This article examines how religion, including new religious movements as well as older options in new contexts, combines with ethnic and community attachments in shaping the identity of Guatemalan economic migrants in southern California. While the literature on transnationalism tends to view religion and ethnicity as different though sometimes overlapping means by which migrants seek incorporation into new social and political contexts, the ethnographic evidence presented here suggests more complicated dynamics. These are reflected in the experiences of three migrants from a single indigenous community in Guatemala, each with different backgrounds of faith and ethnic identity: a nominal Catholic in his early 20s who is sympathetic to Mesoamerican shamanism though ambivalent about Maya ethnic identity; a middle-aged Pentecostal Christian who is ambivalent about religious practice and belief in the United States and rejects the Maya ethnic label; and a convert to Mormonism in his 30s who has attenuated his ties to his home community while adopting a broader Maya ethnic identity. To interpret these experiences, I develop an analytical framework which draws upon some of Thomas Csordas’ ideas about religion in globalization but stresses a renewed attention to community as a persistent, if ambivalent and perhaps inherently conflictive, site for identity formation, especially in the context of migration.
- economic migration
- religious pluralism
- southern California
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