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God Needs No Passport: Immigrants and the Changing American Religious Landscape.

God Needs No Passport: Immigrants and the Changing American Religious Landscape.

By Peggy Levitt. New York: New Press, 2007. Pp. xii, 270. US$26.95/17.99 [pounds sterling]/C$33.95.

"Immigrants," writes Peggy Levitt, "make up one-quarter of the American public along with their American-born children. They are not only transforming cities like Houston and Atlanta, they are remaking suburban and rural America as well" (p. 1).

Levitt has given us a thoughtprovoking, stimulating, and sensitive report of her sociological studies on the role of religion in U.S. immigration. She is an associate professor and chair of the department of sociology at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, and a research fellow at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard.

Based on a carefully constructed methodology of personal interviews of immigrants in the United States and on-site visits to their countries of origin in Pakistan (Muslims), India (Hindus), Ireland (Catholics), and Brazil (Protestants), Levitt observes, "Today's immigrants ... are remaking the religious landscape by introducing new faith traditions and Asianizing and Latinoizing old ones. By doing so, they are transforming what it means to be American" (pp. 1-2).

Levitt's main points might be summarized as follows. In terms of family, culture, economics, politics, and religious affiliation, today's immigrants demonstrate a sense of belonging that is simultaneously global and local, equally and continually part of both their country of origin and their country of destination. That is, "God needs no passport" (p. 2). Religious faith is not abandoned during immigration but rather is an integral (and, for some, essential) component of their self-understanding. Religious faith impacts the immigrant experience and is influenced by it.

In chapter 4 Levitt offers a series of classifications in order to organize the differing ways in which immigrants express their faith. The basis on which these groupings are created is somewhat unclear. Even so, this is a very important book for anyone interested in understanding the new horizons of religious affiliation in North America, particularly as that influences and is impacted by immigration. Levitt appropriately calls for a deeper and clearer understanding of the religious dimension of the immigrant experience, greater tolerance for religious plurality on the part of everyone (native-born and immigrant alike), and a deeper appreciation of the role and significance of religious faith in our understanding of the immigrant experience in the United States.

Charles Van Engen is the Arthur Glasser Professor of Biblical Theology of Mission in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. He served as a cross-cultural missionary in Mexico.
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Author:Van Engen, Charles
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2009
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