Sunaina Maira

Asian American Studies, UCD | Curriculum Vitae (PDF)

Sunaina Maira portraitMy current research project explores the politics of youth mobilization from communities targeted in the War on Terror. This ethnographic study focuses on the ways in which young South Asian, Arab and Afghan Americans produce cross-ethnic and interfaith alliances and mobilize around the notion of rights, including the new “Muslim civil rights” as well as a framework of human rights and pan-Islamic solidarity with peoples elsewhere, from Pakistan and Palestine to Afghanistan and Iraq. The ethnography is situated in Silicon Valley and Fremont, California, where there are large concentrations of South Asian, Arab, and Afghan immigrant and refugee populations, that have established large Muslim institutions and civil rights organizations. My work examines new forms of coalition-building that have emerged after 9/11 on the terrain of religion and less so, on the basis of race and class. A liberal, interfaith model of alliances has increasingly shaped post-9/11 politics for this generation of youth and has constructed acceptable/moderate Muslim subjects against the extremist/radical Muslim enemy in the War on Terror. The project interrogates the implications of this institutionalization of these alliances as a response to the warfare state and the ways in which liberal nationalist models of Muslim civil rights evade a larger analysis of imperial violence and participate in U.S. religious multiculturalism.

Vivian-Lee Nyitray

Religious Studies, UCR

Vivian-Lee Nyitray portraitMy initial interest in the Taiwan-based Tzu Chi Buddhist Compassion Foundation was the highly Confucianized rhetoric of its founder, self-ordained nun Venerable Cheng Yen. Couched in appeals to valorized roles as “virtuous wives and good mothers,” Ven. Cheng Yen’s dharma talks spoke subversively to women of the need to beyond the traditional dichotomy of “men go out; women stay in” in order to create better futures for their children. The eventual result was the development of a global lay Buddhist organization in which notions of compassion for sentient beings expanded to include care for both natural and built human environments, and in which engagement in civic action is a hallmark of practice. My ongoing research seeks to understand Tzu Chi practice as linking traditional desires for afterlife in the Pure Land to life in the present world made better by Tzu Chi’s actions. Defined by urban/suburban contexts worldwide (over 5 million devotees in 32 countries), Tzu Chi eschews monastic temples in favor of urban recycling centers and free clinics. In so doing, this engaged, feminized lay Buddhist organization challenges deeply naturalized and masculinist Confucian spatial constructions of familial land-based social units with its globally linked centers of urban civil associations.

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