The Religion & Culture Web Forum
Religious Identities of Latin American Immigrants in Chicago:
Preliminary Findings from Field Research
By Andrea Althoff
Senior Fellow, Martin Marty Center
In the June edition of the Web Forum, Andrea Althoff shares results of her field research among Latino immigrant congregations in Chicago. Incorporating demographics, observation, and interviews, she considers what impact religious affiliation has on immigrant integration into U.S. society, a largely unstudied subject. What she has discovered is a link between two significant contemporary phenomena, Latin American immigration to the U.S. and the explosive worldwide growth in Pentecostalism. That link centers on conversion:
Latino Pentecostalism shares many characteristics with Christian faith traditions in the United States. Therefore Latin American immigrants, especially Protestant Pentecostals, revitalize the religious landscape in the U.S. in a very different way than European immigrants did before. One of the differences has to do with the religious-historical relationship between Latin America and North America … After the spread [of Pentecostalism] from the United States into Latin America and other parts of the globe, the former missionary organizations and denominations mostly developed into autonomous, southern, indigenous institutions…However, I argue that the general spiritual, doctrinal, and theological content [including an emphasis on conversion] to a large extent remained the same …
Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad points to one cultural common denominator of Latino Pentecostalism and North American culture. In the introduction of the volume Religion and Immigration: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Experiences in the United States, she states that “… individualism is probably the single most important aspect of American religious culture.” She contrasts American individualism with the “more communal orientation of the traditional societies from which many immigrants come.” From this perspective, it seems that Pentecostal congregations fill a central gap. They create continuity for the worshippers that is important for personal and collective identity, while at the same time providing a norm and value system similar to the host society.