Taken by Gordon Huang
UC Riverside’s Institute for the Study of Immigrant Religions will make its debut on June 1. The center will serve as an archive for a plethora of religious information ranging from oral histories provided by immigrants to scholarly research. The new institute is housed within the UCR Center for Ideas and Society (located in the INTN building) and is being funded by an unspecified grant from the Office of the Chancellor.

“We want to understand the struggles and successes of different immigrant communities as they work to make a home in California. We hope the archive we are building will be a resource not only for scholars of American religion but for immigrant communities themselves,” stated UC Riverside Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Jennifer Scheper Hughes in an article by UCR Today. Hughes will be co-directing the institute alongside UC Riverside religious studies professors Amanda Huffer and Michael Alexander.

The institute will initially place an emphasis on immigrant communities in the Greater Los Angeles area prior to expanding to religious communities throughout the nation. Among the subjects of preliminary research projects identified in a press release by the institute are American Hindus, Iranian Jews, Mexican-American Catholics, Latino Muslims, and Chinese-American Buddhists. The co-directors have noted that the inspiration behind the institute’s creation stemmed from the diversity of UCR students and the university’s location in a particularly multicultural part of the nation.

“We looked at the faces of our students, many of them first-generation college students. Their families had stories to tell that weren’t being told,” stated Alexander in an interview with UCR Today. Alexander and his colleagues noted that UC Riverside’s standing as the most diverse UC campus and sixth most diverse campus in the nation provided them with an ideal setting for which to begin gathering information. Another ideal condition was the fact that UC Riverside stands as the only research university in the Greater Los Angeles area that has a PhD program in religious studies.

“Through research, archival activities, and hosting professional conferences and workshops, we hope to position UC Riverside at the forefront of study in US urban immigrant religions,” stated a press release by the new institute. The co-directors envision that the institute’s archives will be used to conduct unprecedented research into the dynamics of religion and the post-immigration experience. “When it comes to the religious practices of these groups, there has been no grand overview of generational relationships between their new life here and their religious practices,” Alexander told UCR Today. “Is [religion] significant in the process of citizen-making or incorporation into American life? Do immigrants find stability in a new community by gravitating to the old community’s religious practices? We are collecting data and asking questions.”

UC Riverside graduate students involved with the institute have already spent numerous months preparing for the debut by compiling data and gathering documentation from every major religion and dozens of region-specific faiths. The institute’s official launch, which will feature panelists from local universities and a presentation by the South Asian American Digital Archive, will take place at the UCR Alumni and Visitors Center and is free to the public.