Getting to Know Dr. Brett Esaki
Dr. Esaki is an interdisciplinary scholar of the religions and arts of American ethnic minorities. He researches the intersection of race, sexuality, and politics as well as the interaction and hybridization of religion among Asian Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, and White Americans. His current projects include: researching the presence of spirituality and religious “nones” among Asian Americans; an article on using theories of silence to study religion; and a book manuscript tentatively titled Enfolding Silence: The Transformation of Japanese American Religion and Art under Oppression. His publications include “Multidimensional Silence, Spirituality, and the Japanese American Art of Gardening” in the Journal of Asian American Studies, and “Embodied Performance of Folklore in Japanese American Origami” in Amerasia Journal.
1) What is your current research project?
My current research trajectory is explicating how Asian Americans’ spirituality (non-traditional religions) connects to their political choices, most notably how they creatively engage comprehensive sustainability in the face of marginalization. I just came back from a research trip in Detroit, where I learned about the work of Grace Lee Boggs, an Asian American activist, to foster community sustainability by being immersed in the local African American community and by exploring a variety of religious movements, like those associated with ecofeminism.
2) How does your work make an impact on the world?
In my ideal vision of myself, my work impacts big and small—“big” meaning tackling issues of comprehensive sustainability and racial justice, and “small” meaning engaging individual students and communities in creatively re-presenting their spiritual, cultural, and political resources for themselves to see.
3) What do you teach that creates the greatest “Aha!” moment for your students?
In a small art school, I learned to flip the way I lecture, by beginning class with fascinating, controversial, or unbelievable examples. While the extraordinary might foster a distance from the subject, I utilize this energy to double-shock students by illustrating how they themselves are involved in the same processes that generated the colorful examples.
4) What is your favorite object in your office, and why? (Please send a photo of this object, or a photo related to your research, as a jpeg.)
This is a print of Gojira destroying the Golden Gate Bridge. It goes along with other office images of non-humans overcoming humanity. These images are humorous but also remind me of the unnaturalness of anthropocentrism.
5) What is your favorite memory at Georgia State University?
I have great memories of lively classrooms, but one fun memory happened before I got the job at the time of my on-campus interview: I was stuck downtown in Snowmaggedon! My Cab-driver spun around three times and slid into a firetruck, the City was shut down, and all of the roads and parking lots were covered in uniform powder. I spent the day watching local news as they illustrated for me many neighborhoods of Georgia and occasionally walking to downtown restaurants (which were open! but I will leave that for another day’s story).