- Review of "Joining the Choir: Religious Membership and Social Trust Among Transnational Ghanaians" by Nicolette D. Manglos-Weber
By Nicolette D. Manglos-Weber.
Oxford University Press, 2018. 240 Pages. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/joining-the-choir-9780190841041?cc=us&lang=en&
In the 1960s people from Africa made up a small proportion of the migrant population in United States. However, since the mid 1960s the United States have opened the doors for larger numbers of migrants from the Global South including people from Africa. As a result, the African-born population in the US today comprises close to 2 million people according to estimates from the Pew Research Center (see Manglos-Weber 2018, 2). Against this backdrop, Nicolette D. Manglos-Weber in Joining the Choir takes us to Accra, Ghana and Chicago, Illinois to learn about the role that religious membership plays for the integration of Christian transnational Ghanaians living in the United States. Based on the personal stories of a few central characters, Manglos-Weber sheds light on how these Christian transnational Ghanaians choose their churches upon arrival in the United States and on the myriad ways in which their church choice and resulting religious membership subsequently influence their process of integration in the United States.
In Joining the Choir, we are introduced to eighteen central characters out of which we meet some in Chicago and others in Accra. This cross-national design is a major strength of Manglos-Weber's approach as it allows the reader to get a sense of both the sending and host country, providing for a better understanding of the migrants' aspirations in coming to the United States. The data consist of narrative interviews and in-depth participant observation collected over a period of six years. Inspired by the work of Katz (2001), Manglos-Weber uses the concept of turning points in the migrants' lives to move from how church choice and religious affiliation works for Ghanaian migrants to why they choose the churches they do. This strategy is well executed throughout the book; however, one could have wished for a more detailed account of the methodological approach than what is provided in the six pages long appendix placed in the end of the book.
In the introduction, we learn that even the most successful Ghanaian migrants often face risks that make it difficult for them to establish new trust-based social networks in the United States. To elaborate on those risks, Manglos-Weber draws on Bonilla-Silva's (2013) work that uses Bourdieu's (1987) concept of habitus to argue that the historical development of the racial order has produced stark differences in habitus between blacks and whites in the United States. These differences are for example displayed in how blacks and whites tend to dress, speak, and carry themselves. Against this background, Manglos-Weber argues that the Ghanaian migrants' opportunities for moving comfortably into mixed social and professional setting with opportunities for forming trust-based social networks in the United States oftentimes hinges on their ability not to "act black" and consequently be associated with underclass American blacks. This argument is compelling but distressing in its implications because it suggests that "new blacks" opportunities for integration in United States depend on their ability to navigate the tricky waters of the established racial order in United States and their ability and willingness to distinguish themselves from underclass American blacks.
The key argument in Joining the Choir is that religious memberships for the transnational Ghanaian migrants in the United States often come to serve as a symbolic indicator of trustworthiness that oftentimes helps them overcome the risks they face related to their embodiment of "blackness" and "foreignness". In making this argument, Manglos-Weber draws on a definition of personal trust as imaginative or symbolic activity inspired among others by Georg Simmel that conceptualizes trust as a "quasi-religious leap of faith" (Simmel 1990, 179; see also Frederiksen 2012). This is a persuasive yet not particularly new idea as it has often been argued in the social capital literature that bonding social capital in...