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What It Means to Be Christian: The Role of Religion in the Construction of Ethnic Identity and Boundary among Second-Generation Korean Americans

Kelly H. Chong
Sociology of Religion
Vol. 59, No. 3 (Autumn, 1998), pp. 259-286
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3711911
Page Count: 28
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What It Means to Be Christian: The Role of Religion in the Construction of Ethnic Identity and Boundary among Second-Generation Korean Americans
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Abstract

Despite a rich body of literature on the role of ethnic religion in immigrant communities, there has been relatively little attention paid to the role and impact of ethnic religion on the second generation. This is due partly to the earlier dominance of the assimilationist paradigm, which, based mostly on the experiences of the "old" turn-of-the-century European immigrant groups, tended to postulate a second-generation rejection of religion and ethnicity. Drawing on an ethnographic study of Korean-American Christians in Chicago, this study seeks to reexamine the role of ethnic religion for the second generation in the context of a contemporary non-white ethnic group. Contrary to earlier views, findings from Korean-American church-goers suggest that when an ethnic group is faced with a strong sense of social marginalization believed to arise from its racial status, the ethnic church can play a dominant role in the group's quest for identity and sense of belonging. This paper shows the ways in which the Korean ethnic church, more specifically the evangelical Protestant church, plays a role in the construction and maintenance of second-generation Korean ethnic identity and boundary. Serving as a primary site of the cultural reproduction of the second generation, the Korean ethnic church supports the development of the group's defensive and often highly exclusive ethnic identity in two key ways; first, through a general institutional transmission of Korean culture and second, by the way a set of core traditional Korean values are legitimized and sacralized through their identification with conservative Christian morality and worldview. In demonstrating how ethnic religion can remain highly salient for the second generation under certain situational contexts, this study illuminates the need to rethink the previous views regarding ethnic religion and the second generation, as well as the nature of second-generation ethnicity.

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