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There, religion is at the top of the scholarly agenda, with the extensive literature overwhelmingly concerned with the Islamic presence. In contrast to the view in the United States, religion is seen in Europe as the marker of a fundamental social divide. We argue that the difference is anchored in whether or not religion as belief system, institution, and community can play a major role for immigrants and the second generation as a bridge to inclusion in the new society.

This question has a different answer in the two settings for three critical reasons. The religious backgrounds of immigrants in Western Europe and the United States are different, mostly Christian in the United States as compared to Western Europe, where a large proportion are Muslim. Western European populations, moreover, have much more trouble recognizing claims based on religion because they are more secular than the religiously involved United States.

Furthermore, historically rooted relations and arrangements between the state and religious groups in Europe have led to greater difficulties in incorporating and accepting new religions than is the case in the United States. What follows develops these ideas, first laying out the different views of immigrant religion in social science studies on the two sides of the Atlantic and then seeking to account for them. If the bulk of the article shows a far more favorable environment for immigrant religion in the United States than Western Europe, the concluding remarks consider, on the one hand, the threats in the United States to the generally positive picture and, on the other hand, government efforts at accommodating Islam in Western Europe.

Much of what we say applies to Western European countries generally, but we mainly focus on four major receiving countries that represent different institutional approaches to religion: France, Germany, Britain, and the Netherlands. What stands out in the American social science literature is the positive gloss on religion's role among today's newcomers, with studies often emphasizing how religion promotes the incorporation of newcomers into their new society and helps them, in a variety of ways, to cope and adapt.

In addition, the literature stresses the functionality of religion in meeting the social needs of immigrants; to borrow Charles Hirschman 's formula, these are first and foremost the three R's: refuge, respectability, and resources For immigrants who are separated from their homeland and from many relatives, religious membership offers a refuge in the sense that it creates a sense of belonging and participation in the face of loss and the strains of adjustment Hirschman, Churches and temples offer opportunities for fellowship and friendship, often in a familiar cultural environment, and are a source of solace and shelter from the stresses, setbacks, and difficulties of coming to terms with life in a new country Ebaugh and Chafetz, ; Min, ; Portes and Rumbaut, , It is frequently noted that religious groups provide an alternative source of respectability for newcomers, something that is particularly important for those who feel they are denied social recognition in the United States or have even suffered downward occupational mobility as a result of migration.

Being a good Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist brings respect within the religious and often wider ethnic community. Within religious groups, there are typically opportunities for leadership and service that bring prestige. Sociologists put particular emphasis on the resources that come with religious affiliation and membership. As Hirschman notes, almost all studies of contemporary immigrant churches and temples in the United States describe the multiple services they provide to newcomers, from information about jobs, housing, and business opportunities to classes in English and seminars on various practical topics.

Thus, the financial manager of a Buddhist temple catering to the Lao community in Louisiana, who is also a foreman at a firm, refers temple members for jobs; another member of the temple community provides assistance for housing through her position as a loan officer in a local bank Hirschman, Religion has been analyzed as a socially acceptable form through which U.

The intertwining of religion and ethnic identity often assists incorporation into American society. According to a recent study of immigrant religious communities in the Washington, DC area, those that emphasized ethnic identity — sponsoring events to celebrate their own ethnic or national heritage, for example, or holding classes in the home language — were more likely to participate in local affairs and social service or community development projects in the United States Foley and Hoge, — There are two additional positive aspects of religion for immigrants and their children that appear in the US social science literature.

For one thing, religious organizations can facilitate the upward mobility of the second generation. Many congregations also sponsor classes that inculcate homeland cultural traditions and language skills. From a mobility perspective, as David Lopez forthcoming has argued, they encourage and reinforce habits of study. Moreover, they do so in a setting that is controlled within the ethnic community — rather than provided by benevolent outsiders — thereby reinforcing a sense of identity and cultural pride and perhaps also adding to their effectiveness.

Min Zhou and Carl Bankston stress that involvement in ethnic religious congregations helps young people move ahead in another way.


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And then there is the role of immigrant religious groups as a training ground for entry into the wider society: building civic skills and encouraging active civic involvement. Religious communities, she maintains, are. Long before they stand for election to the school board, they will stand for election in the governing body of the Hindu temple.

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Long before they enter the fray of local and state politics, they argue fiercely about their internal Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim politics. Eck, The religious groups often sponsored citizenship classes and programs to register people to vote and organized efforts to lobby elected officials. And many mosques and churches encouraged volunteer services to the larger community, beyond their own religious group, from volunteering at senior citizen centers to serving food in soup kitchens. Many scholars stress that religion provides a way for immigrants to become accepted in the United States — or, to put it another way, religious institutions are places where immigrants can formulate claims for inclusion in American society Portes and Rumbaut, ; Alba, Roboteau and DeWind, forthcoming.

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This argument dates back to what are now regarded as classic historical studies of immigrant religious life, primary among them Will Herberg's Protestant, Catholic, Jew. To be sure, one way this Americanization happens is by conversion to Christianity because of its charter status in American society. For instance, the proportion of Christians among Asian immigrants to the United States is generally much higher than is the case in their countries of origin. To some extent, this may be the result of selective immigration by those who were already Christian in the homeland.

But there can be little doubt that, for other immigrants, the move to America involves conversion to Christianity. This phenomenon in exemplified by the Taiwanese. Whereas in Taiwan some 2 percent of the population is Christian, this is true for a quarter to a third of the Taiwanese population in the United States.

Yet as far as anyone can tell, the immigrant religions that are relatively new to the United States, such as Buddhism and Sikhism, have many of the same integrative effects as the Christian denominations do.


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  • In their case, asserting a religious identity is seen as an acceptable way to be different and American at the same time Levitt, In line with a change to congregationalism, to give one example, a Buddhist monk may assume a more specialized and professional role closer to that of a minister. In addition, many studies point to the way immigrant religious groups adopt American forms and practices — for instance, using the English language, holding weekly services, or having a sermon as the focal point of the service Hirschman, —; see also George, ; Hepner, Certainly, the mainstream of American society had a decidedly Christian, even Protestant, character for much of the country's history.

    The full acceptance of Catholicism and Judaism as American religions was not accomplished until the middle of the twentieth century — around the time that Herberg wrote his famous synthesis. Yet, what was not in doubt was the ability of these previously minority religions to form their own institutions, without much interference from the outside society.

    That Catholics could erect a separate school system, and eventually a panoply of organizations to channel their social and professional lives within a religiously circumscribed subsociety, was not in question. Nor was Catholicism in this respect at a disadvantage compared to Protestant churches, for, aside from temporary holdovers from the established churches of the thirteen colonies, no denomination enjoyed state support. In this sense, we will argue below, there is a distinctively US pattern implicated in the contemporary bridging role of immigrant religion.

    In Western Europe, religion is generally viewed as the problem, not the solution, for immigrant minorities. The focus of scholarly commentaries on immigrant religion is almost exclusively on Islam. Far from being seen as integrating immigrants and facilitating successful adaptation to European society, Islam is analyzed as a barrier or a challenge to integration and a source of conflict with mainstream institutions and practices. Popular attitudes toward Islam have helped to shape the social science literature.

    Religions in the City

    Many social scientists have documented actual practices and beliefs among Muslim immigrants and their children, often as a way to counter negative stereotypes and prejudices about these practices and beliefs; others have attempted to explain the animosities and conflicts that have developed; and still others have offered, on the bases of their analyses, policy recommendations for improving relations and reducing strains or, in some cases, preserving what are felt to be basic universal, European, or national values that are seen to be in danger e.

    Even analyses of the Europeanization of Islam and of positive signs of Muslim integration and accommodation are often placed in the context of prevailing popular views that deny, ignore, or downplay these developments e. A lot of attention is dedicated to such themes as gender relations including headscarves , freedom of speech including the Rushdie affair, Muslim radicalism and so forth and the compatibility of Islam and modernity. At one end of the spectrum are social scientists — a minority, to be sure — who suggest or explicitly argue that Islam is impeding the integration of immigrant minorities and threatening the liberal values of European states e.

    Their writings are part of a larger public, and politicized, debate on how much tolerance should be allowed in modern European societies for many Muslim practices and beliefs. Much of the criticism of Muslim practices focuses on those involving the subordination of women that are associated with Muslim immigrants even if the practices are not always directly related to Islamic law. In France, where the controversy over the headscarf has assumed enormous symbolic and political importance, several social scientists, Alain Touraine among them, were members of the Stasi Commission that, in , proposed legislation prohibiting visible religious symbols and dress in public schools.

    In a subsequent publication, Touraine argued that the new law was necessary to confront the rise of religious that is, Islamic extremism and violence Renaut and Touraine, Another — and more common — theme in the social science literature is the discrimination and restrictions facing Muslims in Western Europe. LOG IN.

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    New York Glory: Religions in the City

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    New York Glory

    Is New York a post-secular city? Massive immigration and cultural changes have created an increasingly complex social landscape in which religious life plays a dynamic role. Yet the magnitude of religion's impact on New York's social life has gone unacknowledged. New York Glory gathers together for the first time the best research on religion in contemporary New York City.