American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


How Does Religion Shape Filipino Immigrants' Connection to the Public Sphere? Imagining a Different Self-Understanding of Modernity

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/Sociology

First Advisor

Rekha Mirchandani (Committee Co-Chair)

Second Advisor

Donald McQuarie (Committee Co-Chair)

Third Advisor

Ellen Berry (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Rhys Williams (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Robyn Rodriguez (Committee Member)

Sixth Advisor

Sridevi Menon (Committee Member)


Scholarly studies of immigration, religion, and race and ethnicity debate the role of religion in modern society, highlighting the salience of religion among post-1965 immigrants. In this dissertation, I explored the following question: How does religion shape Filipino immigrants' connection to the public sphere? To that end, I investigated: 1) How does religion shape immigrants' understanding of American citizenship? 2) How do immigrants constitute a sense of empowered citizenship via the civic and religious institutions they navigate? 3) Does religion act as a preserving force of traditional Filipino culture within American society? 4) To what extent does religion foster unique transnational ties to the homeland?

Focusing on Filipino-Americans' stories and utilizing a humanistically-oriented sociological approach, I immersed myself in 'lived religion' (McRoberts, 2004), engaged in participant observation, and conducted 60 in-depth interviews of Filipino-American adults in Virginia Beach, Virginia-one of the most highly populated Filipino areas on the East coast. I attended events at St. Gregory Catholic Church, the largest Filipino Catholic parish in the city, and the Filipino-American Community Action Group, the only local Filipino political organization. I also interviewed key leaders, including former Philippine president Fidel Ramos.

Although religion encourages civic engagement, Filipino-Americans' political engagement is largely limited due to regionalism and the community associations that Filipino-Americans craft in the U.S. Catholicism reinforces regionalism via ethnic-specific Catholic practices like the celebration of patron saints who represent hometowns in the Philippines. Regionalism limits the ability of Filipino-Americans to collectively perceive themselves as 'Filipino-American', unify, and politically mobilize. However, civic organizations such as the Filipino American Community Action Group attempt to transcend regional differences, foster inter-ethnic pluralism, and establish a strong coalition of Filipino-Americans rather than organizing based on regional identities. The overwhelming majority of Filipino-Americans in this community immigrated and gained citizenship by way of the U.S. Navy. Because of this historical-American tie, most interviewees reported a strong sense of American nationalism and a sense of utang ng loob or 'indebtedness' to the U.S. for their American citizenship. I hope to unravel the crucial role of religion and its relationship with immigrant integration, pluralism, race/ethnicity, and transnationalism through the lens of the religious and nonreligious experiences of post-1965 immigrants.