A Handbook of the Sociology of Religion

By Michele Dillon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
Religion and the New Immigrants
Helen Rose Ebaugh

Changes in U.S. immigration laws in the past four decades have had far-reaching consequences for American religion. Even though the majority of the new immigrants are Christian (Warner and Wittner 1998; Ebaugh and Chafetz 2000b), the practices, symbols, languages, sounds, and smells that accompany the ethnically and racially diverse forms of practicing Christianity, brought by immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, India, Africa, and elsewhere challenge the various European practices of Christianity that have predominated in the United States since its founding. As Maffy-Kipp (1997) argues, rather than immigrants “de-Christianizing” religion in America, they have, in fact, “de-Europeanized” American Christianity. In addition, the new immigrants have brought religious traditions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Vodou, and Rastafarianism, that were unfamiliar to Americans prior to the mid-1960s. Today many American neighborhoods are dotted with temples, mosques, shrines, storefront churches, Christian churches with foreign names, guadwaras, and botannicas.


THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The “new immigrants” refer to those who entered the United States after the passage of the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act of 1965. The abolition of the country-of-origin quotas established in 1924, and the dramatic increase in immigration visas provided to people from Asia and Latin America, in particular, significantly altered the racial and ethnic backgrounds of immigrants. For example, the number of Asian immigrants living in the United States rose from about 150,000 in the 1950s to more than 2.7 million in the 1980s, while the number of European immigrants fell by more than one-third. Likewise, during the 1950s, the six hundred thousand immigrants who came from Latin America and the Caribbean accounted for one in four immigrants, while three decades later, the 3.5 million immigrants who arrived from these areas accounted for 47 percent of all admissions (Miller and Miller 1996). Of the five million immigrants who arrived between 1985 and 1990, only 13 percent were born in Europe, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, while 26 percent came from Mexico, 31 percent from Asia, and 22 percent from other parts of the Americas (Chiswick and Sullivan 1995: 216–17). In addition, per country limitations on legal flows have increased the national diversity

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