Classic assimilation theory was based on the assumption of individualistic adaptation, with immigrants and their children expected to shed their ethnic identities to become Americans. In the sphere of religion, however, they could maintain their communitarian traditions through American denominations. In contemporary society, multiculturalism, spiritual seeking, and postdenominationalism have reversed this paradigm. First- and second-generation immigrants integrate by remaining ethnic and group-identified, but religion is viewed as a personal quest. This paper examines how this paradigm shift affects the ethnic and religious behavior of second-generation Americans. It is based on research among Malankara Syrian Christians belonging to an ancient South Indian community.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
This interview was conducted by Laurah Klepinger-Mathew, my research assistant.
Alba, Richard, and Victor Nee. 2003. Remaking the American mainstream: Assimilation and contemporary immigration. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Alba, Richard, Albert J. Raboteau, and Josh DeWind (eds.). 2009. Immigration and religion in America: Comparative and historical perspectives. New York: New York University Press.
Alumkal, Antony. 2001. Being Korean, being Christian: Particularism and universalism in a second-generation congregation. In Korean Americans and their religions: Pilgrims and missionaries from a different shore, ed. Ho-Youn Kwon, Kwang Chung Kim, and R. Stephen Warner, 181–191. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Alumkal, Antony. 2003. Asian American evangelical churches: Race, ethnicity and assimilation in the second generation. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing.
Bankston III, Carl L., and Min Zhou. 1995. Religious participation, ethnic identification, and adaptation of Vietnamese adolescents in an immigrant community. Sociological Quarterly 36: 523–534.
Basch, Linda, Nina G. Schiller, and Cristina S. Blanc. 1994. Nations unbound: Transnational projects, postcolonial predicaments, and deterritorialized nation-states. London: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers.
Bellah, Robert N., Richard Marsden, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven M. Tipton. 1985. Habits of the heart: Individualism and commitment in American life. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Berger, Peter. 1967. The sacred canopy: Elements of a sociological theory of religion. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
Chai, Karen J. 1998. Competing for the second generation: English-language ministry at a Korean Protestant church. In Gatherings in diaspora: Religious communities and the new immigration, ed. Stephen Warner and Judith Wittner, 295–332. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Chai, Karen J. 2004. Chinatown or uptown? Second-generation Chinese American Protestants in New York City. In Becoming New Yorkers: Ethnographies of the new second generation, ed. Philip Kasinitz, John H. Mollenkopf, and Mary Waters, 257–279. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Dhingra, Pawan. 2007. Managing multicultural lives: Asian American professionals and the challenge of multiple identities. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Ebaugh, Helen R., and Janet S. Chafetz. 2000. Religion and the new immigrants: Continuities and adaptations in immigrant congregations. Walnut Creek, Cal.: AltaMira Press.
Ecklund, Elaine H. 2006. Korean American evangelicals: New models for civic life. New York: Oxford University Press.
Edwards, Korie. 2008. The elusive dream: The power of race in interracial churches. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ellingson, Stephen. 2007. The megachurch and the mainline: Remaking religious tradition in the twenty-first century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Emerson, Michael. “Managing racial diversity: A movement toward multiracial congregations.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, San Francisco, CA, 10 August, 2009.
Emerson, Michael, and Christian Smith. 2000. Divided by faith: Evangelical religion and the problem of race in America. New York: Oxford University Press.
Fisher, Timothy N. 2005. In church with my ancestors: The changing shape of religious memory in the Republic of Armenia and the North American diaspora. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
Foner, Nancy, and Richard Alba. 2008. Immigrant religion in the U.S. and Western Europe: Bridge or barrier to inclusion? International Migration Review 42: 360–392.
Glaser, Barney G., and Anselm L. Strauss. 1967. The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Hawthorne, N.Y.: Aldine de Gruyter.
Gordon, Milton. 1964. Assimilation in American life: The role of race, religion and national origins. New York: Oxford University Press.
Greeley, Andrew. 1972. The denominational society: A sociological approach to religion in America. Glenview, Ill.: Scott Foresman.
Heelas, Paul. 1996. The new age movement: The celebration of the self and the sacralization of modernity. Oxford: Blackwell.
Herberg, Will. 1960. Protestant – Catholic – Jew: An essay in American religious sociology. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books.
Hervieu-Léger, Danièle. 2006. In search of certainties: The paradoxes of religiosity in societies of high modernity. Hedgehog Review 8: 59–68.
Hirschman, Charles. 2004. The role of religion in the origin and adaptation of immigrant groups in the United States. International Migration Review 38: 1206–1233.
Houtman, Dick, and Stef Aupers. 2007. The spiritual turn and the decline of tradition: The spread of post-Christian spirituality in 14 countries, 1981–2000. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 46: 305–320.
Jasso, Guillermina, Douglas S. Massey, Mark R. Rosenzweig, and James P. Smith. 2006. “The new immigrant survey 2003 round 1.” March 2011. Accessed 3 March 2011. http://nis.princeton.edu.
Jeung, Russell. 2005. Faithful generations: Race and new Asian American churches. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Kasinitz, Philip, John H. Mollenkopf, Mary C. Waters, and Jennifer Holdaway. 2008. Inheriting the city: The children of immigrants come of age. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Kibria, Nazli. 2008. “The new Islam” and Bangladeshi youth in Britain and the US. Ethnic and Racial Studies 31: 243–266.
Kim, Rebecca Y. 2006. God's new whiz kids?: Korean American evangelicals on campus. New York: New York University Press.
Kim, Sharon. 2010. A faith of our own: Second-generation spirituality in Korean American churches. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Kim, Rebecca Y. 2011. “Author meets Critics panel for Preserving ethnicity through religion in America: Korean Protestants and Indian Hindus across generations by Pyong Gap Min.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Las Vegas, Nevada, 19 August, 2011.
Klassen, Pamela E., and Courtney Bender. 2010. Introduction: Habits of Pluralism. In After pluralism: Reimagining religious engagement, ed. Courtney Bender and Pamela E. Klassen, 1–28. New York: Columbia University Press.
Kurien, Prema. 1998. Becoming American by becoming Hindu: Indian Americans take their place at the multi-cultural Table. In Gatherings in diaspora: Religious communities and the new immigration, ed. R.Stephen Warner and Judith G. Wittner, 37–70. Philadephia: Temple University Press.
Kurien, Prema. 2007. A place at the multicultural table: The development of an American Hindusm. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Mandaville, Peter. 2007. Transnational Muslim politics: Reimagining the umma. London: Routledge.
Mar Theodosius, Geevarghese. 2000. Eastern spirituality and identity of the Mar Thoma church. In The Mar Thoma church: Tradition and modernity, ed. P. Alexander, 94–103. Tiruvalla: Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church.
Mar Thoma Syrian Church. 2007. My Lord and my God: A documentary film on the faith journey of the Mar Thoma Syrian church. Delhi: Mar Thoma Syrian Church, Delhi Diocese.
Maurer, Susan A. 2010. The spirit of enthusiasm: A history of the Catholic Charismatic renewal, 1967–2000. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America.
Miller, Donald. 1997. Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the new millenium. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Miller, Donald. 1998. Postdenominational Christianity in the twenty-first century. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 558: 196–210.
Min, Pyong Gap. 2010. Preserving Ethnicity through Religion in America: Korean Protestants and Indian Hindus across Generations. New York: New York University Press.
Newfield, Christopher, and Avery F. Gordon. 1996. Multiculturalism’s unfinished business. In Mapping Multiculturalism, ed. A. Gordon and C. Newfield, 76–115. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Park, Jerry Z., and Elaine H. Ecklund. 2007. Negotiating continuity: Family and religious socialization for second-generation Asian Americans. Sociological Quarterly 48: 93–118.
Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and Pew Hispanic Center. 2007. Changing faiths: Latinos and the transformation of American religion. http://pewform.org/surveys/hispanic.
Portes, Alejandro, and Ruben G. Rumbaut. 2001. Legacies: The story of the immigrant second generation. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Portes, Alejandro, and Min Zhou. 1993. The new second generation: Segmented assimilation and its variants. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 530: 73–96.
Roof, Wade Clark. 1999. Spiritual marketplace: Baby boomers and the remaking of American religion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Roy, Oliver. 2004. Globalized Islam: The search for a new umma. New York: Columbia University Press.
Salih, Ruba. 2004. The backward and the new: National, transnational, and post-national Islam in Europe. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 30: 995–1011.
Sargeant, Kimon Howland. 2000. Seeker churches: Promoting traditional religion in a nontraditional way. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Schiller, Nina Glick, Ayşe Çağlar, and Thaddeus C. Guldbrandsen. 2006. Beyond the ethnic lens: Locality, globality, and born-again incorporation. American Ethnologist 33: 612–633.
Strauss, Anselm L. 1987. Qualitative analysis for social scientists. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Taylor, Charles. 2007. A secular age. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Varghese, Baby. 2004. West Syrian liturgical theology. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate.
Verghese, Paul. 1967. The joy of freedom: Eastern worship and modern man. London: Lutterworth.
Warner, Lloyd W., and Leo Scrole. 1945. The social systems of American ethnic groups. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Warner, Stephen R., and Judith Wittner (eds.). 1998. Gatherings in diaspora: Religious communities and the new immigration. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Waters, Mary C. 1999. Black identities: West Indian immigrant dreams and American realities. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Williams, Raymond Brady. 1996. Christian pluralism in the United States: The Indian immigrant experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wuthnow, Robert. 1988. The restructuring of American religion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Yang, Fenggang. 1999. ABC and XYZ: Religious, ethnic, and racial identities of the new second generation Chinese in Christian churches. Amerasia Journal 25: 89–114.
Yang, Fenggang, and Helen Rose Ebaugh. 2001. Transformations in new immigrant religions and their global implications. American Sociological Review 66: 269–288.
Yep, Jeanette, Peter Cha, Paul Tokunaga, Greg Jao, and Susan Cho Van Riesen. 1998. Following Jesus without dishonoring your parents. Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press.
About this article
Cite this article
Kurien, P. Decoupling Religion and Ethnicity: Second-Generation Indian American Christians. Qual Sociol 35, 447–468 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-012-9238-0
- Nondenominational evangelicalism
- Ethnic churches
- Immigrant integration
- Second-generation Americans