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Ethnic Church meets Mega Church: Indian American Christianity in Motion

Prema Kurien

New York University Press, December 2017

Ethnic Church meets Mega Church: Indian American Christianity in Motion

Prema 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. 

From the Publisher

This book traces the religious adaptation of members of an important Indian Christian church– the Mar Thoma denomination – as they make their way in the United States. It exposes how a new paradigm of ethnicity and religion, and the megachurch phenomenon, is shaping contemporary immigrant religious institutions, specifically Indian American Christianity.

Prema Kurien, professor of sociology, draws on multi-site research in the U.S. and India to provide a global perspective on religion by demonstrating the variety of ways that transnational processes affect religious organizations and the lives of members, both in the place of destination and of origin. The widespread prevalence of megachurches and the dominance of American evangelicalism created an environment in which the traditional practices of the ancient South Indian Mar Thoma denomination seemed alien to its American-born generation. Many of the young adults left to attend evangelical megachurches.

Kurien examines the pressures church members face to incorporate contemporary American evangelical worship styles into their practice, including an emphasis on an individualistic faith, and praise and worship services, often at the expense of maintaining the ethnic character and support system of their religious community. Kurien’s sophisticated analysis also demonstrates how the forces of globalization, from the period of colonialism to contemporary out-migration, have brought about tremendous changes among Christian communities in the Global South. Wide in scope, this book is a must read for an audience interested in the study of global religions and cultures.