Review of Religious Research

, Volume 60, Issue 2, pp 183–198 | Cite as

Decomposing Immigrants’ Religious Mobility: Structural Shifts and Inter-religion Exchanges Among Chinese Overseas Students

  • X. Yousef Yang
  • Anning Hu
  • Fenggang Yang
Original Paper


The religious mobility of immigrants has rarely received a systematic investigation that separates the two mutually exclusive mechanisms: the structural shift that occurs due to an overall environment favorable to certain religions, and the exchange effect that occurs when people voluntarily flow between any pair of two religions. Chinese overseas students constitute the largest foreign student body in the US whose religious mobility pattern remains unexplored and may differ significantly from other types of immigrants in earlier generations, especially regarding the assumed growth of Christianity and changes within other religions and non-religions. Applying quasi-symmetry log-linear model to the pre- and post-immigration religious identifications in a new sample of Chinese oversea students collected from the Midwest in 2016 (n = 916), this study shows that (1) Abrahamic religions including Christianity and Islam have the biggest structural advantage; (2) Eastern religions including Buddhism, Chinese folk religions, and generic polytheism have suffered from structural disadvantages; (3) religious nones (i.e. atheists and agnostics) have remained relatively stable with little structural variation; (4) net of the structural effects, there is a higher level of mutual exchange of members between Buddhism and polytheism, between atheism and agnostic, and between Christianity and atheism.


Conversion Religious identification Log linear modeling Chinese overseas students Immigration 



Funding was provided by John Templeton Foundation (Grant No. 56480).


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Copyright information

© Religious Research Association, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political Science and SociologyMurray State UniversityMurrayUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyFudan UniversityShanghaiChina
  3. 3.Department of SociologyPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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