New religiosity in migration

International workshop on “New religiosity in migration”
Convenors: Nelly Elias and Julia Lerner
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel May 27-30, 2013

What are the relations between a spiritual quest and an intercultural migration experience? Why immigrants become more religious than they were before immigrating? How do host national contexts influence immigrant religiosity? What are the patterns
of immigrant religiosity within the global boom of religion and spiritual movements? Based on these questions we suggest bringing together the research insights on immigrant religiosity emerging in the host cultural contexts and to examine new forms, languages and meanings constituted by this intercultural religious transformation.

The workshop will be organized as an exchange of ideas rising in empirical investigations of various migration contexts and immigrant groups in Israel, Europe, US and the post-Soviet space with a special focus on postsocialist spiritual trends and religious trajectories in the Russian-speaking diaspora. We believe that juxtaposition and comparison of different manifestations of migrant religiosity will encourage new ways of conceptualization of these phenomenon.

As a space of extensive migration, Israeli cultural and political context introduces a variety of immigrant groups that bring with them different religious and spiritual worldviews or reinvent them in their new country. In this sense Israel serves as a strategic location for a workshop on immigrant religiosity. Apart from intellectual discussions we invite the participants to take advantage of the immediate surrounding and conduct fieldwork tours to the spaces of immigrant religiosity in the area.

We invite scholars from social and cultural studies of migration, contemporary religion, spirituality & new age, and post-socialist cultural condition to join our working colloquium organized according to the following themes:

Religiosity as a device of national belonging and citizenship

Religion provides symbols, rituals and scripts that immigrants can use to affirm, pass on, or reinvent their collective identity and position themselves vis-à-vis the host and the home countries. Therefore, religion choices could teach us on migrants’ relocation strategies. In some national contexts the religious practices represent imitative adoption of the local cultural and political patterns, while in the other contexts they represent an alternative or resistance to the host society and its way of life.

Immigrant religion as acquisition of a new habitus

Any migration implies some degree of cultural change, all the more adopting religious rules and prescriptions of everyday practice in migration intensifies the need for adopting a new habitus. Adult migrants work to change their everyday practice, body appearance and visibility, consumption behavior, social network, patterns of interpersonal communication and family relations. Using their new and old cultural repertoire, immigrants develop everyday strategies to keep and maneuver the cultural worlds they live in, separate or mix them together.

Therapeutic powers of religion in migration

Migration and settling down in a new country are often associated with various individual and group “crises”: crisis of identify, psychological stress, family crisis etc. In this regard, religious affiliation and practice perform a therapeutic function when religious doctrine and religious community serve as an emotional shelter in the state of instability, as a surrogate family symbolically replacing distant relatives, or as a source for a new collective meaning instead of the one that was lost in migration. The proximity of psychological and religious discourses in the contemporary religious and spiritual movements makes the therapeutic appeal of religion in migration especially powerful and evident.

Immigrant religiosity as intercultural translation

Immigrant religiosity often involves work of intercultural interpretation, converting the code of the core religious ideas and symbols. As they acquire religious thinking and practice in a new language, immigrants learn simultaneously to speak locally and religiously. Reinventing their beliefs in a new context they are preoccupied with the translation of cultural ideas creating a hybrid religious code. This eclecticism becomes intertwined with the tendency of the contemporary religious and spiritual rhetoric to bring together discourses of different and even contradictory cultural origins.

Transnational immigrant religiosity and new media

Religious life in and through new media represents a crucial factor that affects the ways of belief and practice of contemporary religiosity. It is especially prominent for immigrant religious communities that cross and challenge national and cultural borders. Immigrants use new media platforms either to reestablish their affiliation with religious communities of their home countries or to create completely new local or transnational frames of belonging.

Those who wish to take part are invited to send us a short proposal (up to 250 words) of your research related to one of the workshop themes as well as your CV by October 5, 2012 to and Answers are expected at November 15, 2012. Some contribution towards participants’ expenses will be available.

About the workshop venue and the convenors:

The workshop is will be hosted by the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Beer Sheva, Israel). BGU is known for its expertise and extensive research on the issues of contemporary religion, migration and diaspora.

Prof. Nelly Elias and Dr. Julia Lerner are conducting a joint research on “Belief and Practice of Belonging: Religious Transformation of Post-Soviet Immigrants in Israel”. The study traces the routes of the Russianspeaking religiosity in Israel, focusing on the newly established Christian and Jewish movements and communities. Elias as a scholar of immigrant media (from the Department of Communication, BGU) and Lerner as an anthropologist of knowledge (from the departments of Sociology and Anthropology, BGU), bring together their theoretical lens and emphasize the cultural and discursive turn of the new post-soviet religiosity manifested in immigrants’ narratives and experience of everyday life.