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Migration, religion and work in comparative perspective. Evangelical ‘ethnic churches’ in Southern Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MIGRANTCHRISTIANITY (Migration, religion and work in comparative perspective. Evangelical ‘ethnic churches’ in Southern Europe)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-08-31

MIGRANTCHRISTIANITY investigated how Evangelical migrant men and women from Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America make use of a minority religion in negotiating their social and economic integration in Europe. The research tackled two broad questions: 1) the role of religion in migrants’ integration or marginalisation; and 2) how migration is reconfiguring European societies through the production of new understandings of Christianity, more specifically in Catholic countries, where Protestantism is eager to access public recognition. I investigated how migrants develop strategies of integration through their participation in native mainline Protestant churches, and how such strategies are shaped by ethnicity, class, gender and age. I also looked at how native historical Protestant churches act as ‘brokers’ of integration, with reference to a wider social positioning of the migrant as a ‘minority Christian’. The project contributed to our understanding of the role of religion in migrants’ integration or marginalisation and of how migration is reconfiguring the Italian and Spanish societies through the production of new understandings of Christianity: the migration-driven expansion of Evangelicalism in Europe challenges the Catholic majority religion as well as dominant views of migrant religion as Islam only.

The MIGRANTCHRISTIANITY project thus involved theoretical and empirical research to produce new knowledge both at the academic and policy level, and engaged different publics, including churches, faith and inter-faith organisations and local, national and EU level authorities in the field of integration and religious pluralism. In terms of its potential impact on European policy objectives, the project contributed to informing policies on migrants’ integration, more specifically on the positive role which religious institutions can play in the process but also pointing to its limitations.
The MIGRANTCHRISTIANITY project involved comparative qualitative fieldwork (life histories, semi-structured interviews, observations, and documentary data).

The main findings of the MIGRANTCHRISTIANITY project are summarised below:

• international migration questions dominant understandings and practices of Protestantism, and more broadly, Christianity, in Europe, pushing historical native churches to come to terms with Eurocentric/racialising implicit assumptions underpinning their material and symbolic organisation;
• religious participation is empowering in different ways: migrant believers use religion and religious networks to negotiate settlement in immigration contexts and to resist racialisation; but they also engage in transnational religious (as well as socio-economic and political) practices and networks; migrants do not simply reproduce identities and practices from their churches in the home countries, but renegotiate them, forging new meanings and experiences of Protestantism in the immigration context or in the diaspora;
• age/generation significantly shapes church participation among migrants and their attitude vis-à-vis their inclusion into established native churches;
• Protestant migrants use religion to negotiate the transnational families they live in and the challenges which these raise in terms of gender norms and of changing practices and understandings of femininity/masculinity, motherhood/fatherhood;
• Ecuadorian and Ghanaian migrants’ have distinctive experiences of religion influenced by their specific socio-economic conditions. While the latter are more established, the former tend to have an unstable migration status and precarious jobs ; further, Ghanaians are the target of stronger and more overt discrimination while Ecuadorians are perceived as ‘culturally closer’ to Europeans;
• in Italy and Spain, the mainline Protestant communities are challenged by the spectacular expansion of the Evangelical and Pentecostal ‘reverse mission’ coming from the Global South. As the native membership is shrinking, immigration provides an opportunity for membership growth. However the relationships between the native mainline Protestant leaderships and migrant believers are fraught with suspicion and fear that the migrants’ ‘unorthodox’ rituals (for instance, Evangelical/Pentecostal practices such as healing practices and speaking in tongues) might undermine the public legitimacy of a minority faith such as Italian/Spanish Protestantism. In addition to expressing specific needs in terms of liturgy, the migrant believers hold theological positions which often differ from those of mainline Italian/Spanish Protestants.

The MIGRANTCHRISTIANITY project achieved a series of training objectives:

• the fellow expanded her expertise to a new field of study - religion;
• she developed her skills in outreach communication;
• she consolidated her management skills;
• she acquired new language skills (Spanish), which she used for the purpose of fieldwork and desk-based research.
• she further developed her skills in writing large funding applications

The MIGRANTCHRISTIANITY project’s findings were disseminated through a total of 23 outputs targeting both academic and non-academic users.
The MIGRANTCHRISTIANITY project was innovative in relation to several aspects:

• it produced new knowledge on Christian migrants, who are still largely ‘invisible’ in scholarly and public debates on migration and religion in Europe; these Christian racialised Others provide a mirror in which the dominant European narrative on secularisation and Eurocentric/androcentric definitions of Christianity can be examined;
• it contributed to developing a field which is under-researched in Europe and dominated by US scholarship; the research engaged with US debates on ‘multicultural/ethnic churches’;
• it provided insight into the significance of religion in other social spheres beyond institutionalised religious spaces such as work relations;
• it produced knowledge on the understudied relationship between migration, religion and gender.

The societal impact of the project relates to the challenges encountered by historical native churches in accommodating migrant members in their congregations. Today, European Protestant churches and faith organisations are actively engaged in exchanging ‘best practices’ and debating how native churches can integrate migrant believers of different origins, accommodating their spiritual needs and their diverse liturgical and theological expectations. The project showed how, in some cases, the issue of sexuality was highly controversial in the Protestant communities, dividing native and migrant members but also different native churches. While the issue of homosexuality has emerged in recent heated debates in the Protestant communities of both countries, the Christians-Muslims encounter is more rarely tackled. This is a potentially divisive issue for the congregations because of the widespread fears around the integration of Muslims in European societies, which increasingly affect church-goers; further, some migrant members of the congregations express fear or even, in some cases, hostility towards Islam. Hostility or fear of Islam among Christian migrants are mainly linked to the emphasis which migrant Protestants, unlike their native fellow church members, put on evangelism and converting the other migrants and the natives.
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