Evangelicalism and Migrants

We’ll see what happens, but one of the big political stories of 2022 seems to be a movement of Latino voters to the Republican Party. I’ve thought for some time that an underreported element in this story is a movement of Latinos to evangelical Christianity. A new book from Princeton University Press, In the Hands of God: How Evangelical Belonging Transforms Migrant Experience in the United States, by anthropologist Johanna Bard Richlin (University of Oregon) explores the latter phenomenon. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Why do migrants become more deeply evangelical in the United States and how does this religious identity alter their self-understanding? In the Hands of God examines this question through a unique lens, foregrounding the ways that churches transform what migrants feel. Drawing from her extensive fieldwork among Brazilian migrants in the Washington, DC, area, Johanna Bard Richlin shows that affective experience is key to comprehending migrants’ turn toward intense religiosity, and their resulting evangelical commitment.

The conditions of migrant life—family separation, geographic isolation, legal precariousness, workplace vulnerability, and deep uncertainty about the future—shape specific affective maladies, including loneliness, despair, and feeling stuck. These feelings in turn trigger novel religious yearnings. Evangelical churches deliberately and deftly articulate, manage, and reinterpret migrant distress through affective therapeutics, the strategic “healing” of migrants’ psychological pain. Richlin offers insights into the affective dimensions of migration, the strategies pursued by evangelical churches to attract migrants, and the ways in which evangelical belonging enables migrants to feel better, emboldening them to improve their lives.

Looking at the ways evangelical churches help migrants navigate negative emotions, In the Hands of God sheds light on the versatility and durability of evangelical Christianity.