If the world’s 258 million international migrants were counted as one nation, they would constitute the fifth most populous country on the globe. This may seem surprising, but few people think about how the movement of this many people impacts not only their home and destination countries, but their own beliefs and understandings of the world.
Religion is one of the ways in which people answer the big questions in life: Who are we? Where, ultimately, do we come from? Where are we going now and after we die? What is real and how do we know? How should I understand the situation in which I find myself? What are our goals and how can we achieve them? The way people answer these questions structures their way of life and how they present themselves in the world. We are interested in how people's answers shape and reshape their way of life as they migrate, settle in a new context, and interact with others. What ideas and practices do they bring with them and what do they leave behind?
Through migration, as people who have different views and ways of life encounter one another, individuals' deeply-held beliefs can result in conflict. In multicultural societies where political stability and safety exist, the migration of minority religious traditions can have positive outcomes for both the minority and majority. In these cases, unfamiliar beliefs and practices can be integrated into new communities where everyone coexists. And, perhaps most interesting, sometimes new practices and hybrid belief systems are created in the process.
Migration is often viewed from a political or economic perspective, but religious studies allows us to consider how beliefs and practices move and change as people do. Scholars of Catholicism can look at the impact of the establishment of missions in the now-American West in the seventeenth century. Islamic studies scholars may look to the refugees fleeing to Europe to examine how attributes of their religion are changing in response to the fears of those they encounter in their new home. Religious studies scholars can also think about how universals, such as death, are changing in places where migrations bring in new beliefs and practices.
To start, we will consider the larger questions that arise from thinking about migration and religious studies. The Human Mind and Migration project will explore this relationship, drawing from the work of scholars in a wide range of subfields, the history of the migration of religious groups around the world, and, most important, the experience of migrants today. Our study will include the realms of the political and economic systems but will focus on how the beliefs and practices of migrant populations move and change with them. This begins with the circumstances of their leaving their homeland as well as the experiences of meeting a new, often different, culture than the one they left behind. As we learn more about the patterns of migration for people with different ways of life, we can begin to trace out what the future may look like as distinct worldviews must be acknowledged and reconciled.
Due to the wide range of traditions and groups that can be explored, our research questions will continue to grow and shift as the project develops. However, the larger goal is to see the relationship between migration and the beliefs and practices that shape their way of life as these types of questions indicate:
What does it mean to view “religion” as integral to people’s worldviews and ways of life?
What beliefs and practices become most salient when people migrate? What do they carry with them, what do they leave behind, and what do they adopt?
What taken-for-granted beliefs and practices become salient for the host communities in response to the presence of migrants? How do they shape their response?
What big questions surface for migrants and those they encounter? How do they respond?
About the Department of Religious Studies at UCSB
The Department of Religious Studies is nationally and internationally recognized as one of the world’s leading centers for the analytic study of religion. We are consistently ranked among the top five religious studies departments in the United States and are renowned for our cross-cultural comparative and multidisciplinary approach to the study of religions. The department offers training in the religious dimensions of the human experience in diverse cultures and traditions around the world and through the course of history. We embrace both humanistic and scientific approaches to the study of religions and emphasize the importance of advanced study of relevant languages. Our faculty members employ a diverse array of methods in their research and draw from a broad range of theoretical perspectives. Indeed, a rigorous multidisciplinary and analytic approach to the study of religions, often involving comparative perspectives across traditions, has been one of the enduring hallmarks of UCSB’s Department of Religious Studies since its founding more than fifty years ago, in contrast with our peer institutions whose programs have been founded on a seminary model rooted in ministry.