Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience

Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience

Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience

Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience

Synopsis

What does becoming American have to do with becoming religious? Many immigrants become more religious after coming to the United States. Taiwanese are no different. Like many Asian immigrants to the United States, Taiwanese frequently convert to Christianity after immigrating. But Americanization is more than simply a process of Christianization. Most Taiwanese American Buddhists also say they converted only after arriving in the United States even though Buddhism is a part of Taiwan's dominant religion. By examining the experiences of Christian and Buddhist Taiwanese Americans, Getting Saved in America tells "a story of how people become religious by becoming American, and how people become American by becoming religious."


Carolyn Chen argues that many Taiwanese immigrants deal with the challenges of becoming American by becoming religious. Based on in-depth interviews with Taiwanese American Christians and Buddhists, and extensive ethnographic fieldwork at a Taiwanese Buddhist temple and a Taiwanese Christian church in Southern California, Getting Saved in America is the first book to compare how two religions influence the experiences of one immigrant group. By showing how religion transforms many immigrants into Americans, it sheds new light on the question of how immigrants become American.

Excerpt

What is it about going to the United States that
makes people religious?
Question posed to me by Mrs. Chou,
a woman in Taiwan

THIS BOOK TELLS A STORY of how people become religious by becoming American. The idea for this study developed several years ago during a conversation that I had in Taipei, Taiwan with a lively middle-aged woman named Mrs. Chou. Seeing that I was from the United States, she asked me a question about her neighbor, Mr. Ting, who had immigrated with his family to the United States five years ago, but returned to Taiwan for prolonged visits. After immigrating to the United States, Mr. Ting converted to evangelical Christianity, much to the chagrin of his extended family. With much animation, Mrs. Chou recounted to me how after returning to Taiwan, Mr. Ting promptly went through his entire house and cleared it of any remnants of what he called “idolatry.” The first thing he did was to dismantle the family altar, remove the ancestral tablet, and replace it with a plaque that reads, “Christ is the Lord of this house.” He also removed popular Taiwanese religious icons from his home, such as statues of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, Ma-tsu, and Maitreya Buddha, as well as books on Chinese astrology and martial arts. He then had a Christian pastor come and exorcise the house of evil spirits. Whenever Mr. Ting returns from the United States, Mrs. Chou hears people who are gathered in his home singing hymns. Mr. Ting frequently talks to Mrs. Chou about Christianity and invites her to attend church. Mrs. Chou knows a few Christians in Taiwan but according to her they are not like Mr. Ting. They keep their religion to themselves. “Mr. Ting has become a totally different man,” Mrs. Chou told me and then asked, “What is it about going to the United States that makes people become religious?”

A look at the number of Taiwanese Christians in the United States clearly shows that Mr. Ting is not an isolated case. In Taiwan, Christians

I have given pseudonyms to protect the identity of the institutions and individuals that
participated in my research.

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