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Critical Faith: Japanese Americans and the Birth of a New Civil Religion

From: American Quarterly
Volume 59, Number 3, September 2007
pp. 937-968 | 10.1353/aq.2007.0058

Abstract

This article examines the development of a Japanese American civil religion that intimately links Japanese Americans to public life. Historical trials, especially that of internment, has forged a strong sense of racial-ethnic identity, cultural memory, and social justice that have been carried forward in institutions, such as the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians hearings, the Japanese American National Museum, and the annual pilgrimage to Manzanar. In significant fashion, these texts, projects, and modern-day rituals have become a "sacred" part of the community, bind it together, and give it a specific sense of meaning and mission. Japanese American civil religion is distinctive in terms of not only the particular history from which it emerges, but also the religious patterns or "spiritual culture" that underwrites its political commitments and forms of civic engagement. Analyzing the contours of a Nikkei "critical faith" offers insights into the group's continuing struggles for justice and provides a rubric for understanding similar ways that religion and politics merge for other marginalized groups in relation to U.S. national culture.