Ecologies of Faith in New York City: The Evolution of Religious Institutions

By Richard Cimino; Nadia A. Mian et al. | Go to book overview

6
Building and Expanding Communities:
African Immigrant Congregations
and the Challenge of Diversity

Moses Biney

The importance of religious congregations in the life of immigrants has been well noted by many scholars (Herberg 1960; Williams 1988; Warner and Wittner 1998; Ebaugh and Chafetz 2000; Guest 2003). In addition to spiritual support, immigrant congregations are said to provide their members and even nonmembers with communities and social spaces where their home cultures can be maintained and reproduced, with opportunities for networking and for accumulating social capital and skills for civic engagement.

Immigrant congregations are typically particularistic. They tend to be racially and culturally homogenous. They are often communities created by and for migrants from particular racial and ethnic groups or geographical areas. Their main commitment is often to assist in the adaptation of the immigrant members to life in the United States (Biney 2007, 2011; Guest 2003). This is why some scholars refer to them as ethnic enclaves. Within these communities, they point out, identity is negotiated (Warner and Wittner 1998) and ethnicity is maintained and reproduced (Ebaugh and Chafetz 2000). These observations, though largely true, tell only part of the story; they overemphasize the homogeneity of immigrant congregations. What I aim to do in this chapter is to reveal the complex dynamics and tensions between homogeneity and diversity that exist within these congregations, and the attempts by such congregations to open up their communities to diverse populations.

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