Review of Religious Research

, Volume 55, Issue 1, pp 81–104 | Cite as

Religion, Social Incorporation, and Civic Engagement: Second-Generation Indian American Christians

  • Prema Kurien
Original Paper


Recent studies have shown that participation in religious institutions facilitates the civic incorporation of contemporary immigrants. These studies have focused on either the immigrant generation or on the second generation. This paper contributes to the literature by showing how negotiations and disagreements between generations shape the civic engagement of multigenerational Christian congregations. The research is based on a study of congregations consisting of first- and second-generation immigrants belonging to the ancient Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Christian church based in Kerala, a state in south India. It shows how first- and second-generation Mar Thoma American conceptions regarding ethnic and religious identity and the social obligations mandated by religion were based on very different understandings about Christian worship, evangelism, social outreach, and their interrelationship. The immigrant generation’s ideas were shaped by the doctrines and practices of the Mar Thoma denomination in India, whereas those of the second generation were influenced by nondenominational American evangelicalism. This paper focuses on the second generation and shows how they developed ideas of American identity and Christian obligation in interaction with and often in opposition to those of their parents’ generation, with the result that contradictory forces affected the civic engagement of these multigenerational congregations.


Ethnic churches Immigrant integration Second-generation Americans Civic engagement 



Research for this project was made possible by funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Louisville Institute, the American Institute for Indian Studies, an Appleby Mosher award, and a summer project assistant award from Syracuse University. I am grateful for the research assistance provided by Laurah Klepinger-Mathew and for the feedback provided by Yasmin Ortiga.


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Copyright information

© Religious Research Association, Inc. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologySyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA

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