Diasporic Faith

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Apart from their ethnic character, Europe's immigrant Christians are set apart from the old-stock population by many aspects of belief and practice. Whatever the denomination, global South Christian churches usually have a powerful charismatic quality, a belief in miracles, healings, and visions. Christians, like Muslims, are also "fundamentalist" in the generic Western liberal sense, that is, they tend to take religious texts very seriously and believe they should shape and transform everyday lives. Parallels between the faiths owe something to demographics. Christian churches, like Muslim mosques, appeal to a largely young following and are often led by enthusiastic young adults. Both also come from societies with a definite belief in the power of spiritual forces to combat real evils, including illnesses of body and mind. Both are thus readily accused of extremism or fanaticism.18

Also, the fact of operating in diaspora societies, freely crossing national boundaries, sets groups apart from older churches, which are rooted in settled communities and are more subject to the desires of particular states. Repeatedly, we see resemblances between the lived experience of European Muslims and Christians of Third-World origins arising from this diasporic quality. For modern observers, studies of religious diasporas tend to concentrate on the most sinister and poten tially lethal movements such as the Muslim extremists organized under names such as al-Qaeda or Takfir wal Hijra. Yet the fact of being "rootless cosmopolitans"—to use the famous derogatory jibe once directed against Jews—need not have sinister implications, nor need a multinational movement have any sinister content whatever. The Christian scriptures themselves include a detailed account of a dias-poric religious movement, and a substantial portion of the New Testament comprises the letters and injunctions used to regulate and educate this community.19

Today as in the ancient Mediterranean world, religious diasporas have certain features in common, whatever their theological differences. Their presence in many nations provides an immediate framework and social network for migrants, who find a reassertion of familiar values from home but also an incentive to keep up demanding standards of faith and piety. This fact has potent implications for chances of assimilation into the social mainstream. For both Muslims and Christians, infusions of new faith introduced by transnational groups tend to be anti-assimilative and to undermine factors that otherwise would contribute powerfully to secularization. If such transnational networks keep on operating and migrating on a semipermanent basis, that fact works against any kind of mainstreaming, any veering toward the secular norm. Transnational groups thus help institutionalize distinctiveness.

Also, the irrelevance of borders to such movements meshes well with the universal teachings of the respective faiths. Early Christians were taught that "here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come." For Muslims likewise, transnational groups are more likely to preach the significance of the universal Muslim community rather than flawed human-made nations. To be transnational is to be antinational.20 Diasporic religion also serves as a conduit between host nations and the lands from which migrants originate, a role that offers great potential for cultural cross-fertilization but also raises the possibility of internal conflict. Immigrant communities bring to the new country the religious traditions of the old, which in the context of global South Christians means a charismatic faith deeply imbued with ideas of spiritual warfare. At the same time, immigrants returning to their homelands take with them at least some of the ideas of the new world— more expansive attitudes, for instance, about the role of women, and much greater awareness of the potential of new technology. Financial connections are also critical. Again, we read the New Testament and find the repeated conflicts that Paul faced concerning the transmission of donations from the diaspora to "the saints in Jerusalem." Today, Muslim communities in Europe are the economic salvation of their home villages in Pakistan or Turkey, and Christians serve a comparable role for their homelands in Africa or the Philippines.

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