The Religiosity of Vietnamese Americans
Le, Jennifer Linh
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Religion is a deeply important tradition in many people's lives, especially for those forced to leave abruptly their homes and loved ones and resettle in a foreign land. Religion not only provides spiritual guidance but also social networks, comfort, and moral standards, among many others things. I chose to study the beliefs and practices of Vietnamese American Buddhists and Catholics as well as the relationship between those two groups in the U.S. The Vietnamese present an interesting case because of their collective status as a well-publicized immigrant, formerly refugee, population that is now well-established in this country. With my research, I was able to test five hypotheses. I wanted to determine the degree of transnationality, tension between the religious groups, conversion, and ancestor worship. Secondarily, I assessed any differences regionally. In order to test my hypotheses, I conducted 60 quantitative surveys. I sampled from the Houston and Minneapolis-St. Paul Vietnamese communities. Transnationality, or ties to the homeland, was more prevalent for Buddhists than Catholics as I had hypothesized. There was a minute degree of tension present, however, generally with older members of the first generation cohort. Traditional Vietnamese ancestor worship was not more prevalent with Buddhists than with Catholics. I was unable to sample enough religious converts in order to test my conversion hypothesis. In terms of differences across regions, all variables other than national identity as well as an indicator of transnationality were statistically insignificant. This data helps fill a nearly 30-year gap in the research in this area and focuses specifically on the Vietnamese population which many studies have been unable to do. In addition to my quantitative study, I also conducted qualitative fieldwork at four primary research and three secondary research sites in the Minneapolis-St. Paul and Houston metropolitan areas. Twenty-five to thirty hours were spent at each primary location observing the members, volunteers, dress, interactions, normative and deviant behaviors during services, socialization, languages spoken, attentiveness, racial diversity, and additional activities provided by the religious organization to the membership. This fieldwork gave me a better understanding of this community in a religious context.