AAR Member Spotlight

Chenxing Han

Chenxing Han is currently the Khyentse Visitor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. She is a co-teacher of Listening to the Buddhists in Our Backyard; a co-organizer of May We Gather: A National Buddhist Memorial for Asian American Ancestors; and founding facilitator of Roots and Refuge: An Asian American Buddhist Writing Retreat.

Chenxing first joined the AAR as a student member in 2011. She is part of AAR's Western Region and was featured as a guest on one of our webinars

What is your area of expertise or field of study?

My work explores the possibilities that emerge at the intersections of Buddhism, Asian America, chaplaincy / spiritual care, and literature / creative expression. My first book, Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists (North Atlantic Books, 2021), draws from in-depth interviews with a pan-ethnic, pan-Buddhist group of 89 young adults to offer a culturally engaged, generationally informed picture of American Buddhism. My second book, one long listening: a memoir of grief, friendship and spiritual care (North Atlantic Books, 2023), weaves letters to a dying friend with bedside chaplaincy visits and memories of a migratory childhood to offer a multilingual portrait of a Buddhist chaplain in training. 

Why did you get involved with AAR and how is your work aligned?

I attended the 2011 AAR Annual Meeting in San Francisco as a first-year master's student at the Graduate Theological Union and Institute of Buddhist Studies. Meeting Jane Iwamura, Carolyn Chen, Sharon Suh, and other members of the Asian Pacific American Religions Research Initiative (APARRI) there was pivotal for my thesis project, which would be published a decade later as Be the Refuge. After attending the online AAR Annual Meeting in 2020, it was a joy to see colleagues and mentors in person these past two years, in Denver and San Antonio.

What is your favorite AAR member benefit, and how has it helped your career? This might include access to our grants, award programs, and/or various research tools; opportunities to promote your scholarship through our official channels; networking and mentoring; career training through Beyond the Professoriate; and discounts on travel, transportation, and office supplies.

One of the unexpected collaborations to emerge from Be the Refuge is Listening to the Buddhists in Our Backyard (L2BB), a project of deep listening, local engagement, and community building. I'm grateful to the Luce-AAR Advancing Public Scholarship Grant Program, which enabled my collaborator Andrew Housiaux and me to archive and expand upon the L2BB website originally created by the six high school students in our inaugural cohort. 

What is one piece of advice you’d give to a first-time Annual Meeting attendee?

Too often, academic work can feel isolating and thankless—so enjoy the many forms of connection that are possible at the annual meeting, and offer your thanks for the people who've made this gathering possible. Pace yourself, too!

What book is on your nightstand that you're reading or intend to read in the future?

I'm part of a collective called May We Gather that organized a 2021 national Buddhist memorial on the 49th day after the Atlanta spa shootings. On March 16th, we'll be holding a national Buddhist pilgrimage in Antioch, California to mark the third-year anniversary of the shootings. To offer more context for the pilgrimage, we're hosting an online speaker series, "Resilience, Recovery, Repair" that includes a panel on 19th-century California’s thriving traditional Chinese temples. I've been delving into a fascinating and encyclopedia book by two of our speakers, Chuimei Ho and Bennet Bronson, Chinese Traditional Religion and Temples in North America,1849–1920: California.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Among the things that have been inciting joy (as inspired by Ross Gay!) of late: cooking and eating (especially vegan and fermented food), learning cello, listening to Shanghainese, visiting friends and temples (best of all, both together), and reading poetry and fiction.

About Member Spotlight

This feature is devoted to profiling AAR members making waves in their departments, institutions, and communities—as well as AAR at large!

Read More Interviews