Religion & Immigration in America
(Image Copyright: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)
The presidential campaign of 2016 will long be remembered for a number of things, perhaps most prominently for its focus on immigrants. Amid Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s call to build a massive wall along our southern border and to halt Muslim immigration, the foreign-born were thrust into the eye of the election storm. But American history is filled with such instances, which is what one might expect of a nation of immigrants (Kennedy) and a nation with the soul of a church (Chesterton). To help us stand back and understand the longer story of religious immigrants’ relationships to other aspects of American life, we offer five excellent pieces from Religion and American Culture—one Forum and four articles.
Table of Contents
Editor's Note, Continued
In “American Religion and the Old and New Immigration” (22:1), Jenna Wiessman Joselit, Timothy Matovina, Roberto Suro, and Fenggang Yang address the state of this field of study, the differences between the religious aspects of the old immigration and the new immigration, what the new immigration portends for religious institutions, and what new plot lines of American religious history are being written by recent immigrants. Looking closely at Jewish, Catholic, and Asian religions’ experiences in the United States, these scholars identify continuities and vast changes, wrestling with notions of place, congregational life, ritual, hierarchy, conversion, identity, Protestants, and Americanization.
Michael P. Carroll’s “How the Irish Became Protestant in America” (16:1) ignores sentimentalized notions of Irish Catholicism to answer the question why the majority of Irish in the United States are, in fact, Protestant. Drawing our attention to religious identity in the pre-Famine period and questioning what was meant by “being Irish” in the post-Famine period, the article constructs a new narrative that helps us understand the Irish contributions to the rise of Methodists and Baptists and why so many Protestants retain their Irish identity centuries after their families arrived.
“God and Country: Religious Minorities Striving for National Belonging through Community Service” (26:2) by Rosemary Corbett looks at how marginalized religious groups have moved into social acceptance by way of government-affiliated service programs. In the past, marginalized Protestants, Catholics, and Jews have employed such activities to claim faith in a common God and membership in the body politic. More recently, Muslims have attempted to follow this path—but with varying degrees of success. The article traces out the challenges Muslims face post-9/11 in a more multicultural yet highly-charged society.
Luis E. Murillo’s “Tamales on the Fourth of July: The Transnational Parish of Coeneo, Michoacan” (19:2) points to the transnationalism of the lived religious experiences of many Mexican and Mexican American Catholics. Eschewing traditional interpretations of the parish as tied to a ritual calendar and localized devotions, this article argues that transnational Catholics show how the rhythm of parish life has been transformed. Emphasizing religious celebrations of marriage and baptism in Mexico, transnationals and Mexican Americans are tied to the home parish for identity and community. Parishes, then, are not fixed locales in this new, fluid world. Many Mexican Americans are active members of two parishes—one in Mexico and one in the United States.
Finally, Marilyn Johnson’s “’The Quiet Revival’: New Immigrants and the Transformation of Christianity in Greater Boston” (24:2) looks at the revitalization of urban Christianity by collaborative relationships between existing congregations and Asian, Latino, African, and Caribbean immigrants since the 1960s. New immigration laws enabled different populations to enter the United States just as urban cores were changing and churches ailing. That “de-Europeanization” of urban Christianity has been noted by scholars, but this article studies the transformation across various denominations in one city—a city with deep roots in American religious history and the epicenter of problems within the Catholic church—to show the collaborative process of religious revitalization. Immigrants infused troubled churches with robust religious styles, but not without facing hostility. This case study offers insight into how immigrant Christians are transforming urban religion and local services, as well as why it appears the momentum of immigrant revitalization is shifting from Catholic to evangelical congregations.
These pieces situate immigrants at the heart of American religious life. In doing so, they reveal new and important understandings of the relationship between religion and other aspects of society, which is the purpose of Religion and American Culture. We encourage those studying religion and American culture through the lens of immigrant and transnational faiths to send us your work, as this subject continues to define who we are—and not just at election time.