Research Project Proposal

Student: Chan Thawng Lian (Please sign up for this project if you are single male and interested in identity formation)IMG_1606

Dissertation Proposal


Pastoral Care to Single Males in Myanmar Immigrant Churches in the US

Student: Chan Thawng Lian

Advisor: Dr. David Hogue

Part One: Interest, Issues of Problem Selection and Significance of the Project

Abstract: In this project, I will mainly be concerned with the role of pastoral care to single males in immigrant communities to help build their identities, especially to the Burmese immigrant Christians in the US.  The Burmese single males were the first to arrive in the US. They risk their life for families back in Myanmar. They help fellow immigrants to settle in a new land. They have to work hard work as they do not speak the language even if some of them have had work skills in Malaysia. About four hundred Burmese single males, for instance, work for Tyson Company in Columbus Junction in Iowa. The same thing can be found in many different parts of the US. Many of those single males are Christians and they organize small churches wherever they work. I have been in touch with many of these people and learning that their life is full of hardship. Some even commit suicide while some become alcoholics. In fact, they become a child again vulnerable for their life. I am very much interested in the way these single males deal with the process of immigration; the problems in their life; their identity in a new land; what a church means to them, how a community of faith can help these people to form a new identity and self value. Especially, I would like to redefine the role of pastoral care to immigrant single males.

Background Description:

Burma became independent on Jan. 4, 1948 from Japanese colonization. In 1962, left-wing general Ne Win staged a coup, banned political opposition, suspended the constitution, and introduced the “Burmese way of socialism.” After 25 years of economic hardship and repression, the Burmese people held massive demonstrations in 1987 and 1988. I was 11 at the time.

After killing over thirty thousand university students, the military took power and hunted opponent political leaders. These leaders fled from Burma and resided in groups in nearby countries: of Thailand, India, Laos, and China and later became revolutionists. My ethnic leaders (Chin), for instance, about two four hundred in number, camped at the India boundary and called themselves the ‘Chin National Front (CNF)’. They took guns and started shooting the military army.  The ruling junta also sent thousands of soldiers to our place, Chin State. Not surprisingly, the result was the unbearable suffering of the Chin common people from the uncountable abuses, which resulted from both parties for the past twenty years. Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, laments:  “For too long, ethnic groups like the Chin have borne the brunt of abusive military rule in Burma. It is time for this brutal treatment to stop and for the army to be held to account for its actions.”[1]

The same horrors happened to all other ethnic groups in Burma. Abuses from military officials included forced labor, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, religious repression and other restrictions on fundamental freedoms: curtailing their freedom of movement; regularly confiscating and extorting money, food, and property; and coercing them to plant certain crops. Burmese people have immigrated into United States since 1962 when the Socialist Party replaced the Democratic Party in governing the country. At that time immigration was an only option for the well-to-do families who were suppressed by the new government. Some educated people studied in foreign countries and did not come back due to the governmental change.  But later, the United States and some European countries have been offering resettlement program to Burmese refugees that are temporarily waiting in Guam, Malaysia, Thailand and India. Within the last 15 years, thousands of Burmese from different ethnic groups have immigrated into the United States. The Burmese Chin ethnic group where I belong is the smallest, numbering fewer than half a million. About 40 thousand Chin people have immigrated in the US and have started over 150 new churches in the US. After resettling in the US, most immigrants critically think about the choice they made to immigrate: Why do I make this terrible choice live in a strange land? Is my choice authentic personal choice or influenced by the economic globalization? How do we survive in the new land filled with strange culture, language, and hard work? For Myanmar Christian immigrants, the church is the place where they worship in the heart language of their own, maintain the homeland culture, provide social service, restore the social status back there, find their identity and do mission work.



My personal experiences in ministry among Burmese Chin immigrants around the Chicago area are the leading reason for the need of this study. I was a pastor for two years in our home land and another four years in a new land in the US. In this research project, I envision addressing these three issues I found out in the life of single males:

1) Immigrant people in general are confused about the choice they made about immigration. Single males are more vulnerable as they do not have family. As Christian, they question both the choice they made and the love and power of God. Is immigration God’s plan? Is it a blessing or a curse? Will God protect us in a strange land?  Not only these people but also their ministers are confused. I remember the rituals we did with these people just before they left for the US. Their pastors named it a blessing to be able to immigrate in the US. Many pastors also immigrated and became pastors for the same people. The problem is that they can no longer name immigration as a blessing. The ideological advertisement of America as a second heaven seems to be rather a Hell. I hope that the critical study on Post-colonial literatures will give a clear picture on what these people have been gone through in their choice of immigration.

2) Single males are confused about their self-identity, self-value, and self-interest. When they were about to leave their home country, they were figured as a savior, leader and trusted person for the whole family and society. But, they start a new way of life as they leave their home land, family and friends. Family systems are gradually changing in a new culture. Men lose their traditional male identity and women gain new identities as equal to men in job opportunity. Traditional courting does not work here. Men cannot easily get married. They have to send money back home.  Many become alcoholic and suicidal. Many deal with problems such as DUI, HIV/AIDS and depression. They do not know who they are and what is their place in the US. Qualitative research with these people will reveal their living documents as a ground for liberating their identity.

3) Churches and pastors pay less attention to single males as their focus is always on family. Professional care and counseling system of the US does not work to our culture firstly because they do not speak English and secondly because of the huge difference in culture and development. It is import to find out what and how God is doing among these single males? How should the church and the pastor join in the caring ministry of God to these people? What theories of pastoral care will be effective to work with these single males? Narrative approach of pastoral care will be mainly applied to Myanmar Christian culture.


Academically, this project will be the first and unique resource in the field of pastoral theology for Burmese Christians both inside and outside the country as there is no other research done related to my topic. It will be an important contribution to the present Burmese pastors and churches in the US as they can reflect on it according to their concrete experience. My work will also be of interest to scholars from Southeast Asia and other ethnic groups who have immigration experience in their community. Emerging pastoral theologians will find it useful for reflection as my theory of research is action-reflection/observation-action, which is widely recognized in the field of pastoral theology. It will also be of interest as a resource for knowledge to Euro-American pastoral theologians or pastors as they cannot avoid living, serving and working together with immigrated people and also to find out how narrative theory function to different culture. Finally, the project will help all immigrant churches in the US in some way to better deal with their single male members.


Part Two: Theories of the Project

I choose to utilize empirical qualitative research method for my project. The research will be based on the ethnographic basis of discussion about the problems of immigration for single males and about how different persons are dealing with those problems. As a pastoral student, my qualitative research theory and method is greatly influenced by the works of some contemporary pastoral theologians particularly of John Swinton and Harriet Mowat on Practical Theology and Qualitative Research, 2006. I will briefly express how their work helps me understand qualitative research method as the most helpful tool for pastoral theologians.

The main focus of the work of John Swinton and Harriet Mowat can be summarized as offering a unique and important insight into the relationship of practical theology to qualitative research and presenting a way of approaching practical theology which is theologically coherent and practically vital.[2] It is true that practical theology utilizes a variety of social sciences such as psychology, sociology, philosophy, and anthropology in different ways to reflect theologically on the lived experiences of people. Here in this book, the authors explore the relationship between theology and the social sciences specifically as it relates to the use of qualitative research methods in the process of theological reflection. They also observed the key tensions between practical theology and qualitative research and make good effort by bringing the two modes of enquiry together without one collapsing into another.

The authors’ main argument here is that qualitative research method provides practical theologians with methods, insights, perspectives, and schemas for doing research to be fruitful and illumining. They assert that qualitative research involves the utilization of a variety of methods and approaches which enable the researcher to explore the social world in an attempt access and understand the unique ways that individuals and communities inhabit it. They believe that there are things that scientific method cannot know as they call it “Ideographic knowledge” by which they mean a type of knowledge which cannot be accessed by scientific criteria but intuitively true. This ideographic knowledge, they assert, is an integral part of human experiences and situations that practical theology seeks to reflect upon. They argue that practical theologians who take the Bible seriously can do nothing other than taking most seriously the authenticity and reality of ideographic truth in people’s lived experiences. For this task they believe qualitative research method is most helpful.

In any case of variety of qualitative research methodologies, John Swinton and Harriet Mowat suggest that qualitative research’s first step is to pick a research question which is important, interesting and answerable. What follows is to choose a qualitative method such as hermeneutic approach or narrative approach or participatory research that best fits with the research question. Then a qualitative researcher will continue working by doing data analysis, sampling theoretically or purposively or opportunistically, validating the data, checking the reliability of the interpretation and theoretical generalizability of the data into different situation.  The authors believe that qualitative research is a useful tool of complexification[3] which can enable the practical theologian to gain rich and deep insights into the nature of situations and the forms of practice that are performed within them. There are four stages in which practical theologians work by using qualitative research method.

1)             The situation: an attempt to some initial sense of what is going on, why things are structured in the ways that they are and why people function in particular ways.

2)             Cultural/contextual analysis: an attempt to see what are behind the situation.

3)             Theological reflection: an attempt to see the theological significance of the data.

4)             Formulating revised forms of practice: an attempt to return to the situation with new insights.

I believe the above summary of the work of John Swinton and Harriet Mowat is the guiding principle of my research project on immigrant single males. I will be the research tool and the research subjects will also be my co-researchers in order to find the truth about them, what God is doing in their pain and suffering.


Part Three: Methodology


            As mentioned earlier, different researchers use different qualitative research methods in order to best meet the context of the researches particularly narrative approach of research developed by David Epston and Michael White. In my research project I will use narrative way of interviewing as my primary methodology for data collection. In their book on Interviewing: Principles and Practice, Charles J. Stewart & William B. Cash, Jr. defined interviewing in this way:

“Interviewing is a process of dyadic, relational communication with a predetermined and serious purpose designed to interchange behavior and involving the asking and answering of questions… It is a person-to-person interaction with pervasive feedback between two parties that have a mutual connection and interest in the outcome.[4]

I will use the work of Robert S. Weiss on Learning from Stranger and of Charles J. Stewart & William B. Cash, Jr., on Interviewing: Principles and Practices as my guide books. Participant observation will be my secondary methodology for the research. Alice McIntyre comments on participation action research:

Participatory action research (PAR) contributes a great deal to social science because PAR provides multiple opportunities for participants and practitioners to construct knowledge and integrate theory and practice in ways that are unique and practical to a particular group; PAR provides opportunities for people to insert themselves into the research process as subjects of their own history; PAR affords groups of people the freedom to explore and value how they experience their individual and collective realities.[5]


I will try to provide these three opportunities to my focus group.

1) Site of Research: There are over 150 Myanmar immigrant churches in the US that I know where I can do the research and I have to be wise to choose the right place at the right time. Thus I plan to conduct a focused group of 8 single males at Chicago Chin Baptist Church, Chicago. The church has 200 members and two pastors. Single males in the church are both leaders and problems. This is a six years old Myanmar immigrant church so I will have a better chance for generalization of my finding most chin churches are about 5 to 10 years old. It is also close to my place in distance that I can travel easily. I also plan to interview five single males working for Tyson in Columbus Junction, Iowa. Their pastor is my co-worker in Mid-America Chin Christian Fellowship. Their church has 450 members and about 400 are single males. This is good place because real lived experiences of sing males can be found from them. I can also easily travel to them.

2) Site Entry: In order to do focus group I will need the permission of board of deacons of the church. The pastors are like friends to me and are hoped to be helpful. I will need to write a letter for permission to the board of deacons and personally present at one of their meeting to explain the importance of my research. I hope the church will allow me to do my research with them and will help me invite the right persons for the focused group. For all individuals participating in my research project I will have to take their personal consent. This process can be difficult as it is strange thing in our culture. The consent may not be a written one, but a recorded verbal consent.

3) Data Collection: Focus group, individual interviewing and participant observation will be the main sources for data collection in this project.  Audio recording and note taking will accompany all the research work. My notes will help me code the materials I have in the recorder (phone). I will type all the recorded talks no later than three day after the session or interview. I will take picture of focus group and individuals I interview in case I will need them to use for reference. I will also ask help from a staff in my church to help type the records from Chin language to Chin so that I can start translating it in English when I do my typing.

4) Primary Instrument: According to John Swinton and Harriet Mowat, qualitative methods are the most useful when little is known or understood about a situation. The primary tool of the qualitative researcher is herself. In this project, I will be the primary instrument. I choose to be doing the research where I am an outsider. If I do it within my church, power imbalance will be a stumbling block for finding the truth. I also choose the researches that speak the same language because it is importance to totally understand what is said. As a researcher, I have to arrange the interview time and place or the timetable for the focus group. I need be most available at the researches’ convenience. Most importantly I must be clear with my research questions and the length of the session and the energy of the researches. If I cannot convince the importance of my research to the researches, I may not be fruitful as research work is strange to Burmese people.

5) Data analysis: Some suggest that data analysis begins as soon as there data collection.[6] At the same time, Robert S. Weiss comments on the process of data collection and its analysis in this way:

During the interviewing phase the investigator must deal with all the demands of obtaining the data: recruiting the respondents, conducting the interviews, getting them transcribed, deciding whether the right information is being collected, and returning to conduct more interviews. Nor can the investigator escape awareness that when the interviewing is over, not only will all the data be at hand but there will be uninterrupted weeks or months available for theirs analysis.[7]


For him there are four distinct analytic processes involved in producing an issue-focused analysis material such as coding, sorting, local integration, and inclusive integration. For me, data analysis will be the most challenging work that I will give at least three months for it after all the data collection is done.

6) Writing the project: I have a Chin Christian Church in Wheaton, which will support me financially and emotionally throughout my research work. I hope to finish ethnographic discussion with the researches within six months. After this, I am prepared to do postcolonial criticism on immigration. I have taken two classes on the subject, and taken one of my qualifying exams on this subject. Then I will work on theory and method of pastoral theology and its contemporary development in intercultural world.  And finally, I will deal with narrative approach of pastoral care to singles males in the conclusion. If I can start the ethnographic research work January 2015, I will be able to start the writing project January 2016. I plan to finish my dissertation in 2017. I feel quite qualified to be able to do this dissertation as I have financial resources, human subjects and necessary literatures in common. Last but not the least; I am deeply invested in the topic I have chosen. Needless to say, my supervisor, Dr. David Hogue and my mentor, Dr. James Poling, will provide me with guidance and wisdom. I will also get instruction and support from my dissertation committee.




I. Postcolonial Literatures

Bik, Edmond Za. “Sermon on ‘Where was God during Cyclone Nargis, Rays?”  MIT Journal of Theology. Vol. 10, January 2009.

En, Simon Pau Khan. “Globalization and Inter-religious Cooperation: A Myanmar Experience, Rays.” MIT Journal of Theology, Vol. 7. January, 2006.

Friedman, Thomas L. The Lexus and The Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization. New York: Farrar, 1999.

Held, David .Becoming Cosmopolitan: The Dimensions and Challenges of Globalizations, in Globalization and the Good, ed. Peter Heslam . USA: wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004.

Hoogvelt, Ankie. Globalization and the Postcolonial World: The New Political Economy of Development. Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Hopkins, Dwight N., Lois Ann Lorentzen, eduarda Mendieta, and David Batstone. Religions/Globalization: Theories and Cases, ed. USA: Duke University Press, 2001.

Hopkins, Dwight N. The Religion of Globalization, in Religions/Globalization: Theories and Cases, ed. Dwight N. Hopkins, Lois Ann Lorentzen, Eduarda Mendieta, & David Batstone. USA: Duke University Press, 2001.

Hutanuwatr, Pracha. “Globalization: A Buddhist Perspective, Ray.” MIT Journal of Theology, Vol. (February 2002): 127.

Joh, Wonhee, The Heart of the Cross: A Post-Colonial Christology. Lewisville: Westminster John KnoX, 2006.

Legrian, Phillip. OPEN WORLD: The Truth About Globalization. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004.

Mather, Clive. Combining Principle with Profit: A Business Response to the Challenges of Globalization, in Globalization and the Good, ed. Peter Heslam. USA: wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004.

Mendieta, Eduardo . Remapping Latin American Studies: Postcolonialism, Subaltern Studies, Post-Occidentalism, and Globalization Theory, in Coloniality at Large: Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate (Latin America Otherwise) by Mabel Morana, Enrique Dussel, Carlos A. Jauregui, and Sara Castro-Klaren. USA: Duke University Press, 2008.

Nan, K. Zau. Globalization: A Kachin Ethic Christian Response, Rays.” MIT Journal of Theology, Vol. 8,  January, 2007.

Ong, Aihwa. Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty. Durham and London:  Duke University Press, 2006.

Parrenas, Rhacel Salazar. Servants of globalization: Women, Migration and Domestic Work. Standford: Standford University Press: 2001.

Peters, Rebecca Todd. In Search of the Good Life: The ethics of Globalization. New York: Rebecca Todd Press, 2004.

Riverra, Mayer. The Touch of Transcendence: A Post Colonial Theology of God. London: WJK Press, 2007.

Waalkes, Scott. Celebrating the Church Year as a Constructive Response to Globalization, in After Modernity?: Secularity, Globalization and the Re-engagement of the World, ed. Jakes K. A. Smith. Waco: Bsylor University Press, 2008.

Young, Robert J. C. Postcolonialism: A Historical Introduction. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2001.

II. Theories and Methods of Pastoral Theology

Billman, Kathleen D., and Daniel L. Migliore, Rachel’s Cry: Prayer of Lament and Rebirth of Hope. Cleveland, Ohio: United Church Press, 1999.

Boisen , Anton T., Out of the Depths: An Autobiographical Study of Mental Disorder and Religious Experience, (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1960), 196-197.

Browning, Don S.. Religious Ethics and Pastoral Care. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

Carroll A Watkins Ali, Survival and Liberation Survival and Liberation

Pastoral Theology in African American Context.  St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2000.

Clebsch, William A., and Jaekle, Charles R., Pastoral Care in Historical Perspective: An Essay with Exhinits. New Jersey: Prentice-hall, 19640.

Clinebell, Howard Basic. Types of Pastoral Care and Counseling. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984.

Daniel Schipani, The Way of Wisdom in Pastoral Counseling. Institute of Mennonite Studies, 2003.

Doehring, Carrie, The Practice of Pastoral Care: A Postmodern Approach. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Fortune, Marie Marshall, Sexual Violence:  The Unmentionable Sin: Ethical and Pastoral Perspectives. Pilgrim Press 1983.

Gerkin, Charles V. Introduction to Pastoral Care. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997.

Graham, Elaine, Transforming Practice: Pastoral Theology in an Age of Uncertainty. London: Mowbray, 1996.

Greider, Kathleen, Reckoning with Aggression: Theology, Violence, and Vitality. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997.

Hahn, N F. The Concise Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, edited by Glen H Asquith Jr., (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 37-38.

Hiltner, Steward. Preface to Pastoral Theology.New York and Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1958.

Hinson, E. Glenn.“The Church and Its Ministry” in Formation for Christian Ministry. Ed. by Anne Davis and Wade Rowatt.New York: The Haworth Pastoral Press, 1996.

Hogue, David.  Remembering the Future: Imagining the Past: Story, Ritual and the Human Brain.   Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2003.

McNeil, John T. A History of the Cure of Soul. New York: Harper& Brothers Publishers, 1951.

Miller-McLemore, Bonnie J., Also a Mother: Work and Family as Theological Dilemma. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994.

Patton, John .Pastoral Care in Context: An Introduction to Pastoral Care. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.

Poling, James N. Render unto God: Economic Vulnerability, Family Violence and Pastoral Theology. Missouri: Chalice Press, 2002.

Poling, James N. The Abuse of Power: A Theological Problem. Nashville: Abingdon press, 1991.

Wise, Carrol A., Religion and Health. New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1942.

III. Narrative Approach of Pastoral Care

Bidwell, Duane.  Empowering Couples: A Narrative Approach to Spiritual Care, 2013.

Cochran, Larry.  Career Counseling: A Narrative Approach, 1977.

Eron, Joseph and Thomas Lund.  Narrative Solutions in Brief Therapy, 1996.

Freedman, Jill and Gene Combs.  Narrative Therapy: The Social Construction of

            Preferred Realities, 1996.

______Symbol, Story & Ceremony: Using Metaphor in Individual and Family

            Therapy, 1990.

McAdams, Doug.  The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self,


Maisel, Richard, David Epston, and Ali Borden. Biting the Hand That Starves You:

            Inspiring Resistance to Anoexia/Bulimia, 2004.

Monk, Gerald, John Winslade, Kathie Crocket, and David Epston. Narrative Therapy in

            Practice: An Archaeology of Hope, 1996.

Morgan, Alice.   What Is Narrative Therapy?  2000

Neuger, Christie Cozad.  Counseling Women: A Narrative Pastoral Approach, 2001.

Parry, Alan.  Story Revisions: Narrative Therapy in the Postmodern World, 1994.

Payne, Martin.  Narrative Therapy: An Introduction for Counselors, 2000.

Scheib, Karen.  Challenging Invisibility: Practices of Care with Older Women, 2004.

White, Cheryl and David Denborough, eds.  Introducing Narrative Therapy: A Collection

 of Practice-Based Writings, 1998.

White, Michael and David Epston.  Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends, 1990.

White, Michael.  Maps of Narrative Practice, 2007.

_________Narratives of Therapists’ Lives, 1997.

_________Re-Authoring Lives: Interviews and Essays, 1995.

________ Reflections on Narrative Practice, 1990.

Wimberly, Edward.  Claiming God, Reclaiming Dignity: African American Pastoral

            Care, 2003.

Zimmerman, Jeffrey and Victoria Dickerson.  If Problems Talked: Narrative Therapy in

            Action, 1996. 

IV. Intercultural Pastoral Care

Bhabha, Hopkin K. The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2010.

Doehring, Carrie. The Practice of Pastoral Care: A Postmodern Approach. Kentucky: WJK Press,           2006.

Lartey, Emmanuel. In Living Colour: Intercultural Approaches to Pastoral Care and         Counseling.__?

Lartey, Emmanuel. Pastoral Theology in a Multi-cultural World.____________?

Pattison, Stephen. Pastoral Care and Liberation Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Pastoral Psychology, Volume 54, Number 4, March 2006, Special Issue: A New Paradigm for Pastoral Care: Korean-American Reflections, Guest Editor: Soo-Young Kwon.

Weiss, Helmut and Klaus Temme, editors, Treasure in Earthen Vessels: Intercultural Perspectives on Pastoral Care Facing Fragility and Destruction.  Lit Berlin: Verlag, 2009. (distributed by Transaction Publishers, Rutgers University, 35 Berrue Circle, Piscataway, NJ 08854).

Wicks ,Robert J. and Estadt, Barry K. Pastoral Counseling in a Global Church. Maryknoll: Orbit Books, 1993.

Wimberly, Edward P, Using Scripture in Pastoral Counseling. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994.









            [1] Elaine Pearson, Burma/India: End Abuses in Chin State.


                  [2]John Swinton and Harriet Mowat , Practical Theology and Qualitative Research, (London: SCM Press, 2006), ?( page numbers for this book cannot be provided as I work on Kindle. The review below is also based on the first part of the book)

                  [3] Ibid., ? (Read from Kindle)

                  [4] Charles J. Stewart & William B. Cash, Jr., Interviewing: Principles and Practices(Dubuque: WCB Publishers, 1988), 3-4.

                  [5] Alice McIntyre, Participatory Action Research, A Sage University Paper, Qualitative Research Methods Series 52, 2008, 67-68.

                  [6]Robert S. Sweiss, Learning from Strangers: The Art and Method of Qualitative Interview Studies (New York: The Free Press, 1995), 151.

                  [7] Ibids, 151.


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