Follow the New Way: How American Refugee Resettlement Policies Changed Hmong Religious Life
Melissa Borja, Assistant Professor of American Culture at University of Michigan
In the United States, the government has long depended on Christian organizations to aid and resettle refugees. Over the past half century, however, incoming refugees have been increasingly non-Christian and more religiously and racially diverse. How has the American refugee resettlement system adapted to these new religious circumstances, and how have non-Christian refugees experienced a resettlement system dominated by Christian organizations? Focusing on the case of Hmong refugees, this talk will show how American refugee resettlement policies transformed the religious lives of refugees, despite sincere efforts by both government and resettlement agencies to respect religious differences and put ideals of religious pluralism into practice. American resettlement policies changed Hmong religious life in two ways: first, they made it difficult for Hmong refugees to practice their traditional rituals, and second, they facilitated the adoption of Christianity by setting up close relationships between Hmong refugees and Christian organizations that implemented the U.S. refugee resettlement program. In the end, American refugee resettlement policies—which on the surface appear to be religiously neutral—profoundly unsettled the religious lives of Hmong refugees.
Melissa Borja is Assistant Professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan, where she is a core faculty member in Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies. She researches migration, religion, race, and politics and is the author of Follow the New Way: Hmong Refugee Resettlement and Practice of American Religious Pluralism (forthcoming, Harvard University Press). An avid public scholar, Dr. Borja serves as an advisor to the Religion and Forced Migration Initiative and the Bridging Divides Initiative, both at Princeton University. She also addresses anti-Asian racism during the Covid-19 pandemic as the lead investigator of the Virulent Hate Project and has contributed research to Stop AAPI Hate. In 2020-2021, Dr. Borja was a Faculty Fellow at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University. She earned a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University, an M.A. from the University of Chicago, and an A.B. from Harvard University.
Presented by the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion and cosponsored by the Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies Program, the Asian American Research Center, and the Center for Race & Gender.