Prema Kurien

Professor and Chair, Sociology

Prema Kurien

Contact Information

317 Maxwell Hall
(315) 443-1152
Curriculum Vitae
Prema Kurien CV

Founding Director, Asian/Asian American Studies
Dr. Thomas Tam Visiting Professor (2014-2015), CUNY


Ph.D., Brown University, 1993


Immigrants and immigration, religion, ethnicity, immigrant politics, India







My recent research focuses on race and ethnic group relations, as well as the role of religion in shaping group formation and mobilization among contemporary ethnic groups. I bring the areas of race, religion, and social movements together by examining how religious institutions and organizations often provide the setting within which new ethnics confront the racialization they experience within the wider society and engage with their homelands. I also focus on the ways in religion becomes the axis around which such groups mobilize to challenge racial discrimination and to make claims regarding their “cultural citizenship.” I have received postdoctoral fellowships and grants from the National Science Foundation, The Woodrow Wilson International Center, the Carnegie Corporation, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Louisville Institute, and the New Ethnic and Immigrant Congregations Project. My work has been recognized with a Contribution to the Field award, two national book awards, and three national article awards. 

Contribution to the Field Award
2014, Asia and Asian America section, American Sociological Association.


Book Awards:

2003 Book Award, Asia and Asian American section, American Sociological Association Kaleidoscopic Ethnicity: International Migration and the Reconstruction of Community Identities in India, Rutgers University Press, 2002.   


2009 Honorable Mention, Sociology of Religion section, American Sociological Association
A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism. 2007.


Article Awards:
2005 Distinguished Article Award, Religion section, American Sociological Association
2005 Distinguished Article Award, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion “Multiculturalism and Ethnic Nationalism: The Development of an American Hinduism. ” Social Problems, 2004, Vol 51 (3): 362-385. 

2013 Research paper award, Asia and Asian American section, American Sociological Association “Decoupling Religion and Ethnicity: Second-Generation Indian American Christians.” Qualitative Sociology 2012, 35(4):447- 468.  

Research Projects



Prema Book

My third book, Ethnic Church meets Mega Church: Indian American Christianity in Motion was published recently (June 2017).

It examines how a new paradigm of ethnicity and religion is shaping contemporary immigrant religious institutions and the intergenerational transmission of religion. Classic assimilation theory was based on the assumption of individualistic adaptation, with immigrants and their children expected to shed their ethnic identities to become Americans. In the sphere of religion, however, they could maintain their communitarian traditions through American denominations. In contemporary society, multiculturalism, spiritual seeking, and postdenominationalism have reversed this paradigm. First- and second-generation immigrants integrate by remaining ethnic and group-identified, but religion is viewed as a personal quest. 

Drawing on multi-sited field research in the United States and India, including interviews and participant observation in the Mar Thoma Syrian Christian denomination belonging to an ancient South Indian community, it looks at the shifts in the understandings of its members regarding their ethnic and Christian identity as a result of their U.S. migration and the coming of age of the American-born generation. The widespread prevalence of mega churches and the dominance of American evangelicalism created an environment in which the traditional practices of the Mar Thoma church seemed alien to its American-born generation. Second-generation Mar Thoma Americans were caught between their criticisms of the “ethnic” character of the Mar Thoma church and its traditions, and their appreciation for the social support its warm community and familial relationships provided them as they were growing up. 

While showcasing these dynamics among the first and second generations in the United States, this book is also a case study of global religion. It examines how transnational processes shape religion in both the place of destination and the place of origin. Taking a long view, it examines how the forces of globalization, from the period of colonialism to contemporary large-scale outmigration, have brought about tremendous changes in Christian communities in the global South.

Book Manuscript in Progress

I am currently writing a book manuscript, “Race, Religion, and Citizenship: Indian American Political Advocacy.” It examines how first- and second-generation immigrants mobilize advocacy organizations around ethnic (Indian-American), pan-ethnic (South Asian American), religious (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian), and party-oriented identities (Democrat and Republican). My research shows how these diverse forms of mobilization can develop within one immigrant group, and how they interact with each other while advocating for their respective goals. It also reveals how race and religion interact in complex ways to shape the political integration of immigrants. 

Research in Progress

My work on the political incorporation of Indian Americans showed me that the way their ethnic advocacy organizations define grievances and develop strategies are profoundly shaped by the US context. This led me to research that examines how differences in political structures, policies regarding immigrant integration and religion, as well as migration patterns, shape immigrant political activism. I am working on a research project funded by the National Science Foundation, “The Incorporation of Religious Minorities in Canada and the United States” examining how the social, political, and religious contexts of Canada and the United States shape the political incorporation and mobilization of religious minorities from South Asia. This research also examines how different opportunity structures (both national and regional), and differences in the characteristics of the groups shape how they frame their grievances and mobilize, and whether the mobilization takes an “ethnic,” “racial,” or “religious” form.