How Religious Narratives and Rituals Function in Constructing the Experience of Immigrants Within the Context of a Haitian Baptist Church in South Florida
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This dissertation examines how religious narratives and rituals function in constructing the experience of immigrants within the context of a Haitian Baptist church in South Florida. The church and its contexts are described. Then, an overview of relevant literature provides the foundation for the theory that is outlined below. The search for a descriptive model of the fluid and complex nature of the social processes involved in intersubjective experience led to the development of a new conceptual tool based upon the analogy of sound-mixing. Conceptual and practical components of this religious context that express, shape, and perpetuate personal and group subjectivity are analyzed. Data were gathered through a survey, interviews, and participant observation. This study provides a multifaceted approach to analyzing immigrant experience based upon a constellation of issues. Attention was given to continued influence of homeland memories and ties, as well as the practical needs of daily life and negotiation of constraints in the host country context that necessarily drive much of the appropriation of resources. The church as a mediating institution and moral arbiter are aspects also considered. This dissertation yields clarity on several issues; most notably, the important role that religious discourse plays in immigrant subjectivity and practice. Charles H. Long has defined religion as “orientation in the ultimate sense, that is, how one comes to terms with the ultimate significance of one’s place in the world.”¹ While there are multiple factors at work in the perpetual process of self-understanding, theologically orienting activities prove to be key for many participants in this congregation under consideration. Religious narratives and rituals provide master narratives to interpret and relativize competing narratives. These narratives and attendant practices have acted upon these subjects to one degree or another throughout their lives, shaping their lifeways in multiple ways in everything from sexual practice and gender relations to prayer methods and casual greetings. Formed by the social environments in which they were born, immigrants engage with new environments and all the attendant material concerns and competing ideological frameworks. Through congregational involvement they are emplotted within their larger social contexts in ways that provide transcendent theological meanings. These meanings give a sense of greater purpose and ultimate hope beyond the current, observable, and often challenging contingencies of life. They also lead to particular concrete actions, that is, ways of living. Ongoing participation in congregational life transforms the experience of immigration into an experience of divine providence, blessing, and mission. Within that frame, all sorts of morally charged practices are implicated. This highlights the importance of participation, or lack thereof, in religious social groups where theological discourse offers a way of making sense of the disparate elements of immigrant experience. From this congregational case study, our understandings of the complex processes involving relations between religious practice and immigrant experience are increased.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Literature review -- Theory and method -- Analysis -- Conclusions -- Appendix: Survey Questionnaire: The Church and the Haitian Immigrant Experience
Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)