International Migration and Religious Interventions in Nation-Building Debates

AHA Session 193
Saturday, January 4, 2014: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Columbia Hall 10 (Washington Hilton)
Donna R. Gabaccia, University of Toronto Scarborough
Thomas A. Kselman, University of Notre Dame

Session Abstract

Historically, international migrations have frequently brought together foreigners and natives of different religious beliefs, complicating integration, assimilation and nation-building in countries with large immigrant populations. Missionaries have often taken part in these movements, advocating for migrants while living abroad and returning home with new ideas about how sending societies should be structured.  This panel presents three case studies from Italian, American, and German nation-building debates in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to explore the intersection of transnational religious beliefs and migration in an era of protracted debate over the composition of the nation. In Italy, an Italian bishop intervened in the sharp division between the state and the Catholic Church, encouraging emigrants' national attachment to Italy as a means of bolstering their connection to Catholicism.  Early twentieth-century Catholic social reformers in the United States advocated for amendments to restrictive immigration laws which would promote family reunification and citizenship for immigrants rather than surveillance and restriction.  Catholic reformers wanted to speed immigrants' assimilation into the nation so they could participate in what these reformers envisioned as a nation grounded in strong families and participatory citizenship.  In Germany, Protestant missionaries returned from Africa and, based on their experiences there, resisted German Protestants' embrace of eugenics in their poor relief work with German migrants.  This panel examines religious actors' roles in debates involving nation-building and migration to reflect on the complex intertwining of religion and the nation-state.  Viewing this relationship in the context of international migration is particularly revealing because religious actors acted on their own understandings of belonging that were often more expansive than those of secular nation-builders.  At the same time, these religious actors were also deeply invested in the strength and cohesion of the nation-state.

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