On 8th of November 2019, CPPG invited Dr. Kari Guttormsen Hempel to speak on “Migration, Integration and the importance of Religion in the processes: Norwegians in the United States and Pakistanis in Norway”. Dr. Hempel is Associate Professor in Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Education, Department of Early Childhood Education, University of Stavanger, Norway. She has vast experience of teaching and supervising graduate students and has also developed courses for teacher training at preschool, primary and special needs levels. She has been leader of several projects over the years, and is member of National Board of Social Sciences. She has been member of a number of national and international committees including Norwegian American History Association. Dr. Hempel is author of several articles, books and book chapters.
Dr. Hempel talked about the relation of migration, integration and religion with the help of comparative analysis on the experiences of Norwegians living in the US and Pakistanis living in Norway. She described her approach to be more comparative than differential. According to her, many Norwegians migrated to the US in the 19th century for the purpose of farming and better conditions. They kept their religion and language very close to themselves and built around 6500 Lutheran churches. While, a large number of Pakistanis migrated to Norway for jobs and family settlement. With these migrants, new mosques were established in Norway and Islam became a member religion with Muslim population turning to be more religious and less adoptive of their ethnic culture. She described the integration process primarily in the concept of inclusiveness. It is a learning and adaptive process to the host society’s dominant norms and values. True integration will be tied to society economically and socially creating a sense of affiliation in immigrants. It endorses social cohesion and stability and helps in retaining special features of all cultures along with the participation of immigrants in the working and social arenas of the recipient countries.
It is important to look at the religious aspect of migration and integration, as a society has to be able to include all diversified religions and here social capital plays a useful role. The main questions addressed by her were the role of religious activity in the process of integration i.e. whether religion promotes or exhibits this integration. And how to measure the function of religions in making immigration successful through integration and inclusiveness. She talked about two theories relating to social capital, one by Pierre Bourdieu and the other by Robert Putnam. Bourdieu considers social capital as a resource that helps in the development of social relationships and networks. The amount or quantity of social capital depends upon the financial and cultural resources of the members. The groups of privilege people generate the most social capital. He is criticized for ignoring the importance of social capital to marginalized groups in society. While, Putnam describes it as an ability of each individual to create relationships and networks. It is a resource which an individual has within and it leads to trust and social cooperation which are important features for well functioning societies. Religion and spirituality are among the sources of social capital for both sociologists. According to Dr. Hempel, religious activity is a starting point for obtaining social capital.
She also differentiated between the concepts of bonding and bridging. Bonding taken place within people of the same community/religion while bridging occurs between people from different communities/religions. Among the religiously active immigrants both in the US and Norway the capital from bonding stands strong. There has been a restoration of religious traditions by Christian immigration in a Christian country and the Islamite immigration in a Christian secular country. Norway has developed a secular society model built on neutrality while the US is developing a melting pot society, calling for religious activity. Both Norwegians and Pakistanis have done quite well for constructive and positive growth of the recipient countries along with the re-establishment of certain new features of their religions. In the end, she quoted Nancy Foner’s article Religion in the U.S and Western Europe: Bridge or Barrier to Inclusion? describing how studies focused on religion among contemporary immigrants underline the optimistic role played by it in assisting and smoothing the adaptive process.