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Religious Orientation, Migration and Identity Construction: Evidence from a Contemporary Romanian Rural Community

Alexandra Delia


Relying on qualitative data from a multi-ethnic and multi-religious rural community in Romania, the central argument of this paper is that religions with different statuses (minority/majority) are used differently as resources for identity construction and social identification. This paper will examine how the two religions in question, Adventism and Orthodoxy, play different roles in sustaining migration and providing opportunities for better adaptation in the destination country.

Religion, or the religious affiliation of individuals, can be a resource for social integration and an identity trait, making it important in migration studies. Transnational migrants, as individuals with dual spaces of reference, are connected to both origin and destination and they move back and forth between the two. Migrants face integration and adaptation constraints, and at the same time maintain their connections to their families at home on a regular basis.1 In this context, churches are key actors

A. Deliu (*)

Research Institute for Quality of Life, Romanian Academy, Bucharest, Romania

© The Author(s) 2017

E. Sideri, L.E. Roupakia (eds.), Religions and Migrations in the Black Sea Region, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-39067-3_5

in fostering transnational ties between origin and destination (Ebaugh and Chafetz 2002), and by sustaining or even promoting migration. In sociological studies, religion is treated as a cultural aspect involving specific values, social practices and patterns of interaction that, along with other points of reference such as language or traditions, contribute to the differentiation between immigrant and native groups (Vertovec 2000). A resource for transnationalism and immigrant connection to multiple national spaces (Levitt 2003), religion is known to be significant for immigrants’ identity construction (Levitt 2003). Nevertheless, as Vertovec shows, religious practices are shaped and reinterpreted through migration and, thus, they are not stable or identical for diasporas and their corresponding homelands or for corresponding religious communities at the origin and destination.2 Instead, in immigrant communities the religious practices and organisations are transformed when compared to the ones in the sending communities (Yang and Ebaugh 2001a). Thus, the avenue of exploration regarding the interactions between religion and migration should also be located in the way religion is lived by individuals at the origin and at the destination (Yang and Ebaugh 2001b). Emphasising the importance of religion in identity formation and using data from the case of Indian immigrants in the USA, Kurien proves that the differences in religious orientation are associated with distinct constructions of identity, with India—the country of origin—being defined either as a Hindu society or as a multi-religious and multicultural one (Kurien 2001). Religion is, thus, the ground of identity claims and it is linked to ethnicity and to the idea of ‘Indianness’. While Kurien’s argument is that different discourses on national identity are based on religious differences (between Hindus and Muslims), in the particular case of Romanian migration to Spain discussed in this chapter, the two concepts are fairly distinct. Adventism and Orthodoxy are not attached to separate meanings of being Romanian and they are not used to sustain distinct identity claims. This incongruity can be traced back to different contexts of migration and to the varying cultural distance between the USA and India on one hand, and Spain and Romania on the other.

Different religions have different effects on migration and, following Yang and Ebaugh’s argument (2001b), religion’s status in the origin and hosting countries influences its importance in defining both ethnic identity and otherness. The authors, in their study ‘Religion and Ethnicity Among New Immigrants: The Impact of Majority/Minority Status in Home and Host Countries’, employ data from Buddhist and Christian

Chinese immigrants into the USA, and they follow the changes in status for the two religious orientations: from majority to minority in the case of Buddhism, and the reverse in the case of Christianity. In the present situation, while Adventism is a minority religion in both Spain and Romania, Orthodoxy shifts from a nation—spread majority religion in Romania to the characteristic of a minority group within the Catholic destination country. Exposing Orthodox populations to the ‘foreign’ behaviours and practices of a Catholic country changes their day-to-day options and ways of relating to other social entities, and this transformation is visible upon return at the origin. On the other hand, Adventism has more of a transnational character, and as such migration does not alter the patterns, beliefs or behaviours of practitioners.

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