A History of the Swaminarayan Sampraday in North America

Bhakti Mamtora
Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, South Asian Studies
The College of Wooster

This project examines the history of the Swaminarayan Sampraday, a Hindu devotional tradition founded by Swaminarayan (1781-1830) at the beginning of the nineteenth century in the western region of India, now known as Gujarat, in North America during the last fifty years. This project expands research on place-making, civic engagement, and religious expansion through the use of ethnographic and archival research methods. By conducting individual and small group interviews and analyzing, newspaper articles, sectarian publications, and religious paraphernalia, this project aims to uncover how individual conceptions and experiences of gender, race, ethnicity, caste, and socioeconomic class inform identity and community formation in the diaspora.

Identity, Community, Belonging: Imagining the Creation of a Postcolonial/Asian American Kachin Christian Community

Htoi San Lu
Graduate Student, Religion
Vanderbilt University

This dissertation examines theological, ecclesiological approaches to Christian community, identity, and belonging from an Asian/American and postcolonial feminist perspective: specifically examining how the Kachin Baptist community in the U.S. constructs their ethno-nationalist religious identity in changing geopolitical contexts. The Kachin are an indigenous, minoritized ethnic group who began to migrate from Burma/Myanmar to the United States in the 1950s. Divisions within the U.S.-based community emerged between 2011 and 2014, a period marked by intensified militarized conflict in Burma which resulted in thousands of civilians killed and more than 100,000 Kachin displaced. Kachin immigrants and resettled refugees in the U.S. have debated intensely about the contours of their community: differing about alliances and loyalty (to Kachin churches in Myanmar). I argue these divisions are best understood by examining the influential role of American Baptist missionaries and the Burmese sociopolitical context beginning in the 19th century to the present.

(Re) Presenting Sikh American History: The Rise of Stockton Gurdwara as the Capital of Sikhi in the United States

Tejpaul Bainiwal
PhD Candidate, Religious Studies
University of California, Riverside

Sikhs have been a part of the social fabric of the United States for more than a century. Most, if not all, studies of Sikhs in this country follow a similar trajectory, which includes initial immigration at the turn of the twentieth century, discrimination and hardships faced by Sikh immigrants, the Ghadar movement, Punjabi-Mexican families, and prominent Sikh Americans such as Bhagat Singh Thind and Dalip Singh Saund. Scholars have focused on a socio-political descriptive analysis of the immigration and subsequent settlement of Sikhs throughout the early 20th century. Despite the fact that Sikhs are a religious group, a thorough analysis remains to be done on the role of religion. This projects seeks to redefine these historical incidents in Sikh American history through theories of racialization while emphasizing the role of religion and placing them into a larger context of identity; power, resistance, and liberation.

Routed Communities: Race, Religion, and Labor in the Punjabi American Trucking Industry

Loveleen Brar
PhD Candidate, American Culture
University of Michigan

This project examines the rising number of Punjabi Sikh truck drivers, and the Punjabi owned truck stops, called dhabas, that have popped up across the major US interstates. While narratives about Punjabi Sikhs in the trucking industry have focused on their entrepreneurial successes, they have ignored the xenophobic and nativist sentiments Punjabi Sikhs face within the industry. This project explores how Punjabi Sikhs have turned to each other to find safety on the road. My dissertation asks, what network of care are created and recreated in the diaspora? In what ways does the dhaba become a site for diasporic culture, faith, and survival? Using ethnographic methods, this project will look at two truck stops that have constructed makeshift Sikh temples on-site. The objectives of this project are to understand how the dhaba functions as a site of spiritual safety, and how Sikh truck drivers make up a mobile congregation.

Keywords: Diaspora, Labor, Sikh, Xenophobia

Spiritual Beliefs and Buddhist Practices: Narratives of Survival, Aging, and Community-Building Among Cambodian American Women in Long Beach, California

Sophea Seng
Assistant Professor, Asian American Studies
California State University Long Beach

Out of the turmoil of war, displacement, and resettlement, over the past four decades, Cambodian refugees have rebuilt lives through the vehicle of Buddhism. Drawing upon participant observation and ethnographic life histories with Cambodian survivors, this project explore the key role of women refugees in sustaining the community through Buddhist practices. The central question is: How does religion mediate Cambodian women refugees’ sense of community belonging, as well as their relationship with the “homeland” and wider diaspora? In Cambodia, one of the first institutions the Khmer Rouge destroyed was Buddhism. Out of 65,000, fewer than 100 monks survived the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge genocide in which 1.7 million perished. From the time that Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge, those in exile sponsored monks in order to rebuild temples and restore a sense of community. Even though some Cambodians have converted to Christianity, Theravada Buddhist temples remain places where community thrives.

Skip to content