Cecilia Menjívar, University of Arizona
Summary: In this paper I seek to examine the place of religious institutions in the lives of Salvadoran immigrants, particularly how these immigrants view their links with and participation in the church in light of the conditions in which they live. Religious rituals infuse with transcendental meaning important events in the immigrants’ lives, but religious institutions also respond in practical terms to the immigrants’ needs and afflictions. This observation is not exceptional in the cases I present in this piece, however, relative to the importance of religion in the immigrants’ lives, contemporary immigration scholars have not focused enough on this aspect of current immigration flows. Immigrants’ religious participation was a major theme in sociological studies of turn-of-the-century immigration. Scholars’ interest in the role of religion in immigrants’ experiences stemmed in part from the prominent place that the church occupied in the lives of immigrants, as religious congregations developed an intricate welfare system to serve the needs of Italian, Irish, and Jewish newcomers. Stephenson (1932) observes that the Lutheran church constituted the fundamental institutional nucleus around which Swedish immigrants structured their lives. But the massive migration of Catholics, Jews, and German Lutherans also increased the sociological relevance of religious identity itself (Warner, 1993: 1058).