Helen Rose Ebaugh and Janet Saltzman Chafetz have assembled a valuable collection of research findings addressing the value of religion within and among immigrant populations in Houston, Texas. Although the topic of religion and immigration has been neglected by social researchers, previous studies have proven that religion is valuable to immigrants because it keeps them tied to tradition and helps them reproduce the culture of their homeland. Through the years, the immigrant population in the United States has become more racially and ethnically diverse. As a result, religious communities are developing and adapting to meet the religious needs of these people.
Recognizing that Houston has a large and diverse immigrant population about which little is known, Ebaugh (Professor of Sociology at the University of Houston) designed and implemented an ethnographic study to investigate the religious practices of "new immigrants" in the Houston area. With the help of a well-prepared research team composed of students (undergraduate through post-doctoral), Ebaugh launched the RENIR (Religion, Ethnicity, and New Immigrants Research) project with the goal of understanding how these "new immigrants" maintain and reproduce their ethnic identities through religion. The project identified 13 religious congregations within the Houston area that were ministering to immigrants. These congregations served as individual case studies, providing insight into the connection between religion, cultural preservation, and immigrant adaptation to American life. Special attention was also given to the role of women within each congregation. Chafetz (also a Professor of Sociology at the University of Houston) joined Ebaugh at the editorial stage of the project. Through their collaborative effort, the findings of the RENIR project have been compiled in this informative and thought-provoking work.
In Chapter 2, Nestor Rodriquez outlines the recent history of immigration into the Houston area. He identifies three waves of immigration centered around Hispanic and Asian populations. He explains that three factors have made Houston a unique city in immigration history. Specifically, Houstonís immigrant populations have grown rapidly in recent decades. Secondly, due to Houstonís close proximity to Mexico and Central America, a large proportion of immigrants have been Hispanic. Finally, unlike many other states, Texas has not placed harsh restrictions on immigration. This has allowed Houston to embrace free-enterprise and welcome immigrants into the city. In the early 1900s, Mexican immigrants and refugees began settling in Houston where they established Hispanic communities that resembled their homeland. It was not until the 1970s, however, that the number of Mexican immigrants became substantial. During this time period, Houston was appealing because of economic prosperity and the availability of jobs. As the political climate in Central America worsened during the 1980s, immigrants from these countries made their way to the United States, specifically Houston. From the mid-1970s through the 1990s, Asian immigration (specifically from China and Vietnam) accelerated rapidly. Like the Hispanic immigrants, these diverse Asian cultures have established their own ethnic communities in the Houston area. It is easy to see from Rodriguezís historical analysis, that Houston is the home to a large percentage of "new immigrants" and that the Houston landscape has been changed by these culturally diverse populations.
One example of the case studies in the book is the chapter by Thuan Huynh, a statistical analyst. The Center for Vietnamese Buddhism is relatively new to the Houston area. Although there are other Buddhist temples in Houston, none were conveniently located for the growing Vietnamese settlement in the southwestern area of the city. By 1989, plans for a temple in this area were underway. Today, the Center for Vietnamese Buddhism is well-developed, designed to resemble the Buddhist temples in Vietnam and to create a "total Vietnamese cultural experience." Since attendance at temple is not mandatory under the Buddhist faith, membership at the Center is hard to track. Most of the members interviewed for this study had lived in Central or South Vietnam, had limited education, had migrated to America during the last three decades (1970s Ė90s), are middle or working class, and live in close proximity to the temple.
Even though many of the Vietnamese immigrants do not attend The Center for Vietnamese Buddhism regularly, the Buddhist religion is still a valuable part of their identity. The Center has been established as an outlet for the preservation of this culture. Specifically, it is a place of worship where Vietnamese immigrants can come to pray, mourn their dead, and learn about the homeland they left behind. At the Center, subtle changes have been made in the Buddhist religion. It is believed that the religion has to adapt to American culture in order to appeal to the immigrant population who is struggling to be American without losing its Vietnamese identity. Unlike traditional temples, the Center offers special youth and adult classes where Vietnamese are taught the Buddhist doctrine and customs and learn about the homeland that many do not know. In essence, membership at the Center helps immigrants maintain their cultural identity by exposing them to Vietnamese customs and traditions, religious doctrine, their native language, and traditional food.
Fenggang Yang, at the time a post-doctoral fellow in sociology and an immigrant from mainland China, served as the site director for the research team studying the Hsi-Nan Chinese Temple (HNT), another of the thirteen case studies in the book. This Buddhist temple opened in southwest Houston near Chinatown in 1990, replacing an older Buddhist congregation inconveniently located downtown. Although preserving much of the tradition and ritual of Chinese Buddhism, the HNT has attempted to modernize and Americanize the Buddhist religion. Specifically, religious services are conducted as sermons, the congregation sings hymns to piano music, the main temple has been equipped with pews rather than traditional cushions, and modern technology is used in the daily operation of the temple. Furthermore, HNT is organized according to the congregational model and elicits "memberships" from the Chinese community in Houston. Women are recognized as equals within the congregation and given leadership roles within the temple. Although the temple is an immigrant congregation, composed primarily of recent migrants from Taiwan, its focus is not on immigrant adaptation to life in America. Instead, it serves as an ethnic community of informal support. HNTís main focus is on adapting to and coexisting with American culture.
In the last section of the book various thematic issues are discussed. The data collected on each of the thirteen congregations is now categorized into theoretical components and presented in a logical manner. Through topical discussions and well-compiled data, the congregations are compared and contrasted. Most importantly, sound conclusions are drawn about the patterns that emerged within the research. Finally, predictions are made concerning what factors will have the greatest impact on the future success of the immigrant congregations. Overall, these last seven chapters are the sociological heart of the book and make it a must read for anyone interested in the sociology of religion or immigrant population studies.
In closing, the researchers predict that the greatest influence on these congregations in the future will be the numbers of immigrants from particular ethnicities that move into the Houston area. The congregations will be dependent on adding new members of like ethnicity to ensure their growth and success. Also, the majority and minority status of immigrant congregations will have a strong influence. Majority congregations will become very dependent on participation from the second generation, whereas minority congregations have the ability to assimilate into American culture and are attractive to non-immigrants as an alternative to Judeo-Christian faiths. In essence, adaptation and evolution appear to be the resounding themes for the future success of immigrant congregations in Houston.