Assimilation and Acculturation in the United States

There is not much difference between the words assimilation and acculturation. In some works, readers will find these terms used as synonyms. The trend has generally been that sociologists favor the term “assimilation” while anthropologists tend to use “acculturation.”  Although these words are often used interchangeably, in order to help show the different connotations that these words imply, individual definitions are needed.

In Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and Contemporary Immigration, Richard Alba and Victor Nee define the term “assimilation” as the “decline of an ethnic distinction and itscollorary cultural and social differences.”[1] While in Immigrants and Cultural adaptation in the American Workplace: A Study of Muslim Employees, Khalid M. Alkhazraji defines the term “acculturation” as “a multidimensional process resulting from intergroup contact in which individuals whose primary learning has been in one culture take over characteristic ways of living from another culture.”[2]  While there has been and still is much discussion of the many ways to conceptualize and differentiate between these two terms, they are used as organizing concepts in the study of immigrant adaptation.

…current research on immigrant adaptation to the host society focuses on the assimilation processes and centers on topics such as the disputed relationship between cultural assimilation and economic success, (Reitz and Sklar 1997; Zhou 1997; Kim and Naughton 1993), the varying impact of assimilation on the academic and personal outcomes of second-generation youth, (Zhou and Bankston 1997; Glick and White 2003; Portes and Rumbaut 2001; Kao and Thompson 2003), and the role of labor market competition in the maintenance of ethnic boundaries and the prevention of assimilation (Sanders 2002; Sanders et al. 2002; Logan et al. 2003).[3]

However, in more recent studies, scholars and researchers have put a greater emphasis on another dimension that immigrants face in a new society which is how do their religious beliefs affect the way they adapt to a host country?

In the 1960s, scholars Will Herberg and Milton M. Gordon discussed how religion effects the way immigrants adapt to living in the overarching American culture. Herberg claimed that while immigrants might preserve their native religion, they would inevitably detach from their native languages and cultural identities.[4] While Gordon argued that immigrants are able to retain their national identities, he still agreed with Herberg that, “American society has come to be composed of a number of ‘pots,’ or subsocieties, three of which are the religious containers marked Protestant, Catholic or Jew, which are in the process of melting down the white nationality background communities contained within them.”[5]

Conversely, in more recent years, scholars such as R. Stephen Warner in his 1998 book titled Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Communities and the New Immigration as well as in Jacqueline Maria Hagan’s and H.R Ebaugh’s in 2003 article in the International Migration Review titled “Calling Upon the Sacred: Migrants’ Use of Religion in the Migration Process,” claim that immigrant religious organizations help new citizens assimilate while also preserving their connection to their ethnic culture. Furthermore, these scholars feel that the immigrants who stay involved with the religious organizations that represent the faith from their homeland are able to better maintain their ethnic culture while in a new culture.

Chritine Sheikh pointed out in her dissertation proposal for the University of Arizona in Tucson titled “The Effect of Religiosity on Ethnic Identity Among Second-Generation MuslimAmericans,”  that in 1999, Fenggang Yang, Professor of Sociology and Director of Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, argued that, “In the process of attaining American identity and retaining ethnic identity, religion may play an important role because religion itself is a powerful source of personal identity, and because particular religions are often closely associated with particular ethnic and American identities.”[7]

Although many scholars and researchers have attempted to address the role of religion on the immigrant adaption experience, this topic is still highly under examined. As Sheikh states,

there remains a gap in the literature examining the relationship between religious participation and immigrant ethnic identity retention: no extant research systematically compares ethnic identity and assimilation patterns among religious and non-religious immigrants. This is a particularly glaring gap when it comes to research in the second generation, since Ebaugh and Chafetz (2000)[8] note that, in all of the field studies discussed in their book, second-generation youth are conspicuously absent from religious settings. Understanding religion’s influence on ethnic identity and assimilation among second-generation immigrants clearly requires comparing religious and non-religious people, which is a central component of the proposed research.

 

[1]Richard Alba and Victor Nee, Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and Contemporary Immigration, (Harvard University Press, 2003), 11.

[2] Khalid M. Alkhazraji, Immigrants and Cultural adaptation in the American Workplace: A Study of Muslim Employees (New York, NY: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1997), 9.

[3]Christine Sheikh, “The Effect of Religiosity on Ethnic Identity Among Second-Generation Muslim Americans,” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal Convention Center, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Aug 10, 2006<Not Available>. 2009-05-25 <http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p105222_index.html&gt;

[4]Will Herberg, Protestant–Catholic–Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology, (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1960), 27-31.

[5] Ibid, 130.

[6] Christine Sheikh, “The Effect of Religiosity on Ethnic Identity Among Second-Generation Muslim Americans,” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal Convention Center, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Aug 10, 2006<Not Available>. 2009-05-25 <http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p105222_index.html&gt;

[7]Fenggang Yang, Chinese Christians in America: Conversion, Assimilation, and Adhesive Identities, (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 17-18.

[8]Helen Rose Ebaughand Janet Saltzman Chafetz, Structural Adaptations in Immigrant Congregations, Sociology of Religion (2000) 61 (2): 135-153.

doi: 10.2307/3712282

Advertisements
Comments
3 Responses to “Assimilation and Acculturation in the United States”
Trackbacks
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Assimilation and Acculturation in the United States […]

  2. […] Assimilation and Acculturation in the United States […]

  3. […] Assimilation and Acculturation in the United States […]



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: