ABOUT THIS BOOK
An incisive look at Hmong religion in the United States, where resettled refugees found creative ways to maintain their traditions, even as Christian organizations deputized by the government were granted an outsized influence on the refugees’ new lives.
Every year, members of the Hmong Christian Church of God in Minneapolis gather for a cherished Thanksgiving celebration. But this Thanksgiving takes place in the spring, in remembrance of the turbulent days in May 1975 when thousands of Laotians were evacuated for resettlement in the United States. For many Hmong, passage to America was also a spiritual crossing. As they found novel approaches to living, they also embraced Christianity—called kev cai tshiab, “the new way”—as a means of navigating their complex spiritual landscapes.
Melissa May Borja explores how this religious change happened and what it has meant for Hmong culture. American resettlement policies unintentionally deprived Hmong of the resources necessary for their time-honored rituals, in part because these practices, blending animism, ancestor worship, and shamanism, challenged many Christian-centric definitions of religion. At the same time, because the government delegated much of the resettlement work to Christian organizations, refugees developed close and dependent relationships with Christian groups. Ultimately the Hmong embraced Christianity on their own terms, adjusting to American spiritual life while finding opportunities to preserve their customs.
Follow the New Way illustrates America’s wavering commitments to pluralism and secularism, offering a much-needed investigation into the public work done by religious institutions with the blessing of the state. But in the creation of a Christian-inflected Hmong American animism we see the resilience of tradition—how it deepens under transformative conditions.
A fascinating, deeply perceptive, and highly readable study of the Hmong experience in America. Borja’s pathbreaking book will appeal to a broad readership in religion and cultural studies, refugee resettlement and humanitarian aid, and church-state relations, as well as to the Hmong community itself. An exemplary model of careful scholarship with far-reaching significance.
-- Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation
Beautifully written and sensitively told, Follow the New Way foregrounds the resilience of Hmong ‘religious migrants’ while highlighting the power of the state. This illuminating book is a must-read for anyone interested in migration, pluralism, and religious freedom.
-- Kathryn Gin Lum, author of Heathen: Religion and Race in American History
A deeply nuanced story of the politics and practices of religious pluralism. Borja deftly illuminates how American refugee resettlement policies have shaped the spiritual lives of Hmong Americans and raises timely questions about the promise of religious freedom in America. Required reading for anyone interested in American religion.
-- Carolyn Chen, author of Work Pray Code: When Work Becomes Religion in Silicon Valley
A story that changes the way we tell stories. In the histories it recounts, the characters it follows, and ‘the way’ it illuminates, Follow the New Way stretches the bounds of what we mean by religion, culture, immigration, and tradition. With compassion and a deeply held humanity, Borja renews our thinking not just about Hmong Americans, but about America as such.
-- Jonathan Tran, author of Asian Americans and the Spirit of Racial Capitalism
A superb book. Tracing the complicated process of religious change among Hmong refugees, Borja persuasively demonstrates how state policies disrupted Hmong traditions. Yet she also shows how refugees creatively and resiliently drew upon a variety of religious resources to gain spiritual strength in their new land.
-- Russell Jeung, author of Family Sacrifices: The Worldviews and Ethics of Chinese Americans
For far too long, writing about Southeast Asian refugees, and specifically Hmong Americans, has ignored the issue of faith. In a refreshing, much-needed analysis, Borja draws out the unexpected connections between US refugee resettlement policy and religious change among Hmong migrants. Readable, engaging, and innovative, Follow the New Way is a tremendously important contribution to Asian American history.
-- Sam Vong, Curator of Asian Pacific American History, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
An outstanding, profoundly original book. Borja brings together methods from migration history and religious studies to show how the pluralist ambitions of the post-1965 United States shaped both Hmong refugees and the Christian churches that sponsored their resettlement. In the process, she offers a nuanced and compelling way to think about both the power and the limitations of religious pluralism.
-- Alison Collis Greene, author of No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. The Origins of Religious Unsettlement: Missionary Encounters, Military Engagements, and Migration in Asia
2. Administering Resettlement: Refugee Resettlement as Church-State Governance
3. Ministering Resettlement: Refugee Resettlement as Christian Ministry and Mission
4. Pluralizing Resettlement: Christian Encounters with the Hmong Way
II . Religious Change
5. Disrupting the Old Way: The Impact of Refugee Policy on Hmong Ritual Life
6. Following the New Way: Refugee Policy and Hmong Adoption of Christianity
7. Remaking the Hmong Way: The Creation of a Hmong American Religion
Conclusion: Alternative Endings
Selected Primary Sources