes” (20). In chapter 3, Hearn investigates the narratives of second-generation Korean American men to explore the limitation imposed by the larger society in pursuit of their notions of manhood. In the interview analysis, Hearn demonstrates how Korean American men’s socially constructed racial and ethnic identity have created barriers in both their professional workplace and social standing.

As sociocultural challenges persist for Korean American men on their public performances of manhood, they often search for “agency and power” in sporting events (43). In chapter 4, Hearn argues that sports have become “an alternative site to practice and perform heteronormative and hegemonic masculinity” (43). Based on participant observation at various Korean American sports tournaments in the greater Los Angeles area, Hearn makes two important observations: first, sport often becomes “a site of resistance to the discrimination Korean American men experience in society” (43); and second, that Korean American churches provide a space for Korean American men to display their manhood, and express a sense of agency by engaging in sport activities. Chapter 5 examines the qualitative data gathered through his ethnographic work at Christ Church and defines Korean American spirituality as a hybrid one influenced and shaped by both Korean spirituality and American evangelicalism. According to Hearn’s analysis, what makes Korean American spirituality distinct is its gender ideologies, rooted largely upon American evangelicalism’s belief in a complementarian view of household relationship, which melds conveniently with Confucian social philosophies of life in East Asian tradition (92). Lastly, in chapter 6, Hearn concludes by suggesting practical theological implications for faith leaders on how to work with second generation Korean American men, both to heal and empower them in making positive contributions to their communities.

The strength of this book springs from Hearn’s clever demonstration of the importance of interpreting Korean American men as “sociohistorical constructs” in a cutting-edge interdisciplinary work. At the same time, Hearn does not solely advocate for a strict sociohistorical reading of Korean American men. His analysis and examination of the lived experiences of Korean American men are theologically well grounded. His interdisciplinary work in chapter 4 is especially outstanding as this is where Hearn explores the certain sociocultural challenges that Korean American men face by looking at the Korean church-based sports events. Hearn skillfully puts Korean American men’s narratives in critical conversation with theories of the sociology of sports, men’s studies, and religious spirituality. This particular approach in Hearn’s research provides explicit theological and spiritual resources for Korean American men to address their significant issues and their faith communities.

At the same time, Hearn’s work could have given greater attention to the process of “healing” for Korean American men and their communities. For Hearn, healing as a means of resolving violence starts “from awareness and education to action, rectifying broken relationships and systems in which we have been complicit” (2). What’s missing in this framework is an in-depth pastoral theological reflection on healing—namely, what happens to Korean American men in between the “education” and “action” in Hearn’s framework. Rectifying broken relationships and restoring communities are messy processes, taking significant amounts of time for both grief and mourning. In other words, the dimension of pastoral care could have certainly enriched the last chapter of the book where Hearn provides practical suggestions for faith leaders to guide Korean American men to experience healing. For those seeking a more in-depth social and psychological understanding of men’s experience of healing, Gregory C. Ellison’s Cut Dead Still Alive: Caring for African American Young Men (Abingdon Press, 2013) would be a great counterpart.

Once again, in its exceptional effort to address important issues for Korean American men and their spiritual well being, Hearn’s book makes a vital contribution to the studies of Asian American practical theology. The topic of “healing” has been seriously overlooked in Asian American Christian communities and often gets silenced—especially among Asian American men. Hearn claims that, in order to dismantle this cultural stigma, the pursuit of inner healing in Korean American men is essential in restoring and building healthier familial, relational, and religious communities within Korean America.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Eunil David Cho is a doctoral student in the graduate division of religion at Emory University.

Date of Review: 
June 14, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Mark Chung Hearn is a second-generation Korean American and the youngest child of immigrant parents. He grew up in southern California as a “pastor’s kid” in an immigrant, Nazarene church and learned early from his parents to see and serve people and their needs. Hearn completed his undergraduate degree and Master of Divinity Degree from Point Loma Nazarene University and Asbury Theological Seminary respectively, as well as acquiring a Masters in Theological Studies from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in practical theology with an emphasis in religious education and spiritual formation from Claremont School of Theology.

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