Religion: The Social Context

Resources for Students and Teachers


Searching Scholarly Literature -- An Exercise

Immigrant Congregations in the U.S. and Canada

STEP ONE: Background and Bibliographic Orientation

  1. Be sure to have read Chapters 2 and 3 of Religion: The Social Context.

  2. Sign up to do a bibliographic search of recent (i.e., last 3-5 years) scholarly research on one of the selected immigrant groups. Contact others who are doing a search on related ethno-religious groups, so you can collaborate and coordinate your search efforts; ideally, you should have little or no overlap in bibliographic sources within your group. Try to capture the cultural diversity of broad groupings, and be careful not to over-generalize about religions, countries, regions and peoples.

  3. Attend the bibliographic orientation session at the Library; this session is tailored to this class and this particular assignment. The orientation will help you identify the two or three best database indexes for searching for this exact topic. You will save a lot of time and come away with a much better list of sources if you focus your time and energies only on selected database indexes.

STEP TWO: Assign (or Let Students Choose) from Among the Following Groups

  1. South Asian-Americans (e.g., from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka)
    • Hindus
    • Muslims
    • Sikhs
    • Christians (n.b.: there are many different kinds, eg., Orthodox [Syrian rite], Catholic [Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara and Latin rites])
  2. Mid-Eastern-, North African- or Arab-Americans (e.g., from Iran, the Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Egypt, Somalia)
    • Jews (diverse denominations)
    • Muslims (Sunni, Shi’ite); try to find information on diverse North African peoples
    • Christians (diverse denominations, rites [e.g., Coptic, Maronite])
    • Bahai
  3. Mexican-Americans (also called Latinos, Hispanics); NB: some (e.g., Mayan ethnic group) may not be Spanish-speaking; NB: many Latinos are not immigrants, but were already living in territories that the U.S. acquired during its years of expansion
    • Catholic Christians
    • Pentecostal Christians/ Evangelical Christians (some are pentecostal; some not)
    • Other Protestant Christians (e.g., Baptists, Presbyterians, etc.)
    • Indigenous religions (i.e., "Native American" religions from Mexican-American sources) and non-official religious practices (e.g., folk saints, curanderismo, espiritismo)
  4. Caribbean-American (e.g., Haitian, Cuban, Dominican, West Indian, Puerto Rican) – also called Latinos, Hispanics in the U.S.
    • Christians (Catholic, Protestant/ Pentecostal/ Adventists)
    • Vodou
    • Rastafari
    • Santería
  5. Southeast Asian- Americans (e.g., from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia)
    • Buddhists
    • Christians (mostly Catholic)
    • Indigenous religions (e.g., Hmong tribal religious practices)
    • Muslims
  6. East Asian-Americans (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Korean)
    • Christians (Protestant and Catholic)
    • Buddhist
    • New Religions from East Asia

[For a larger class, divide out North African from Middle-eastern-American; add Sub-Saharan African-American; Latin-American (other than Mexican-American)]

STEP THREE: Bibliographic Search

  1. Identify 3 very good, recent articles in scholarly journals or chapters in scholarly books. Some topics will have many articles to choose from, while others are discussed separately in only a few articles, so you may have to use articles that cover the topic more broadly. Hint: some articles cover immigrants from a whole region (e.g., South Asia) rather than just one country in the region (e.g., India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, etc.). Another hint: search under names of religious minorities particular to a region (e.g., Coptic Christians from Egypt). Articles on U.S. immigrants are ideal for our class discussion purposes, but sources on the same groups in the Canadian context are also acceptable.

  2. Using information available in the data bases/ indexes, evaluate the 3 most promising articles as to how useful it might be for a sociological understanding of this interesting new development in American religion. If you can find an abstract of the article, that will be an especially useful basis for evaluation.

Criteria for Evaluation:

  • How likely is an article in that journal to be written from a sociological perspective?
  • How can you evaluate the credibility of the author?
  • What can you predict about the amount/ quality of empirical evidence?
  • How can you evaluate whether the periodical has any biases?
  • How do you know that these are the most recent articles published on the topic?

This part should constitute at least half 
of your written assignment – about one page.

STEP FOUR: Read and Frame Questions for Further Study

  1. Read one of the articles – preferably the one that looks most promising – in its entirety. Tell a little about the group and what the author’s interpretations suggest is interesting about them.

  2. Based on the information in that article, frame at least 5 interesting questions about "your" group. If you were launching a term paper research project on this group, what more would you want to learn about these congregations? What ideas did this article give you about how to interpret the special qualities of religion in immigrant congregations?

This part of your paper should constitute the second half of your written assignment – about one page.