Kurien book explores ethnicity, religion, and the megachurch movement

Prema_KurienPrema Kurien’s latest book — Ethnic Church Meets Megachurch: Indian American Christianity in Motion (published this month by New York University Press) — examines the intersection of religion, ethnicity, and the megachurch movement, and illuminates how the confluence of these elements is shaping one contemporary immigrant religious institution in Indian American Christianity. Drawing from a wellspring of original multi-sited research sources in the U.S. and India, Kurien illustrates how transnational processes, facilitated by globalization, are transforming religious organizations and the lives of its members, both in immigrant communities in the U.S. and in their place of origin.

In the book, Kurien shows how the dominance of American evangelicalism, coupled with the prevalence of megachurches, formed a setting where traditional religious customs of the South Indian Mar Thoma denomination became alien to its American-born generation — thereby compelling many of its young adult members to leave in favor of attending evangelical megachurches. Using in-depth methods, Kurien’s analysis explores the challenges church members encounter when trying to incorporate contemporary American evangelical traditions into their worship practice — including the adoption of evangelical worship services, and an emphasis placed on individualistic faith. These adaptations often come at the expense of maintaining ethnic character, and result in the loss of traditional religiously-based support systems for many young Indian American Christians. Overall, Kurien’s book demonstrates how globalization, from the period of colonialism to contemporary out-migration, has resulted in profound changes among Christian communities in the Global South. 

Prema Kurien is a professor of sociology at the Maxwell School, and is the founding director of the Asian/American Studies program at Syracuse University. In 2003, her book Kaleidoscopic Ethnicity won the Asia and Asian American section book award from the American Sociological Association (ASA). In 2009, her book A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism received honorable mention for the book award from the Sociology of Religion section of the ASA. Much of her work focuses on the role race, ethnicity, and religion play in shaping group formation and mobilization among contemporary cultural and ethnic groups.