The Tao of Asian American Belonging

A Yinist Spirituality

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Young Lee Hertig
  • Maryknoll, NY: 
    Orbis
    , August
     2019.
     176 pages.
     $28.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781626983359.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

​​Young Lee Hertig is a prominent Asian-American theologian who assists leaders in and out of the Asian-American Christian community. In this striking book, The Tao of Asian American Belonging: A Yinist Spirituality, Hertig sheds light on a Yinist spirituality which examines a comprehensive and holistic paradigm of feminist Asian-Americans along with the context of womanist and mujerista. The Yinist spirituality, Hertig argues, balances not only “yang-centered educational practices and norms,” but also “our culture’s fragmentation and extreme tribalism on a daily basis,” particularly in Asian-American evangelical churches (xiii). The Yinist paradigm also engages us in a spirituality of harmony and reconstruction to facilitate a more holistic educational process for epistemological belonging and yearning (xi, xiii). This ground-breaking book provided theological and philosophical, biblical, and practical interpretation in three parts which are An Asian-American Alternative to Feminism, Yinist Spirituality in the Bible, and Contemporary Embodiments of Yinist Spirituality.

In part 1, Hertig suggests the Yinist paradigm, which is a way of articulating a spiritual belonging for Asians and Asian-Americans not only to overcome dichotomous epistemologies but also to pursue the epistemology of wholeness through the harmonious balance between and beyond yin and yang (xv). The Yinist feminism diffuses false sets of dichotomies that are derived from the dualistic paradigms of male against female, human being against nature, God against humans, and this world against the otherworldly (xvi). Criticizing the reductionist feminism to represent women across all cultures and classes, Hertig emphasizes the intersecting relationships of gender, class, and race. With the balance of yin and yang in society, the Yinist paradigm seeks to process multiple dimensions of relationships and their mutual interconnectedness with God, humanity, nature, and the ecological environment (9, 12). Furthermore, the holistic, organic worldview of Celtic spirituality as a counterpart of that of Taoists founded the Yinist paradigm by expressing yin qualities in the foreground and yang in the background (29). A holistic theological construct that contributes to overcoming the binary theology that results in anthropocentrism and the desacralization of nature (54).

In part 2, Hertig interprets four biblical narratives through the lens of Yinist epistemology and interweaves personal experience in liberating women under oppression and reconciling complicated intergroup conflicts. Insightful understandings of four biblical characters such as Queen Vashti and Esther, the Samaritan woman, Hellenist widows, and the concept of becoming the body of Christ are based on biblical narratives from the Yinist lens. Her imagination to interpret biblical narratives encourages Asian-American women who need to be liberated from the internalization of patriarchal oppression and people embedded in face-saving mechanisms and labeling ‘ism’—racism, sexism, classism, and culturally religiousism. She suggests the practice of reciprocity and mutuality in order to equalize power to become a body of Christ as of greater wholeness and overcome complicated intergroup conflicts in theological education, ministry. 

In part 3, Hertig applies Yinist spirituality from contemporary Asian and Asian-American contexts to illustrate its applicability and its embodiment beyond the interpretation of biblical discourse (xx). Hertig suggests that Korean-Americans should find the historical roots of their faith to cultivate the holistic spirituality of Yin/Yang in the fearless leadership in colonized historical circumstances by naming two historic Korean Christian women leaders. Hertig also analyzes the issues of power and authority to seek the treatment of Asian professional women both in the workplace and in the church based on Rollo May’s five levels of power as a framework for ethnic, gender, class, and generational issues (146). Asian-American women in contemporary society need to keep their Asian heritage, seek their own identity and integrity, their own call to being without being colonialized or marginalized in home, work, and society. Learning Yinist hermeneutical formation, which accompanies the transforming of mind/body/spirit through engagement across ethnicity, generation, and gender could provide an intersectional space that embodies gender equality and equity for a fuller body of Christ in Asian-American churches (184). 

The Yinist paradigm, which needs to be equally inclusive and implemented widely —not only for Asians and Asian-American women, evangelical churches, and society—is excellent encouragement for marginalized people to question the confining narratives of current Asian-American theologies. For graduate students and teachers of theological education, the sheer comprehensiveness of this book will highlight the importance of broadening perspectives in emerging Asian-American theologies like the “Yinist paradigm” that deeply understands and responds to contextual and cultural challenges. For lay leaders and members in Asian and Asian- American churches, this book will lead to transforming Yinist ecclesiology toward the whole community as the body of Christ. Finally, for readers interested in God’s creation and gender equality, this book will provide a holistic expression of faith and alternative perspectives on the regressive circumstances under assault. 

Since Hertig speaks as an Asian woman theologian, indeed as an Asian-American evangelical church leader who is committed to empowering women to have healthy leadership and a sense of belonging in the holistic perspectives of Yinist spirituality, this book would be a difficult read for American readers or even Asian-Americans educated in the United States because of general lack of familiarity of Taoism, as Hertig mentioned in this book (41). However, despite this critique, The Tao of Asian American Belonging will be impressive to individuals with evangelical backgrounds and those interested in Asian-American churches. Hertig’s life experience as a Korean, a woman, a pastor, and a professor under a patriarchal society, academy, and church enables her to tell a vivid and well-woven narrative. How can learning about how Asian-American churches have been influenced by patriarchal-hierarchical values give women leadership and authority? How can Asian-Americans of a second or third generation cultivate their own faith through historical figures in the Asian-American Church? Hertig answers these questions based on her observation of how many faith communities have struggled with gender equality and marginalization in society and in the world. 

While Asian traditional spirituality has been researched in recent years, this insightful topic is seriously underrepresented in the North American theological community and Asian-American evangelical churches. That is why Hertig’s contribution is exceptional and outstanding. This volume can be used to generate more conversation on Asian-American Yinist spirituality in the classroom and faith communities and to inspire further research in the larger scholarly community of Asian-American theology. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Eunjin Jeon earned a master of theology degree at Emory University Candler School of Theology.

Date of Review: 
September 21, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Young Lee Hertig is co-founder and executive director of ISAAC (Innovative Space for Asian American Christianity) and AAWOL (Asian American Women on Leadership). An ordained Presbyterian clergy, she has taught courses on spirituality, sustainability, and diversity at Azusa Pacific University, Fuller Theological Seminary, and United Theological Seminary.

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