3 recent books explore Korean Americans and their faith

May 18, 2009

Christianity Today featured this article by Kate Bowler titled, “Generation K: Korean American evangelicals.” The article describes the unique ethnic context out of which 3 recent books have been published about both 1st and 2nd generation Korean Americans, namely, Religion and Spirituality in Korean America by David K. Yoo and Ruth H. Chung; God’s New Whiz Kids?: Korean American Evangelicals on Campus by Rebecca Y. Kim; and Korean American Evangelicals: New Models for Civic Life by Elaine Howard Ecklund. Here’s an article excerpt:

… As scholars of immigrant religion point out, ethnicity is often harder to shake as an identity marker, constituting proof of perpetual “foreignness” that keeps Americans from feeling fully American. This is not a new problem, but in the last few decades it has become anespecially Christian problem.

… In 2000, foreign-born Americans and their children numbered 56 million, around one-fifth of the entire population. Racial questions nolonger can be simply bifurcated into black and white. As many newcomers are either Christian or become Christian after immigration, religious bodies often become the primary places of assimilation and ethnic formation.

Three recent books join the growing body of scholarship that examines how foreign-born and second-generation Korean Americans, particularly Protestants, address ethnicity in their worshipping communities. Using primarily historical and sociological lenses, they examine the religious identities of Korean Americans, one of the fastest growing immigrant groups.

… Second-generation Korean American Christians are forging new connections between their generational, ethnic, and religious identities. In short, they find new ways to be all three: Koreans. Americans. Christians.

… Rebecca Kim, a Pepperdine University sociologist, investigates the burgeoning number of second-generation Korean American evangelicals on university campuses. Traditionally white evangelical organizations like InterVarsity and Campus Crusade now thrive with a new infusion of SGKAs; some observers speak of “the Asian Awakening.” This flourishing generation of worshippers avoids white, multiracial, or even pan-Asian ministries in favor of forming separate ethnic Korean groups. Why? On one level, it seems curious that Koreans would choose to keep to themselves. As a whole, Kim describes SGKAs who have made a comfortable home in American society. They are well-off, highly educated, monolingual English speakers, and a quarter of them marry non-Asians. Yet in very ordinary ways, they are also distinctive. The familiarity of Korean food, humor, and company motivates them to join ethnic communities, in addition to the social advantages of networking and dating.

Read the entire article for full context and fascinating insights into this cultural context.

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