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Sacred Assemblies and Civic Engagement

How Religion Matters for America's Newest Immigrants

Fred Kniss and Paul D. Numrich

Publication Year: 2007

Immigration to the United States has been a major source of population growth and cultural change throughout much of America's history. Currently, about 40 percent of the nation's annual population growth comes from the influx of foreign-born individuals and their children. As these new voices enter America's public conversations, they bring with them a new level of religious diversity to a society that has always been marked by religious variety. Sacred Assemblies and Civic Engagement takes an in-depth look at one particular urban areaùthe Chicago metropolitan regionùand examines how religion affects the civic engagement of the nation's newest residents. Based on more than three years of ethnographic fieldwork and extensive interviewing at sixteen immigrant congregations, the authors argue that not only must careful attention be paid to ethnic, racial, class, and other social variations within and among groups but that religious differences within and between immigrant faiths are equally important for a more sophisticated understanding of religious diversity and its impact on civic life. Chapters focus on important religious factors, including sectarianism, moral authority, and moral projects; on several areas of social life, including economics, education, marriage, and language, where religion impacts civic engagement; and on how notions of citizenship and community are influenced by sacred assemblies.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xi

In this book, we report on the findings of the Religion, Immigration, and Civil Society in Chicago (RICSC) project. A project as large, complex, and time consuming as this one is not accomplished without the assistance and support of many individuals, groups, and organizations. We are grateful to each of them, and we herewith absolve them all of complicity in any...

Sacred Assemblies and Civic Engagement

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pp. xiii

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-16

America’s cultural landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation. Changes in U.S. immigration laws since 1965 have given new meaning to the notion of American pluralism.¹ The 1990s became the greatest decade of American immigration. The number of foreign-born residents and their children, what scholars call the first and second immigrant generations, recently reached fifty-six...

Part One: Religion Matters

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pp. 17

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2. Purity and Protest

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pp. 19-36

There was a wistful look on the face of Jay Desai, a prominent lay leader of the BAPS Shree Swaminarayan Mandir in Bartlett, Illinois. “I wish more community groups or families from outside the temple would make use of this space,” he said, “but most outsiders don’t want to accommodate our restrictions.” We were standing in a dining/ballroom space beneath the main meeting hall of the...

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3. Locating the Moral Authority of Immigrant Congregations

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pp. 37-53

The Kursk Icon, one of the most venerated icons in old Russia, was visiting the Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral in Des Plaines, a suburb northwest of Chicago. The parish is affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), one of the largest (and most conservative) Russian Orthodox church organizations that emerged outside of Russia after the Russian Revolution. A...

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4. The Moral Projects of Immigrant Congregations

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pp. 54-70

In his Sunday morning sermon, Ray Castro, the pastor of Victory Outreach Church, was discussing the problems his congregants faced as they navigated their everyday life in a blighted urban neighborhood. “The prisons can’t deal with the streets,” Pastor Castro declared. “The police can’t deal with the streets. The courts can’t deal with the streets. The government can’t deal with the...

Part Two: Sacred Assemblies in Social Contexts

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pp. 71

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5. “Making It in America”

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pp. 73-94

“A lot of Koreans who immigrated to the United States, even though they were Buddhists in Korea, they became Christians [here]. . . . People think, ‘If I go to a big Korean church, there is more opportunity for me to get a different job or meet different people.’ ” This statement, made by a forty-three-year-old Korean Buddhist travel agent who attends HanMaUm Zen Center in suburban...

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6. Religion, Education, and Civic Tensions in Immigrant Congregations

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pp. 95-119

Islamic Foundation is one of the largest and most successful mosques in metropolitan Chicago. Located in affluent west suburban DuPage County, the tenth highest-ranked county in the nation in median household income, according to the 2000 census, Islamic Foundation operates a parochial school accredited and recognized for its excellence by the State of Illinois.

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7. Marriage Patterns in Immigrant Congregations

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pp. 120-142

The renowned Chicago School of sociology, born out of the nation’s first sociology department at the University of Chicago, established its reputation during the classical period of American immigration history. Robert Park published the article excerpted above in the year classical immigration came to a close with the passage of restrictive federal legislation. Among many research...

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8. Language in Immigrant Congregations

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pp. 143-170

For their first field assignment, each member of our project team visited a different immigrant Buddhist temple in the Chicago area. They knew none of the non-English vernaculars spoken at the temples, such as Vietnamese, Japanese, or Thai, nor the nonvernacular ritual languages, such as Pali or Sanskrit. Moreover, they knew precious little about the specific Buddhist identities or civic...

Part Three: Civic Engagement

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pp. 171

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9. Individual Engagement

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pp. 173-193

Maricel Awitan, an immigrant from the Philippines, came to the United States as a nurse in 1968. A year later, her husband, also a nurse, joined her. They now live in Skokie, a suburb just north of Chicago, where they raised their six children. At first acquaintance, Maricel seems to be a shy soft-spoken woman, but she is an important lay leader at St. Lambert Roman Catholic Church. She directs the...

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10. Organizational Engagement

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pp. 194-215

In January 2001, a devastating earthquake struck the state of Gujarat in India. Official counts of more than twenty thousand fatalities and nearly sixteen mil-lion other people affected by the devastation generated humanitarian responses from governments and nongovernmental organizations from around the world. These relief efforts provided an early test of our ideas about how religion might...

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11. When and How Religion Matters for Immigrant Civic Engagement

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pp. 216-232

The epigraph above revisits sociologist Robert Wuthnow’s (2004) comment cited in the introduction. Wuthnow makes his point in a section entitled “The Meanings of Diversity” in his 2003 presidential address to the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Wuthnow compliments the political philosopher John Rawls for “acknowledg[ing] that modern societies are characterized by a diversity of...

Appendix A: Research Sites

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pp. 233-236

Appendix B: Sectarianism Coding for Research Sites

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pp. 237-240


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pp. 241-245


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pp. 247-267


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pp. 269-271

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About the Authors

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pp. 273

Fred Kniss is an associate professor and chair of the Sociology Department at Loyola University Chicago and the director of the McNamara Center for the Social Study of Religion. He is the author of Disquiet in the Land: Cultural Conflict in American Mennonite Communities (Rutgers University Press, 1997), and has published various articles on religious conflict and...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813543055
E-ISBN-10: 0813543053
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813541709
Print-ISBN-10: 0813541700

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 14 photographs, 3 tables, 1 map
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Immigrants -- Illinois -- Chicago Metropolitan Area -- Social conditions.
  • Religion and culture -- Illinois -- Chicago Metropolitan Area.
  • Chicago Metropolitan Area (Ill.) -- Religion.
  • Immigrants -- Illinois -- Chicago Metropolitan Area -- Religious life.
  • Social participation -- Illinois -- Chicago Metropolitan Area.
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