A Panel at the 2022 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion

DENVER Nov.2022

This session explores ways through which Asian Catholics directly participate in or indirectly intersect with the making of global Catholicism. Based on anthropological and sociological approaches, presenters explore issues located at the intersection of Asian Catholic migrations, religious practices, public engagement, and ethnic identities. More specifically, our five case studies include an investigation of the transnational circulations of the Vietnamese Our Lady of Lavang, the civic participation of Indian Catholic professionals established in Dubai, the ministry of Sri Lankan clergy members serving youth in Italy, the importance of queerness in the production of cosmopolitan Chinese Catholic nuns, and the significance of the global attention surrounding the political status of Catholicism in China.
Through the discussion of these five case studies, the session questions the ways Asian Catholics are not limited to their local or national belongings – nor to a static, universal, and homogenous expression of their religious belonging. Rather, presenters shed light on the various modes through which Asian Catholics, their religious symbols, or their political awareness circulate and evolve across borders. Therefore, our session suggests that the most pressing question may not be whether Catholicism is still global, but how contemporary Catholicism is produced and made tangible in a more interconnected and interdependent world. Ultimately, the session reveals that Asian Catholic circulations that occur at different levels and through various modalities question how Catholics perceive themselves and enact a “global” Catholic economy that shapes the many locales of 21st century Catholicism.



  • George Bayuga - Queer Affect Abroad: Chinese Nuns and Remaking Catholic Worlds

This paper is a consideration of the role of queer affect and sexuality the spiritual education of Chinese Catholic nuns who travel to Manila for religious training. Beginning in the late 1990s, Chinese clergy started arriving in Manila for education to minister to growing Catholic communities in the Mainland. For many Chinese nuns, this exposure was filled with hybrid encounters—they at once were immersed in a Catholic dominant society and also surrounded by visions of life outside the bounds of their ascetic expectations. A major point of religious reckoning was their encounter with sexualities both inside and outside of the classroom. Thinking through two cases: the discussion of sexuality beyond physical intimacy in a seminary and the recognition of queer Catholics in Filipino Church settings, this paper highlights how queer affect served the Church’s mission to form cosmopolitan Catholic nuns ready to address China’s changing religious landscape.

  • Bernardo Brown – Sri Lankan Migrant clergy and the shaping of a new Catholic youth in Italy

If you visit Caholic parishes in any Western European capital, you are likely to encounter Asian and African clergy at work. Clergy from India currently account for 30% of priests in Germany, and given the aging profile of European clergy, it is likely that most pastoral work is conducted by priests raised and trained in very different cultural contexts. This paper examines the case of Sri Lankan priests working in Italy, to reflect on how they engage with social problematics of the youth in Europe. In particular, I explore the work that priests and young parishioners do to bridge the cultural divide that separates them, and the unlikely points of convergence that they find. Sri Lankan clergy who actively organize youth groups, catechism courses and other pastoral activities for local youths are creatively developing new forms of religious engagement in European communities.

  • Michel Chambon – Local autonomy and global sovereignty: the political entanglements of Chinese Catholics

The People’s Republic of China and the Holy See have long engaged in diplomatic conversations to frame the status of Catholicism in China and establish formal diplomatic relationships. But the two sovereign entities have quite different and changing views on religion. Furthermore, the question of Taiwan adds another layer of complexity in their dialogue. While the White House has recently increased its interference in their dialogue, the ups and downs of the Sino-Vatican negotiations have attracted large media coverage. Thus, I argue that this international attention reflects the importance of the geopolitical issues that are at stake – i.e. defining sovereignty, religious autonomy, state-church relationships, human dignity, and the territorializing of Catholicism. As fieldwork in China confirms, Chinese Catholics are well-aware that they are not a mere national question but an international one with highly political ramifications.

  • Thien-Huong Ninh - Our Lady of Lavang: Mediation of the Vietnamese Catholic Diaspora in the U.S., Germany, and Israel

Since her first apparition in 1798 in Vietnam, Our Lady of Lavang has been associated with miracles within the contexts of martyrdom and other life-threatening experiences. In 1901, a French Bishop used a French model of Our Lady of Victories to (incongruously) represent the Virgin Mary with her Vietnamese name -- “Our Lady of Lavang.” It was not until 1998, that this statue was replaced. This time, the Virgin Mary was represented as a Vietnamese woman, an image created by a Vietnamese American Catholic sculptor and funded by the Vietnamese Catholic community in California. Although this Vietnamese image is a recent creation and the Vatican has not confirmed the historical accuracy of Our Lady of Lavang’s apparition, it has become popular throughout the world. This paper traces the globalization and transplantation of the Vietnamese-looking Our Lady of Lavang in the U.S., Germany, and Israel. 

  • Brandon Vaidyanathan – Engaged Expats and Disengaged Citizens: Civic Participation among Indian Catholic Professionals in Dubai and Bangalore.

How do religious institutions shape the civic participation of corporate professionals in rapidly developing contexts? Drawing on data from participant observation and in-depth interviews (n=135), this paper compares Indian Roman Catholic corporate professionals in two rapidly globalizing cities, Dubai, UAE, and Bangalore, India. The findings of this study reveal a paradox: Indian professionals in Dubai, though expatriates in a non-democratic nation, are actively involved in providing forms of economic, human, and social capital through the Church; meanwhile, their counterparts in Bangalore, despite being citizens in a democracy, are intentionally disengaged from such activities. I discuss three key factors that explain this variation—legal frameworks, authority structures, and institutional priorities—and conclude with implications for understanding the role of religious institutions in both facilitating and inhibiting the civic engagement of professionals in contexts of rapid development.