The Social Functions and Dysfunctions of Brazilian Immigrant Congregations in “terra incognita

  • Rodrigo Serrao
  • James Cavendish
Research Note


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.


Adaptation 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.


  1. Alba, Richard, Albert J. Raboteau, and Josh DeWind. 2009. Introduction: Comparisons of Migrants and Their Religions, Past and Present. In Immigration and Religion in America Comparative and Historical Perspectives, ed. R. Alba, A.J. Raboteau, and J. DeWind, 1–24. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Alves, José Claudio Souza. 2009. Immigrant Regime of Production: The State, Political Mobilization, and Religious and Business Networks Among Brazilian in South Florida. In A Place to Be: Brazilian, Guatemalan, and Mexican Immigrants in Florida’s New Destinations, ed. P.J. Williams, T.J. Steigenga, and M. Vasquez, 128–148. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Alves, José Claudio Souza, and Lúcia Ribeiro. 2002. Migração, Religião E Transnacionalismo: O Caso Dos Brasileiros No Sul da Flórida. Religião e Sociedade 22(2): 65–90.Google Scholar
  4. Aranda, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth Vaquera. 2015. Racism, the Immigration Enforcement Regime, and the Implications for Racial Inequality in the Lives of Undocumented Young Adults. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 1(1): 88–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bankston, Carl L., and Min Zhou. 1995. Religious Participation, Ethnic Identification, and Adaptation of Vietnamese Adolescents in an Immigrant Community. The Sociological Quarterly 36(3): 523–534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bergad, Laird W. 2010. Brazilians in the United States 1980—2007. New York: Center for Latin American, Caribbean & Latino Studies at CUNY. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  7. Beserra, Bernadete. 2005. Brasileiros Nos Estados Unidos: Hollywood E Outros Sonhos. Fortaleza/São Paulo/Santa Cruz: UFC/UNISC/HUCITEC.Google Scholar
  8. Cadge, Wendy, and Elaine Howard Ecklund. 2007. Immigration and Religion. Annual Review of Sociology 33(1): 359–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Castles, Stephen. 2013. The Forces Driving Global Migration. Journal of Intercultural Studies 34(2): 122–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chong, Kelly H. 1998. What It Means to Be Christian: The Role of Religion in the Construction of Ethnic Identity and Boundary Among Second-Generation Korean Americans. Sociology of Religion 59(3): 259–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Connor, Phillip. 2014. Immigrant Faith: Patterns of Immigrant Religion in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. New York: New York University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. De Mola, Patricia Fortuny Loret, Lúcia Ribeiro, and Mirian Solís Lizama. 2009. Brazilian and Mexican Women: Interacting with God in Florida. In A Place to Be: Brazilian, Guatemalan, and Mexican immigrants in Florida, ed. P.J. Williams, T.J. Steigenga, and M. Vasquez, 190–208. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Ebaugh, Helen Rose, and Janet Saltzman Chafetz. 2000. Dilemmas of Language in Immigrant Congregations: The Tie That Binds or the Tower of Babel? Review of Religious Research 41(4): 432–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Emerson, Michael O. 2006. People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Foley, Michael W., and Dean R. Hoge. 2007. Religion and the New Immigrants: How Faith Communities Form Our Newest Citizens. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Foner, Nancy, and Richard Alba. 2008. Immigrant Religion in the U.S. and Western Europe: Bridge or Barrier to Inclusion? International Migration Review 42(2): 360–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Freston, Paul. 2008. The Religious Field Among Brazilians in the United States. In Becoming Brazuca: Brazilian Immigration to the United States, ed. C. Jouët-Pastré, and L.J. Braga, 255–268. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Fusco, Wilson. 2000. Redes Sociais na Migração Internacional: O Caso de Governador Valadares. Ph.D. Dissertation, Universidade Estadual de Campinas - Unicamp, Campinas, SP.Google Scholar
  19. Grammich, Clifford, Kirk Hadaway, Richard Houseal, Dale E. Jones, Alexei Krindatch, Richie Stanley, and Richard H. Taylor. 2012. 2010 U.S. Religious Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study. Lenexa: Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.Google Scholar
  20. Groisman, Alberto. 2013. Transcultural Keys: Humor, Creativity and Other Relational Artifacts in the Transportation of a Brazilian Ayahuasca Religion to the Netherlands. In The Diaspora of Brazilian Religions, ed. C. Rocha, and M.A. Vasquez, 363–86. Leiden: BRILL.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hirschman, Charles. 2004. The Role of Religion in the Origins and Adaptation of Immigrant Groups in the United States. International Migration Review 38(3): 1206–1233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Joseph, Tiffany. 2013. Latino, Hispanic, or Brazilian: Considerations for Brazilian Immigrants’ Racial Classification in the U.S. In Migrant Marginality: A Transnational Perspective, ed. P. Kretsedemas, J. Capetillo-Ponce, and G. Jacobs, 275–292. Routledge Press: New York.Google Scholar
  23. Levitt, Peggy. 2003. ‘You Know, Abraham was Really the First Immigrant’: Religion and Transnational Migration. The International Migration Review 37(3): 847–873.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Levitt, Peggy. 2007. God Needs No Passport: Immigrants and the Changing American Religious Landscape. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  25. Levitt, Peggy. 2009. Roots and Routes: Understanding the Lives of the Second Generation Transnationally. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 35(7): 1225–1242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Maher, Garret. 2011. Transnational Religions: The Brazilians in Ireland. Irish Migration Studies in Latin America 7(4). Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  27. Marcus, Alan P. 2011. Experiencing Ethnic Economies: Brazilian Immigrants and Returnees. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies 9(1): 57–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mareels, Elisabeth. 2015. The Church as a ‘neighbourhood’ for Brazilian Pentecostals in Brussels. In 33rd Conference of the International Society for Sociology of Religion, At UCL, Louvain-la-Neuve. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  29. Margolis, Maxine L. 2005. Brazilians in the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, and Paraguay. In Encyclopedia of Diasporas: Immigrant and Refugee Cultures Around the World, ed. M. Ember, C.R. Ember, and I. Skoggard, 602–615. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Margolis, Maxine L. 2009. An Invisible Minority: Brazilians in New York City Revised and Expanded Edition. Rev. and Expanded Ed. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.Google Scholar
  31. Margolis, Maxine L. 2013. Goodbye Brazil: Émigrés from the Land of Soccer and Samba. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  32. Marrow, Helen. 2003. To Be or Not to Be (Hispanic or Latino): Brazilian Racial and Ethnic Identity in the United States. Ethinicities 3(4): 427–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Martes, Ana Cristina Braga. 1999. Os Imigrantes Brasileiros e as Igrejas Em Massachusetts. In Cenas do Brasil Migrante, ed. R.R. Reis, and T. Sales, 87–122. São Paulo: Boitempo editorial.Google Scholar
  34. Menjívar, Cecilia. 2003. Religion and Immigration in Comparative Perspective: Catholic and Evangelical Salvadorans in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Phoenix. Sociology of Religion 64(1): 21–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Menjívar, Cecilia. 2006. Introduction Public Religion and Immigration Across National Contexts. American Behavioral Scientist 49(11): 1447–1454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Min, Pyong Gap. 1992. The Structure and Social Functions of Korean Immigrant Churches in the United States. The International Migration Review 26(4): 1370–1394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mora, G.Cristina. 2013. Religion and the Organizational Context of Immigrant Civic Engagement: Mexican Catholicism in the USA. Ethnic and Racial Studies 36(11): 1647–1665.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. MRE. 2016. Estimativas Populacionais Das Comunidades Brasileiras No Mundo—2015. Ministerio das Relações Exteriores.Google Scholar
  39. Mullins, Mark. 1987. The Life-Cycle of Ethnic Churches in Sociological Perspective. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 14(4): 321–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Portes, Alejandro, Patricia Fernandez-Kelly, and William Haller. 2009. The Adaptation of the Immigrant Second Generation in America: A Theoretical Overview and Recent Evidence. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 35(7): 1077–1104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Portes, Alejandro, and Ruben G. Rumbaut. 2006. Immigrant America: A Portrait. 3rd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  42. Portes, Alejandro, and Min Zhou. 1993. The New Second Generation: Segmented Assimilation and Its Variants. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 530: 74–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Ribeiro, Lucia. 2007. Religious Experiences Among Brazilian Migrants. REMHU—Revista Interdisciplinar da Mobilidade Humana 28: 71–85.Google Scholar
  44. Ribeiro, Lucia, and Manuel Vasquez. 2012. A Congregação Multicultural E a Migração Brasileira Para Os Estados Unidos. Revista Eclesiástica Brasileira 72(285): 76–100.Google Scholar
  45. Rocha, Cristina. 2009. A Globalização do Espiritismo: Fluxos do Movimento Religioso de João de Deus Entre a Austrália E O Brasil. Revista de Antropologia 52(2): 571–603.Google Scholar
  46. Rocha, Cristina. 2011. Establishing the John of God Movement in Australia: Healing, Hybridity and Cultural Appropriation. Ethnologies 33(1): 143–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rocha, Cristina. 2013a. Building a Transnational Spiritual Community: The John of God Movement in Australia. In The Diaspora of Brazilian Religions, ed. C. Rocha and M. A. Vasquez, pp. 291–311. Leiden: BRILL.Google Scholar
  48. Rocha, Cristina. 2013b. Transnational Pentecostal Connections: An Australian Megachurch and a Brazilian Church in Australia. PentecoStudies 12(1): 62–82.Google Scholar
  49. Rocha, Cristina and Manuel Vasquez (eds.). 2013. The Diaspora of Brazilian Religions. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  50. Rocha, Cristina. 2017. John of God: The Globalization of Brazilian Faith Healing. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rodrigues, Donizete. 2012. The Brazilianization of New York City: Brazilian Immigrants and Evangelical Churches in a Pluralized Urban Landscape. In Ecologies of Faith in New York City: The Evolution of Religious Institutions, ed. R. Cimino, N.A. Mian, and W. Huang, 120–141. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Saraiva, Clara. 2010. Afro-Brazilian Religions in Portugal: Bruxos, Priests and Pais De Santo. Etnográfica 14(2): 265–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Saraiva, Clara. 2013. Pretos Velhos Across the Atlantic: Afro-Brazilian Religions in Portugal. In The Diaspora of Brazilian Religions, ed. C. Rocha and M. A. Vasquez, pp. 197–222. Leiden: BRILL.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sheringham, Olivia. 2013. Brazilian Churches in London: Transnationalism of the Middle. In The Diaspora of Brazilian Religions, ed. C. Rocha, and M. Vasquez, 69–70. Leiden: Brill.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Siqueira, Sueli. 2009. Mobilidade Social: Análise Comparativa do Retorno de Brasileiros dos EUA e de Portugal. Revista Migrações 5: 135–154.Google Scholar
  56. Thomas, David R. 2006. A General Inductive Approach for Analyzing Qualitative Evaluation Data. American Journal of Evaluation 27(2): 237–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Vasquez, Manuel. 2009. Beyond Homo Anomicus Interpersonal Networks, Space, and Religion among Brazilians in Broward County. In A place to be: Brazilian, Guatemalan, and Mexican immigrants in Florida’s new destinations, ed. P.J. Williams, T.J. Steigenga, and M. Vasquez, 33–56. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Vasquez, Manuel and José Claudio Souza, Alves. 2013. The valley of Dawn in Atlanta, Georgia: Negotiating Incorporation and Gender Identity in the Diaspora. In The Diaspora of Brazilian Religions, ed. C. Rocha and M.A. Vasquez, pp. 313–337. Leiden: BRILL.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Vasquez, Manuel A., and Lúcia Ribeiro. 2007. ‘A Igreja É Como a Casa da Minha Mãe’: Religião e Espaço Vivido Entre Brasileiros no Condado De Broward. Ciencias Sociales Y Religión/Ciências Sociais e Religião 9(9): 13–29.Google Scholar
  60. Vasquez, Manuel A., and Cristina Rocha. 2013. Introduction: Brazil in the New Global Cartography of Religion. In The Diaspora of Brazilian Religions, ed. C. Rocha, and M. Vasquez, 1–42. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  61. Warner, R.Stephen and Judith G. Wittner (eds.). 1998. Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Communities and the New Immigration. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Williams, Philip J., Manuel Vasquez, and Timothy J. Steigenga. 2009. Introduction: Understanding Transnationalism, Collective Mobilization, and Lived Religion in New Immigrant Destinations. In A place to be: Brazilian, Guatemalan, and Mexican immigrants in Florida’s new destinations, ed. P.J. Williams, T.J. Steigenga, and M. Vasquez, 1–29. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Yang, Fenggang. 1999. ABC and XYZ: Religious, Ethnic and Racial Identities of the Second Generation Chinese in Christian Churches. Amerasia Journal 25(1): 89–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Zhou, Min, and Carl Bankston. 1998. Growing Up American. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Religious Research Association, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA

Personalised recommendations