Fending for Oneself by Connecting with Others: Francophone African Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians in Washington, DC
Degree awarded: Ph.D. Anthropology. American University
Most of the research done on new immigrant religion has concentrated on religious structures, the systematized relationships between people and between groups within which religious practices are embedded. While this work is important, it has tended not to foreground religious meaning, the ideas that people hold about the world that include concerns about non-empirical forces and that make their experiences logical and understandable. In this dissertation, I address this limitation by taking a holistic approach to studying immigrant religious participation. I address both structure and meaning, domains that can be conceptually separated but in practice are integrated. This dissertation looks at religious structure and meaning through a qualitative study of a Catholic congregation made up of French-speaking Africans and Haitians in Washington, DC conducted from 2003-2007. My primary methods were participant-observation and interviews. Congregation participants created a community with significance for them. People adjusted to some of the expectations of their new context while also bringing to bear continuities such as a familiar mode of interpersonal interaction, ideas about Catholicism, and French language. These immigrants organized religiously by negotiating space for themselves within the Catholic Church, and they created and used social capital in various ways. Through their organizing, they created voice in the Church hierarchy and increased participants' access to practical resources. By looking at religious meaning, I also discovered that participants brought in Pentecostal-Charismatic Catholic specialists from around the world to guide them in understanding their experiences and to heal them spiritually. By emphasizing African causes and the maintenance of participants' connections to the people of Africa--through family ties, practical support of organizations, and prayer--the congregation valorized people who were devalued in the broader social setting. I argue that through their participation in Pentecostal-Charismatic Catholicism, immigrants took up and acted on their desire to change their limited positioning in the wider opportunity structure.
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