Fostering Community Among African Migrant Christians in Massachusetts

Fostering Community Among African Migrant Christians in Massachusetts

Louise Beryl



This article examines how social relationships and the feeling of “community” are fostered among African migrant Christians. It draws on data generated from participant observation, direct observation, and semi-structured interviews as part of a larger ethnographic study of families predominantly from the African Great Lakes Region who attend two born-again churches located northeast of Boston. Departing from classic assimilation theories of immigrants in the U.S. (e.g., Gordon 1964; Park 1930; Portes and Zhou 1993; Warner and Srole 1945), I contend that psycho-social well-being of immigrants is an integral part of integration. Moreover, religion as an institution and as a system of meaning (Alba et al. 2008) serves to promote that well-being, particularly for the African diaspora, which is a smaller, heterogeneous immigrant group in the U.S. who often have strong religious affiliations. In order to understand this better, I present the characteristics and practices through which intimacy is cultivated (Bielo 2009) to engender the feeling of community and build bonding and bridging social relationships (Dryden-Peterson 2009) among a more or less heterogeneous group of African migrants. Particularly in the case of bridging social ties, I show how certain distinguishing characteristics that suggest difference are minimized (e.g. country of origin, ethnicity, maternal language, and/or immigrant status), whereas others that suggest similarity (e.g., “African” and “believer”) are maximized. This study demonstrates that religion is crucial in the study of immigration, an intersection that was once an important area of scholarly interest (e.g., Herberg 1955) and has only recently reemerged (Alba et al. 2008).

Key Words: African Diaspora, Immigration, Religion, Community, Identity

Download Full Text – Beryl 2013


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