my work to date has focused on immigrant agency – in the ways in which
immigrants and their children try to reshape their environments, as individuals
and as groups, rather than merely adapting to it. My recent research examines the ways in which
immigrants get civically and politically engaged around community concerns. I
focus particularly on how race, religion, and group differences interact with
the socio-political structures and cultures of the North American context to impact
patterns of activism and advocacy. 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, three national book
awards, and three national article awards.
Contribution to the
2014, Asia and Asian
America section, American Sociological Association.
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
2009 Honorable Mention, Sociology of
Religion section, American Sociological Association
A Place at the
Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism. Rutgers University Press, 2007.
2018 Book Award on Asian America, Asia
and Asian America section, American Sociological Association. Ethnic
Church Meets Megachurch: Indian American Christianity in Motion 2017. New
York University Press.
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.
My third book, Ethnic Church meets Mega Church: Indian American Christianity in Motion was published in 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, Caste, Religion, and Citizenship: Indian American Political Advocacy.” It focuses on Indian American advocacy organizations and the activists who work to make American society, policy makers, and politicians more hospitable to the needs of people of Indian background. In addition to organizations mobilizing around an Indian American identity there are also a range of other organizations that are based on very different understandings of ethnicity and identity, each with distinct goals. There are South Asian American organizations, organizations for Indian Americans of Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Christian, and Dalit backgrounds, organizations representing Indian American Democrats and Republicans, and even organizations representing combinations of these such as the Republican Hindu Coalition. My book makes clear why these identities matter, since they shape the objectives and strategies of Indian American advocacy groups in fundamentally different ways. It examines how race, caste, and religion lead to disparities in the experiences and perspectives of Indian American sub-groups in the United States and in India. These factors interact with structures, cultures, and established political norms of the United States to give rise to the varied political mobilization patterns of Indian American groups. The book examines the dialectical process through which immigrants mobilize within the structures and cultures of the society they have immigrated to, but also work to transform it to accommodate their unique needs. Finally, it shows the relative roles played by domestic and international influences on the political mobilization of immigrant groups in the United States.
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.