Contentious Spirits: Religion in Korean American History, 1903-1945

Contentious Spirits: Religion in Korean American History, 1903-1945

Contentious Spirits: Religion in Korean American History, 1903-1945

Contentious Spirits: Religion in Korean American History, 1903-1945


Contentious Spirits explores the role of religion in Korean American history during the first half of the twentieth century in Hawai'i and California. Historian David K. Yoo argues that religion is the most important aspect of this group's experience because its structures and sensibilities address the full range of human experience.

Framing the book are three relational themes: religion & race, migration & exile, and colonialism & independence. In an engaging narrative, Yoo documents the ways in which religion shaped the racialization of Korean in the United States, shows how religion fueled the transnational migration of Korean Americans and its connections to their exile, and details a story in which religion intertwined with the visions and activities of independence even as it was also entangled in colonialism.

The first book-length study of religion in Korean American history, it will appeal to academics and general readers interested in Asian American history, American religious history, and ethnic studies.


Church for me as a child began well before we ever entered the sanctuary. the process of getting ready involved the entire family, rushing about in the morning, grabbing Bibles and black-leather hymnals with gold Korean lettering, and jumping into the sedan. As we pulled out of the driveway and on to the streets of southern California, we usually stopped at the local donut store, where my mom and I carefully piled a dozen or so warm boxes of glazed twists into the backseat. On other occasions like outdoor worship, we took large trays of deep-fried dumplings and seaweed wrapped rice. Those aromas served as a kind of incense that I associated with our weekly ritual.

The views out the car window represented a visual dimension of experience. the path to church took us by an oil refinery with its tangle of steel and smoke. We then passed under the 405 Freeway and then by the community college campus. Off in the distance lay the mammoth screen of the drive-in theater that during the week doubled as a bustling swap meet. As we neared the church, I spotted the burger shop that my friends and I sometimes went to after the service. in addition to eating snacks, we would feed quarters into the small black-and-white television mounted to the tables so that we could watch our favorite sports teams.

Our immigrant Korean Presbyterian group rarely if ever interacted with the European American Lutherans from whom we rented the space where we worshipped, despite sharing the site for many years. Except for the occasional times when we had not cleaned up sufficiently, the church seemed . . .

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