Learning to Speak a New Tongue: Imagining a Way that Holds People Together

"Who are we as Americans? What will bring people together as Americans today and tomorrow?" Fumitaka Matsuoka attempts to answer these questions in the 2008 GTU Distinguished Faculty Lecture on November 11. Currently, Matsuoka is the Robert Gordon Sproul Professor of Theology at the Pacific School of Religion and the Executive Director for the Institute for Leadership Development and Study of Pacific and Asian North American Religion (PANA Institute). He says the voices that declare our American identity primarily stem from a single source, Western European Christian thought -- but that leaves many American voices unheard. He asserts that to communicate the American identity, we must learn to speak a new language.

Matsuoaka refers to the work of Robert Bellah, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at UC Berkeley, who, based upon Tocqueville’s observations in “Democracy in America,” identifies American democracy as relying on liberty and equality. According to Bellah and his colleagues, liberty, America’s first language, has deteriorated into radical individualism. Our second language, equality, is rooted in “biblical and republican” morality existing in various “communities of memory.” Bellah notes that the “biblical and republican” language is no longer sufficient to sustain America’s societal coherence.

Matsuoaka proposes that the Asian American second tongue provides a source, among others, for rediscovering our American identity. The Asian/Pacific Islander (API) epistemological lens re-examines E pluribus unum (unity in diversity) to say reality is “multiple,” not unified. In his lecture, Matsuoka will examine the API epistemology, that derives from “translocal” racial experiences, a pathos sensitive to non-conformity to dominant cultural norms, and an “amphibolous” faith orientation. The API experience provides a language for community based on relationships in which everyone can exercise the rights given to them.

Matsuoka’s lecture stems from his continuing work in Asian American studies. He says the Distinguished Faculty Lecture has provided the public context for sharing his research which typically stays within the API community.

Matsuoka plans to retire at the end of this school year, so the Distinguished Faculty Lecture represents a final hurrah for this beloved scholar and faculty member. He looks forward to editing a two-volume encyclopedia on Pacific and Asian American religious cultures to be published by ABC-CLIO of Santa Barbara in 2011, and spending time with his family.