The associate professor will examine the plight of women forced into sex slavery and how those who rescued them turned shame into joy.
The associate professor will examine the plight of women forced into sex slavery and how they and their rescuers turned shame into joy.

Angella Son will study joy in life.

April 2017 – Type “the joy of” into an internet search engine and you’ll find 52 million links to everything from cooking and clutter to sweatpants and slow photography.

With so many joyful activities, though, why does the world still lack joy and how can we flourish in a joyous life? Those are the core questions that Drew Theological School’s Angella Son will address in a six-month research project that’s supported by a grant from the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School.

Yale, through its “Theology of Joy & the Good Life” project, awarded just four open-rank research grants globally. Each is funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

A central human experience

“The concept of joy in theology is relatively new,” said Son, an associate professor of psychology and religion. “Most often, love is emphasized in theology. Love is important, but it is time to pay attention to joy, which is both a central human experience and theological category.”

Son added that the “prevalence of shame and lack of joy in our world prevent us from flourishing and, as a result, experiencing the good life.”

Turning shame into joy

In her research, Son will examine the plight of Korean women and girls who were forced into sexual slavery in occupied territories by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World War II. She will travel to South Korea, Japan and California to interview some of these women as well as the people who rescued them from this servitude in an attempt to illustrate the joy that they created for the enslaved women. In short, they helped turn shame into joy. Her findings will be published in a book.

Historically, the sex slaves have been called “comfort women,” but Son uses the phrase, “comfort girls-women” to better reflect their predicament.

“I am signifying a different meaning for the word comfort,” Son explained. “In this case, it means sexual slavery as opposed to the more traditional connotation of entertaining and providing pleasure to men.

“The word girl underscores the young age of the victims who were put into sexual slavery,” Son added, “and the word woman reflects the long period—about three quarters of a century—they endured without a satisfactory resolution of their situation.”