I’m currently working on four clusters of research projects involving a range of theoretical questions and methods. My inquiries generally concern deeply held intentionalities and affective charge — enthusiasm, hostility, repulsion, faith, passion, purpose, persistence, aspiration, solidarity, and empathy to name a few — and how they play out not only in spectacular ways like mass prayer rallies and large-scale political protests but also in ordinary, everyday practices. All my work deals with difference, inequality, and power, and I tend to gravitate towards the theoretical and political significance of the marginal and the minor(ity). I try to develop timely and socially relevant research with direct or indirect policy implications, and always with an eye towards opportunities for public dissemination. In addition to employing qualitative research methods like in-depth interviews and ethnographic fieldwork, I have a strong interest in producing visually compelling maps and infographics to illustrate my research findings.
1. Postcolonial Geography of Evangelical Missions
Contemporary Korean/American evangelical missions: politics of space, gender, and difference
My dissertation examined how overseas mission destinations are imagined, how transnational missionary networks are mobilized, and how missions actually operate on the ground. Drawing from ethnographic research and in-depth interviews as well as close readings of sermons and missionary testimonials, I discussed the ideological, institutional, and affective ties that interlace Korean-led world evangelization across multiple and interrelated sites. These sites included an immigrant congregation in California that embodied the spatial logic of propagation, an underground missionary network in China that offered capitalist deliverance for North Koreans in their custody, and a short-term mission trip to Uganda and Tanzania that forged visceral and affective ties between Christian salvation and capitalist development. Rather than narrowly define proselytizing missions in terms of a religious mandate for domination and conversion, my study suggested that missions serve a corroborating function—by witnessing and experiencing conditions associated with the historical past, Korean missionaries renew their faith in progress and development. Missions produce missionaries. In my book manuscript, I discuss how the affective dimensions of proselytizing missions shape aspirational subjectivities through purposeful encounters with ethnoracial and spatiotemporal difference. [see Dissertation Abstract and Dissertation Review]
Han, JHJ. 2018. “Shifting Geographies of Proximity: Korean-led Evangelical Christian Missions and the US Empire.” In Ethnographies of U.S. Empire, edited by Carole McGranahan and John Collins, 194-213. Duke University Press.
Han, JHJ. 2015. “Our Past, Your Future: Evangelical Missionaries and the Script of Prosperity.” In Territories of Poverty: Rethinking North and South, edited by Ananya Roy and Emma Shaw Crane, 178–94. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
Han, JHJ. 2013. “Beyond safe haven: a Critique of Christian custody of North Koreans in China.” Critical Asian Studies 45 (4): 533-560.
Han, JHJ. 2011. ” ‘If you don’t work, you don’t eat’: Evangelizing development in Africa.” In New Millennium South Korea: Neoliberal Capital and Transnational Movements, edited by Jesook Song. London: Routledge.
Han, JHJ. 2010. “Neither friends nor foes: Thoughts on ethnographic distance.” Geoforum 41 (1): 11-14.
Han, JHJ. 2010. “Reaching the unreached in the 10/40 Window: The missionary geoscience of race, difference and distance.” In Mapping the End Times: American Evangelical Geopolitics and Apocalyptic Visions, edited by Jason Dittmer and Tristan Sturm, 183-207. Hampshire: Ashgate.
Han, JHJ. 2008. “Missionary.” Aether: the Journal of Media Geography 3: 58-83.
2. Purposeful Mobilities and Transient Spaces
This area of research extends my interest in the dynamics of purposeful mobility (“purpose-driven travel”) ranging from evangelical missions and military operations to forms of tourism and education abroad. It is also an important part of my undergraduate teaching, as I teach a course on travel and mobilities and publish an online journal called On the Move: an undergraduate journal of creative geographies.
Strangers in the city: everyday cosmopolitanism and temporary residents
As part of my SSHRC postdoctoral research, this project built on my previous work on missionary travel and mobility by considering a new group of transnational actors traversing national borders and seeking purposeful encounters: the cyclically changing, transient population of temporary residents from South Korea, neither immigrants nor tourists, studying English for 3 to 12 months in Vancouver in Canada. The project began with the observation that with limited rights and access to public services, these temporary residents have nonetheless become a permanent fixture in Vancouver’s urban landscape. By casting new light on the margins of citizenship and the politics of not belonging, the research examined what it means to live provisionally and what kinds of fleeting and enduring relationships are forged through conditions of temporary residence. Fundamentally concerned with time-space configuration of urban inhabitance, this project raised questions concerning liminality, temporality, and mobility. Part of this research was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Jennifer Chun, a political sociologist and my co-conspirator, and we collected a total of 416 in-depth field surveys in downtown Vancouver over the course of a year with the help of eight dedicated undergraduate research assistants. We had tentatively envisioned broadening the research into a larger scale transnational study of the political economy of English, with three pairs of cities connected to each other in the English education circuit: Vancouver and Toronto in Canada, Busan and Seoul in Korea, and Manila and Baguio in the Philippines. We were also very interested in intersections between working holiday and temporary migrant labour in Canada and Australia, but this project is for now on the back burner.
3. Cultural Politics of Religion
Urban Geography of Religious Infrastructure
As a co-researcher of an interdisciplinary and international research collaboration led by the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, I have received a major five-year grant from the Academy of Korean Studies to study religion and the city. My research focus will partly involve development politics and church growth. (See Urban Aspirations in Seoul: Religion and Megacities in Comparative Studies for more information.) This ongoing research examines Seoul’s religious infrastructure and their historical, locational, and political economic dynamics. I am fascinated by the politics of megachurch financing and construction, emerging counter-efforts that foster self-consciously small churches (“microchurches”), contestations over urban (re)development and church displacement, and policies that govern the religious cityscape (crosses, steeples, other religious symbols, etc.) and infrastructure (land use, transportation, etc.). You can read about the broader research framework here and a project description here. Though my specialization has primarily concerned a particular brand of prosperity gospel associated with Protestantism, I have been keen to explore Christianity as one of several key religious actors in contemporary Korea and Korean diaspora. In one comparative study I am currently developing, for example, I analyze Protestant and Buddhist religious property holding and development projects, taking seriously the fact that the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism is one of the largest landowners after the South Korean state. Buddhist-owned land put together constitutes an area larger than the City of Seoul, a political geography of religion shaped not only by the long history of Buddhism in Korea but also the ongoing dynamics of urban-rural, modern-traditional, development-conservation differentiation. I plan to develop a book proposal on urban religious politics in the next year, focusing on the political economy and visuality of multi-religious landscape in Seoul and beyond.
Religious Homophobia and Queer Activism
One of my long-term research commitments concerns Christianity and sexual politics in Korea and the Korean diaspora. In California in 2008, a significant number of immigrant Asian voters rallied in support of Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage. Similar mobilizations against legalization of same-sex marriage had taken place in Canada in 2005, where a small but visible numbers of immigrant Asian participants, most notably Chinese and Korean evangelical Christians, also rallied around the cause of homophobia. This ongoing research examines in part the claim from the liberal left that the conservative immigrant groups’ anti-gay stance reveals an immature embrace of Western liberal values of tolerance. In such logic, the prospects for racialized immigrants’ successful incorporation into a multicultural polity seem to depend on the quality of their performance as proper liberal subjects. Put simply, the more American/Canadian immigrants become, the less homophobic they’re expected to become. I critique this implicit anticipation of progress—homophobia as a holdover from the “old world” to be shed and discarded over time as one assimilates into a more enlightened polity—and suggest that we take a closer look at political homophobia that is forged in transnational political-theological movements, and fortified (not weakened) by the liberal discourse of minority rights. Religious homophobia cultivated in the Korean diaspora is one such instance.
Han, JHJ. 2017. “Becoming Visible, Becoming Political: Faith and Queer Activism in South Korea.” Scholar & Feminist Online 14(2).
Han, JHJ. 2016. “The Politics of Homophobia in South Korea.” East Asia Forum Quarterly 8(2): 607.
한주희. 2015. “퀴어 정치와 퀴어 지정학.” 문화과학 83: 62-81. [Han, Ju Hui Judy. 2015. “Queer Politics and Queer Geopolitics.” Munhwa/Kwahak 83: 62-81.
Han, JHJ and Chun, Jennifer Jihye. 2014. “Introduction: gender and politics in contemporary Korea.” Journal of Korean Studies 19 (2): 245-255.
Na, Tari Young-Jung. Translation by JHJ Han and Se-Woong Koo. 2014. “The South Korean Gender System: LGBTI in the Contexts of Family, Legal Identity, and the Military.” Journal of Korean Studies 19 (2): 357-377.
4. Protest Cultures
I am a co-PI on a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Grant with political sociologist Jennifer Jihye Chun. Our five-year (2015-2020) project titled “Protesting Publics in South Korea” focuses on faith, affect, and cultural experiences of dissent. Dramatic acts of resistance and solidarity are certainly a mainstay in South Korea’s political landscape, especially for protesting workers and union activists, students, religious leaders, and human rights advocates who support their struggles. While many labor and social movement scholars have examined the instrumental and structural factors that promote strategic forms of collective action, we are interested in paying close attention to the expressive, embodied, and spatial dimensions of political protests. Our initial focus is on four particularly salient protest forms—high-altitude occupations (kokong nongsŏng), solidarity hunger strikes (tongjo tansik), Buddhist prostration rituals (samboilbae and och’et’uji), and one-person protests (ilin siwi). Though we are still in the early stages of the five-year research, we have already learned a great deal about the extent to which exceptional sacrifice and prolonged acts of corporeal resistance are required in the activation of protesting publics, and how significantly religious faith and practice influence both the form and content of protest cultures.