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Accepted paper:

No Longer "Stuck": Mobility, Faith and Belonging among Evangelical Migrants in the U.S.

Author:

Johanna Richlin (University of Oregon)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how undocumented migrants in the United States derived hopefulness and enacted potentiality through Evangelical faith. Drawn from fieldwork conducted among Brazilian migrants living in Washington D.C., I consider how Evangelical identity and belonging mitigated migrant distress.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores how undocumented migrants in the United States derived hopefulness and enacted potentiality through Evangelical faith. Drawn from extensive fieldwork conducted among Brazilian migrants living in Greater Washington D.C., I consider how Evangelical identity and forms of belonging mitigated migrant distress, and enabled migrants to imagine lives beyond suffering, constraint, and marginalization. The paper progresses in two parts. First, I discuss one of the most common expressions of constraint migrants articulated—that of "feeling stuck," articulated in English for emphasis. Alluding to exploitative work, family separation, and living undocumented in the U.S., migrants expressed feeling immobile and paralyzed. This corporeal sensation reflected the "stuckness" of their status as undocumented persons. The second part of the paper describes how evangelical faith and belonging dramatically transformed this experience by imbuing migrants with an individual and collective feeling of "potentiality," the ability to impact their environment by partnering with God. In theorizing the "potentiality" and "mobility" inherent in migrant evangelical practice, I invoke Cheryl Mattingly's concept of "radical hope," in which the chronically ill engage in "creating...lives worth living even in the midst of suffering, even with no happy ending in sight" (2010:6). Viewing themselves as partnered with God, and embedded in a dense brotherhood of Christ, migrants no longer "felt stuck," but rather in control of their circumstances. Beyond a simple feeling, their novel religious orientation enabled them to better challenge, and move, increasingly punitive anti-migrant policies and rhetoric in the United States.

panel P181
Religion, (im)mobilities and citizenship in the face of populism