Korean American Evangelicals: New Models for Civic Life

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Elaine Howard Ecklund

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Scholarly and popular commentators lament the deterioration of civil society as a result of American individualism, a decline in some part based on eroding religious participation. In this context, it is important to ask how second-generation immigrants use religious resources to understand, participate in, and potentially change American religion. Scholars stress that religion was vital for the civic integration of earlier European immigrants. However, studies of religion among our nation's newest immigrants largely focus on how religion serves the immigrant community -- for example by creating job networks and helping retain ethnic identity in the second generation. In this book Ecklund widens the inquiry to look at how Korean Americans use religion to negotiate civic responsibility, as well as to create racial and ethnic identity. She compares the views and activities of second generation Korean Americans in two different congregational settings, one ethnically Korean and the other multi-ethnic. Surprisingly, she finds that the Korean churches de-emphasize ethnicity. They look like other evangelical congregations and are concerned about evangelizing in the context of providing social services. Multiethnic churches, in contrast, use evangelical Christianity to legitimate a political and social justice consciousness that values ethnic diversity and and individualized understanding of faith in the context of a conservative Christianity. Korean Americans in both kinds of churches are deeply concerned about helping those in their local community, including non-Koreans and non-Christians. In multiethnic churches, however, Korean Americans also develop an awareness of local politics and a concern with social justice for other ethnic and racial minorities. Ecklund's work is based on ethnographic data from two congregations in one impoverished, primarily non-white city on the east coast, which provided the opportunity to compare how members of each practiced community service in the same urban context. She also conducted more than 100 in-depth interviews with Korean American members of these and seven other churches around the country, and draws extensively on the secondary literature on immigrant religion, American civic life, and Korean American religion. Her book is a unique contribution to the literature on religion, race, and ethnicity and on immigration and civic life.


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