To Be or Not To Be…Christian: Explaining Chinese Immigrant Elders’ Christian Participation in the U.S.
KeywordsChinese religious and cultural tradition
Mainland Chinese elders
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AbstractIn recent years, growing numbers of Mainland Chinese elders are participating in Christian congregations during short visits or extended stays in the U.S. This thesis explores social and cultural factors that explain these immigrant elders’ involvement with Christianity while in the U.S. Based on face-to-face interviews with 20 Mainland Chinese elders living in Atlanta as well as participant observation at a Chinese Christian church and with a Bible study group, this study finds that loneliness and social isolation in a foreign land are the main reasons for Mainland Chinese elders’ participation in Christian activities. Besides religious services, social service functions of churches and opportunities for fellowship are other factors explaining church involvement. Long immersion with China’s religious history of syncretism renders these elders receptive to spiritual alternatives, such as Christianity, especially when dominant ideologies of Confucianism and Communism seem to be in decline in China. But most elders approach their Christian involvement with pragmatic selectivity based more on secular than religious considerations. In conclusion, I argue that social isolation and minority ethnic status, Chinese Christian Churches’ social functions, and current social contexts in China are all factors that help explain Chinese elders’ religious involvement in the U.S.