Wilson Center Experts

Prema Kurien

Fellow
United States Studies

Expertise:
North America
;
United States
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of Sociology, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University
Wilson Center Project(s):
"Contemporary Ethnic Lobbies: Asian Indian-Americans on the Hill"
Term:
Sep 01, 2006
-
May 01, 2007

Growing up in a country as diverse as India, I remember being fascinated by ethnicity, or the differences in the self-perceptions, culture and practices of individuals belonging to different groups, right from a young age. Migration to the U.S. for graduate study heightened my interest in the phenomenon, since it drew attention to my own ethnic identity, something I had taken for granted in India. These experiences stimulated my scholarly interest in understanding how ethnicity shapes the activities and decisions of members, and the relationship between migration and ethnicity. Ethnicity based on religious background became my special focus when I realized that religion was an important differentiating factor affecting patterns of migration and ethnic formation. My first book, Kaleidoscopic Ethnicity: International Migration and the Reconstruction of Community Identities in India, 2002 was based on ethnographic research in three communities in Kerala, India (Ezhava Hindu, Mappila Muslim and Syrian Christian), which sent large numbers of workers to the Middle East for temporary jobs. The book explored the factors responsible for the striking differences in the groups' patterns of migration and migration-induced social change to understand what ethnicity is and how it affects people's activities and decisions. I discovered that in each case, a community-specific nexus of religion, gender, and status, shaped migration and was in turn transformed by it. After this study on emigrant communities in India, I turned my attention to looking at religion, ethnicity and politics among Indian immigrants in the U.S. My second book, A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism (forthcoming in 2007) discusses the new forms, practices, and interpretations of Hinduism in this country. I also examine the relationship between the institutionalization of Hinduism as a minority religion and the political mobilization of Hindu Indians seeking a place in multicultural America. This research led me to focus on the ways in which Indian-Americans have been entering the public sphere in the U.S. For my Woodrow Wilson project, I am interested in examining how Indian-Americans are exercising their citizenship rights and are participating in American politics. In particular I want to study how Indian-American lobby groups seek to influence American domestic and foreign policies, how successful they have been in these efforts, and what kinds of organizations and strategies have been effective. I am also completing a project on the generational transmission of religion among Indian American Christians. I was in India this past summer to carry out the final part of this research, to examine the ways in which the transnational character of an Indian Christian denomination that I have been studying in the U.S., has affected its religious belief, practice, and organization.
 

Education

B.A. Psychology, Women's Christian College, Madras, India; M.A. Sociology, Brown University, Providence, U.S.A.; M.A. Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi, India; Ph.D. Sociology, Brown University, Providence, U.S.A.
 

Subjects

Immigration,India
 

Experience

  • Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Syracuse University, 2003-present
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Southern California, 1995-2003
  • Affiliate Fellow, Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University, 2002-03
  • Fellow, Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University, 2000-01
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Director of the Human Diversity Program, Chapman University, 1994-95
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Knox College, 1992-94

Expertise

International migration and immigration; immigrant settlement and politics; sociology of religion; religion and society in India; race and ethnicity; Hinduism

Project Summary

What are the factors that influence the formation of ethnic lobbies among contemporary immigrants in the U.S.? What sorts of identities do they mobilize around and what kind of alliances do they build? How do ethnic lobbies of contemporary immigrants balance the often fractious internal schisms within the ethnic group? What strategies do they adopt to influence domestic and foreign policy and how successful have they been in these efforts? I will address these questions through research on Indian-American lobby groups targeting policymakers in Washington D.C.

Major Publications

  • Kaleidoscopic Ethnicity: International Migration and the Reconstruction of Community Identities in India (2002, Rutgers University Press, 2004, Oxford University Press, India)
  • A Place at the Table: Multiculturalism and the Development of an American Hinduism (Rutgers University Press, 2007)
  • "Multiculturalism and Ethnic Nationalism: The Development of an American Hinduism" Social Problems, 2004, Vol 51 (3): 362-385

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