Karen Yonemoto

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jane Naomi Iwamura Status: Alumna

Contact Information

E-mail: kyonemoto@cmc.edu

Biographical Sketch

Karen completed a Ph.D. in American Studies & Ethnicity with a specialization in Race, Religion and Social Change. Her dissertation addresses the ways in which Multiracial Asian American congregations negotiate racial and ethnic identity as they mobilize congregants toward civic engagement in local and global communities. Karen earned a B.A. with honors in Sociology with a double minor in Asian American Studies and Comparative Cultures from the University of California, Irvine. She has been awarded a dozen fellowships & grants during her graduate career, including the USC "Award for Excellence in Teaching" in 2005. Karen views her role as a teacher, mentor and researcher as an opportunity to inspire, encourage and equip students to pursue a passion for lifelong learning. Outside the academy she enjoys the arts, travel, food, photography and the outdoors.


  • B.A. Sociology, University of California, Irvine, 06/1996
  • M.A. American Studies and Ethnicity, University of Southern California, 08/2007
  • Ph.D. American Studies and Ethnicity (Asian American Studies), University of Southern California, 2009

Employment History

  • Lecturer, Asian American Studies/Women's Studies, University of California, Irvine, 2007
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Claremont McKenna College, 2010 - Present


Summary Statement of Research Interests

  • The United States has remained fragmented across racial lines for over two centuries and religious institutions have failed to bridge this racial divide. A growing number of multiracial congregations, however, are emerging in the 21st century and Asian American evangelicals are leading the movement. This phenomenon is surprising given that Asian Americans have been typically characterized as politically conservative (often apolitical) and culturally insular, primarily interested in the immediate concerns of their ethnic communities. American Evangelicals on the other hand have been associated with political and theological conservatism as well as racial homogeneity. Yet, a growing number of Asian American evangelical churches across the country are turning their panethnic congregations into multiracial ones and mobilizing their congregants into social action. This project asks why, how and for what purpose racial and political change occurs within ethnically and religiously conservative organizations, and how these changes impact American civil society. Based on five years of ethnographic research conducted at three Multiracial Asian American Churches (MAAC) in Los Angeles, the project investigates processes of multiracial formation by analyzing the ways in which the flexible racial identity and unique racial positioning of Asian Americans in conjunction with the social, economic and spiritual capital of their churches, inform particular practices of multiracial coalition building and social justice advocacy in the local and global community. The project finds that while MAACs promote rhetoric of “progressive” social politics in the church, in practice they participate in moderate democratic forms of civic engagement. While their mobilization efforts are not radical, they are still significant. MAACs are able to rapidly organize Asian Americans efficiently, en mass, and on a consistent and long-term basis—more so than any other Asian American community activist group. Moreover, the project finds that MAACs are “the” primary space through which upwardly mobile second-through-fourth generation post-immigrant Asian Americans are politically mobilized. The project contends that the mobilization of Asian Americans through multiracial congregations represents the start of new broad-based social movement—one that is shifting the religio-political landscape of the United States. The project is based on ethnographic research of Multiracial Asian American Churches in Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles and Seattle.

Conference Presentations

  • AAR - “Progressive Politics, Conservative Practices: Re-thinking Gender in the Asian American Church"2006
  • RRA/SSSR - "Multiracial Movements: The Historical Memory of Race and Contemporary Community Change"2006
  • CFR - “Politics of Gender in the American Bible Belt”2006
  • ASR - "Progressive Politics, Conservative Practices: Re-thinking Gender in the Asian American Church"2006
  • APARRI - “Negotiating Boundaries: Maintaining Multiple Identities of Race in Religious Space"2003


  • Book Chapter
    Yonemoto, K. L. "The Racial Formation of Asian Americans & Latinos in Multiracial Congregations" in "Race, Religion and the New Second Generation," Eds. Carolyn Chen and Russell Jeung (New York University Press).
    Journal Article
    Yonemoto, K. L. "Flexible Identities: The Social and Spiritual Capital of Asian American Evangelicals in Multiracial Alliance Building".
    Yonemoto, K. L. "Creating Safe Spaces: Political Mobilization and the Asian American Church".
    Yonemoto, K. L. (2006). Race, Religion and Resistance: Reconstructing Racial and Ethnic Identity in Postwar Los Angeles, 1945-1950.

Honors and Awards

  • Center for Feminist Research, Travel Grant, 2006-  
  • James Irvine Foundation/ASE, Summer Dissertation Workshop , 2004-  
  • N.F. Pond Dissertation Fellowship, 2008-2009  
  • John Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, Dissertation Fellowship , 2007-2009  
  • Fund for Theological Education, North American Dissertation Fellowship, 2007-2008  
  • Fund for Theological Education, North American Dissertation Fellowship, 2006-2007  
  • Urban Initiative, Dissertation Fellowship, 2006-2007  
  • Louisville Institute, Dissertation Fellowship, 2005-2006  
  • Award for Excellence in Teaching, USC Center for Excellence in Teaching, 2004-2005  
  • Center for Religion and Civic Culture, Dissertation Fellowship, 2004-2005  
  • Center for Religion and Civic Culture, Pre-Dissertation Fellowship, 2003-2004  
  • James Irvine Foundation, Second Year Funding, 2002-2003  
  • John Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, First Year Fellowship, 2001-2002  



  • Department of American Studies & Ethnicity
  • University of Southern California
  • 3620 South Vermont Avenue
  • Kaprielian Hall 462
  • Los Angeles, California 90089-2534