A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism

A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism

A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism

A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism

Excerpt

This book is part of a larger project on ethnicity and religion among Indian immigrants and their children in the United States. Hindus are the largest religious group among Indian Americans, and the bulk of my work has focused on them, but I have also studied Christians and conducted a short study of Muslims. My interest in the relationships between ethnicity, religion, and migration developed out of my earlier research that looked at the impact of temporary migration to Middle Eastern countries on sending communities in Kerala, south India (Kurien 1993,2002). Although I had planned on studying rural-urban variations, I ended up focusing on the way in which ethnicity based on religious background organized the migration and was transformed by it, since I discovered that there were striking differences in patterns of out-migration, remittance use, and migration-induced social change between Mappila Muslims, Ezhava Hindus, and Syrian Christians (Kurien 2002).

With the exception of some groups of Indian Christians, Indian immigrants from different religious backgrounds do not show major variations in patterns of migration to the United States. But religion is an important factor differentiating patterns of ethnic formation, since religious institutions often come to define and sustain ethnic life in the immigrant context. I have found that Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Sikh Indian Americans have very different constructions of “Indianness” and, correspondingly, different patterns of identity construction and activism.

My personal background has affected this study in a variety of ways. I spent the first twenty-three years of my life in India before coming to the United States for graduate study. Although I am an immigrant from India, I am not a Hindu, but hail from a south Indian Christian background. This is obvious from my last name and has been a source of some discomfort for many of the people I talked to during the course of this research. After the centuries of mockery and harassment that Hindus have had to endure from Christians, particularly Western Christian missionaries, and the negative stereotypes that exist in American society regarding Hinduism, many of those I interviewed were understandably wary of my intentions and the purpose of my study. To put people at ease and to “prove” that I did not come from . . .

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