Getting Saved in America

Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience

Carolyn Chen
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Getting Saved in America
    Book Description:

    What does becoming American have to do with becoming religious? Many immigrants become more religious after coming to the United States. Taiwanese are no different. Like many Asian immigrants to the United States, Taiwanese frequently convert to Christianity after immigrating. But Americanization is more than simply a process of Christianization. Most Taiwanese American Buddhists also say they converted only after arriving in the United States even though Buddhism is a part of Taiwan's dominant religion. By examining the experiences of Christian and Buddhist Taiwanese Americans,Getting Saved in Americatells "a story of how people become religious by becoming American, and how people become American by becoming religious."

    Carolyn Chen argues that many Taiwanese immigrants deal with the challenges of becoming American by becoming religious. Based on in-depth interviews with Taiwanese American Christians and Buddhists, and extensive ethnographic fieldwork at a Taiwanese Buddhist temple and a Taiwanese Christian church in Southern California,Getting Saved in Americais the first book to compare how two religions influence the experiences of one immigrant group. By showing how religion transforms many immigrants into Americans, it sheds new light on the question of how immigrants become American.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2417-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Becoming Religious by Becoming American
    (pp. 1-15)

    This book tells a story of how people become religious by becoming American. The idea for this study developed several years ago during a conversation that I had in Taipei, Taiwan with a lively middle-aged woman named Mrs. Chou.¹ Seeing that I was from the United States, she asked me a question about her neighbor, Mr. Ting, who had immigrated with his family to the United States five years ago, but returned to Taiwan for prolonged visits. After immigrating to the United States, Mr. Ting converted to evangelical Christianity, much to the chagrin of his extended family. With much animation,...

  6. 1 From Beautiful Island (Ilha Formosa) to Beautiful Country (America: Bi-kuo/Mei-guo) TAIWANESE IMMIGRATION AND RELIGION IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
    (pp. 16-37)

    On April 24, 1999, over two thousand eager Taiwanese Americans gathered at Pasadena City College in Southern California to support one of Taiwan’s presidential candidates, Chen Shui-Ben.¹ Recognizing the importance of overseas Taiwanese financial and electoral support to his campaign,² Chen visited Southern California—home of the largest Taiwanese community in the United States. After the performance of several church choirs singing traditional Taiwanese folk songs, and speeches by several local leaders extolling his virtues, an excited and hoarse Chen arrived on stage. The crowd went wild, chanting “Ah-biah,” his nickname in Taiwanese, for ten minutes before he could begin...

    (pp. 38-76)

    When Mr. Hou told his mother in Taiwan that he was getting baptized as a Christian she cried for six months. Understandably his mother would be upset. By becoming Christian, her son was not only breaking with family tradition, he was also disrespecting his parents and family ancestors. As a Protestant Christian, he would notbai bai(worship), or participate in rituals of ancestral veneration after his parents died.¹ As the son, it is Mr. Hou’s filial duty to ensure that the spirits of the ancestors are well cared for through the offerings of food and incense, and the burning...

    (pp. 77-110)

    Conversion to evangelical Christianity only tells half of the story of religious change among Taiwanese immigrants in the United States. Consider how evangelical Christianity has shaped the religious experience of Mrs. Lin, who became a practicing Buddhist in the United States. When Mrs. Lin immigrated in 1987 to attend the University of Tennessee for her master’s degree in nursing, she was only nominally religious, like most Taiwanese immigrants. She had a statue of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva that she kept in her home, but this was more for decoration than devotion.¹ In 1991, the Lin family moved to Southern California in...

    (pp. 111-145)

    In theConfessionsSaint Augustine describes his conversion as liberation from his old lustful self: “For my will was perverse and lust had grown from it, and when I gave in to lust habit was born, and when I did not resist the habit it became a necessity. These were the links which together formed what I have called my chain, and it held me fast in the duress of servitude.” (64) Writing in this familiar tradition of the Christian confessional, highly visible Americans, from the writer Anne Lamott to former Nixon advisor Chuck Colson, offer similar narratives of religious...

  10. 5 Cultivating American Saints RELIGIOUS DISCIPLINES OF THE SELF
    (pp. 146-185)

    Mr. Tang, a successful businessman, claims that if he had not come to the United States he would have “wined, dined, and partied and probably died of liver disease in Taiwan.” The contrast with his current Buddhist lifestyle in the United States is remarkable. For the past ten years, Mr. Tang has followed a strict vegetarian diet and spends nearly two hours a day devoted to Buddhist practice where he bows to the image of the Buddha, chants Omitopho,¹ studies the sutras, and meditates. He volunteers one afternoon a week at Dharma Light Temple, directing traffic, sweeping the grounds, and...

  11. Conclusion: Becoming Americans FROM MIGRANTS TO PILGRIMS
    (pp. 186-202)

    “Was immigrating to the United States worth it?” I ask Mr. Hou, the Christian convert whose story opened chapter 2. “Life is harder for me here,” he answers. “I would be better off in Taiwan I think. But here I found God.” Mr. Tang, a Buddhist, agrees. Life is more full and fun in Taiwan with his friends and endless social activities. But, he tells me, he would not have been “awakened” had he not come to the United States.

    Mr. Hou, Mr. Tang, and the others I have written about in this book, are accidental pilgrims. Like other Taiwanese...

  12. APPENDIX Interview Schedule
    (pp. 203-206)
    (pp. 207-226)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 227-230)