UC Riverside Launches Institute for the Study of Immigrant Religions

The new research center will celebrate with a public program on June 1.

Ritual in Sikh gurdwara

Sikh gurdwaras are among the research interests of the UCR Institute for the Study of Immigrant Religions.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Millions of immigrants representing every major world religion call Southern California home. The diversity of religious practice and the role of these spiritual communities in the acculturation of immigrants into American life prompted the establishment of the Institute for the Study of Immigrant Religions at the University of California, Riverside this year.

UCR will celebrate the launch of the institute on June 1 with a presentation from the South Asian American Digital Archive, a not-for-profit organization based in Philadelphia, and a panel discussion, “Immigrant Religions in California.” The program begins at 2 p.m. in the Alumni and Visitors Center, 3701 Canyon Crest Drive. It is free and open to the public. Parking costs $6.

Samip Mallick, director of the South Asian American Digital Archive, will discuss the work of the archive in preserving primary historical materials that document the history of South Asian American communities in the United States.

Panelists in the discussion that follows are: Gastón Espinosa, associate professor of religious studies, U.S. Latino religions and politics at Claremont McKenna College; Jane Iwamura, visiting scholar of Asian American religions at UCLA; Mallick; Amanda Huffer, assistant professor of religious studies at UC Riverside; and Jennifer Scheper Hughes, assistant professor of religious studies at UCR.

Huffer, Hughes and Michael Alexander, associate professor of religious studies at UCR, are co-directors of the Institute for the Study of Immigrant Religions.

Santo Nino Atocha procession in Santa Paula

The Santo Niño Atocha procession in Santa Paula is popular with immigrants from Hispanic cultures.

They said the creation of the institute emerged from their students’ recognition of the diversity of immigrant and religious groups at UC Riverside, which is the most diverse of the University of California’s 10 campuses and the sixth-most-diverse university in the nation. One in four California residents in 2010 was born outside the United States.

“There is so much opportunity in the greater Los Angeles area for the study of religion and immigrants,” Huffer said. “Our location puts us in a unique place for ethnographic research.”

According to a March 2012 report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, “Faith on the Move,” the U.S. is the No. 1 destination for Christian migrants, who make up about three-fourths of the foreign-born people living in the country; is the No. 1 destination for Buddhist migrants; the No. 2 destination for Hindu and Jewish migrants; and the No. 7 destination for Muslim migrants.

“We looked at the faces of our students, many of them first-generation college students,” Alexander added. “Their families had stories to tell that weren’t being told.”

Supported by a grant from the UCR Chancellor’s Office and housed in the UCR Center for Ideas and Society, graduate students associated with the center began in January to gather oral histories and other documentation of communities of Iranian Jews, Latino Catholics, Latino Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and Indonesian Sufi Muslims as well as Hindu and Buddhist temple rituals, gurdwaras and gurus. Over time the institute also will expand upon methods and theories for studying urban religious communities in the U.S.

“We want to understand the struggles and successes of different immigrant communities as they work to make a home in California,” Hughes said. “We hope the archive we are building will be a resource not only for scholars of American religion but for immigrant communities themselves.”

The Center for Ideas and Society, UCR’s humanities research center, “is thrilled to be housing this significant research institute and project,” said Georgia Warnke, director of the center. “We look forward to the important work it will do.”

Institute research — and subsequent projects — will appear on a website and archive that will be accessible to scholars and the public. Researchers also will study how immigrants adapt to a culture where religion plays a role in public identity and how religious practices of immigrant religious groups have changed over time.

The focus is on immigrants and their children who were born here, Alexander said.

“When it comes to the religious practices of these groups, there has been no grand overview of generational relationships between their new life here and their religious practices,” he said. “Is religion helpful in identity formation and stabilization in immigrant communities? Is it significant in the process of citizen-making or incorporation into American life? Do immigrants find stability in a new community by gravitating to the old community’s religious practices? We are collecting data and asking questions.”

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-7847
E-mail: bettye.miller@ucr.edu
Twitter: bettyemiller

Additional Contacts

Michael Alexander
Tel: (951) 827-3744
E-mail: michael.alexander@ucr.edu

Amanda Huffer
Tel: (951) 827-2137
E-mail: amanda.huffer@ucr.edu

Jennifer Scheper Hughes
Tel: (951) 827-2538
E-mail: jennifer.hughes@ucr.edu

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