The Social Functions and Dysfunctions of Brazilian Immigrant Congregations in “terra incognita”
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Ethnic congregations are often considered safe havens for immigrants. This is supported by a large body of literature showing that many religious congregations in diasporic contexts help immigrants maintain their ethnic group identity and cohesion, build social capital, and adapt more smoothly to life in an unfamiliar society. The role of ethnic congregations in the lives of immigrants is, however, complex and multifaceted, and some recent research suggests that, in some ways, these congregations may inhibit their adaptation to the larger society and arouse tensions among the very immigrant communities they intend to help. In light of these varying observations, we seek to explore the functions—and potential dysfunctions—that ethnic congregations have among Brazilians who have immigrated to central Texas. Using data drawn in 2013 from participant observation and 16 in-depth interviews conducted in two Brazilian evangelical congregations, we find that respondents perceive that their congregations strengthen their feelings of attachment to Brazilian culture and language and foster the development of social capital within to the Brazilian immigrant community. At the same time, however, some respondents acknowledge that church members can become overly dependent on their congregations and isolated from the larger society, leaving them susceptible to potential exploitation at the hands of more established co-ethnics within the congregation.
KeywordsAdaptation Brazil Congregation Cultural refuge Immigration Social networks
The authors would like to thank Maggie Kusenbach, Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, and the three anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript.
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