The effect of immigration on religious belief and practice: A theologizing or alienating experience?

Douglas S. Massey, Monica Espinoza Higgins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Using data from the New Immigrant Survey, we examine the religious beliefs and practices of new legal immigrants to the United States. We find that Christian immigrants are more Catholic, more Orthodox, and less Protestant than American Christians, and that those immigrants who are Protestant are more likely to be evangelical. In addition to being more Catholic and more Orthodox than American Christians, the new immigrants are also paradoxically less Christian, with a fifth reporting some other faith. Detailed analysis of reported church attendance at places of origin and in the United States suggest that immigration is a disruptive event that alienates immigrants from religious practice rather than "theologizing" them. In addition, our models clearly show that people who join congregations in the United States are highly selected and unrepresentative of the broader population of immigrants in any faith. In general, congregational members were more observant both before and after emigration, were more educated, had more cumulative experience in the United States, and were more likely to have children present in the household and be homeowners and therefore yield biased representations of all adherents to any faith. The degree of selectivity and hence bias also varies markedly both by religion and nationality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1371-1389
Number of pages19
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Immigrant
  • Immigration
  • Religion
  • Religiosity
  • Theologizing


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