The Meaning of My Neighbor's Faith

Interreligious Reflections on Immigration

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Editor(s): 
Alexander Y. Hwang, Laura E. Alexander
  • Lanham, MD: 
    Lexington Books
    , December
     2018.
     394 pages.
     $120.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781978700697.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

As a much-needed contrast to nationalist narratives and bipartisan bickering, The Meaning of My Neighbor’s Faith: Interreligious Reflections on Immigration, edited by Alexander Hwang and Laura Alexander, offers a refreshing alternative to current rhetoric concerning global issues of immigration. The book’s twenty-two essays encompass theological as well as historical, political, legal, and ethical viewpoints, including immigrants’ perceptions and religious experiences shared between neighbors of differing faiths. Addressing immigration from plural religious perspectives and a variety of disciplines demonstrates how to perform effective comparative work in the context of interreligious encounters at multiple levels, including intellectually between contributors, emotionally among immigrants, and thoughtfully with readers and communities affected by the sudden influx of people who possess diverse religious and cultural values.

Each of the book’s four sections partitions the essays according to specific perspectives, with the first section describing how interreligious thoughts on immigration shape and are shaped by history. Of particular mention is James McBride’s chapter, which compares terms and methods of the 19th-century American Protective Association with contemporary parallels such as the propagation of “fake news” and a call for “extreme vetting” to limit or suspend immigration (49).

In the second section, essays discuss various ways religion and philosophy affect perceptions about immigrants and suggest interreligious methods to heal and reconcile previous transgressions and oppression. The third section grapples with legal issues, political ideologies, and religious thoughts on immigration, particularly related to the ethics of human dignity and social justice. Essays in the fourth section epitomize interreligious engagement and dialogue as authors share poignant stories or successful approaches to living next to actual neighbors of different faiths. Adding a concluding final chapter that summarizes shared religious themes on immigration would unite the four sections and encourage interreligious engagement by suggesting positive steps to welcome and help acclimate people as they settle into their new neighborhoods.

Several powerful concepts repeat throughout the book. Essays discuss interreligious ideas about the effects colonization and decolonization have on immigration. Other mutual topics include religious aspects of hospitality, care for the poor and vulnerable, and solidarity as a human family. Some essays address the effects of assimilation on cultural identity or the importance of shifting feelings of xenophobia, which is fear or hatred of foreigners, toward philoxenia (love of the foreign), or a loving concern for them. Moreover, sacred writings within most religious traditions contain narratives about exiled people seen as immigrants, foreigners, or aliens in a strange land. However, the terms asylum seeker, refugee, migrant (migration), and immigrant (immigration) have distinct meanings with specific definitions. Some contributors recognize these differences, while many others use these classifications interchangeably.

The editors have assembled contributors from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to discuss multiple facets of the immigration situation. Although many of the contributors appear to be Christian-oriented, other Abrahamic and Dharmic religious traditions are well represented. However, when religious traditions, which often are absent from the interreligious conversation—for example Sikh, Baha’i Confucian, and Indigenous views—are mentioned, it is from the position of the colonized, the immigrant, the refugee, or as displaced people to justify the doctrine of terra nullius or “empty land” policies (89). Such marginalized religions should have a voice in anthologies about interreligious reflections, because an increase in religious plurality offers fresh insights and thought-provoking perspectives to the project’s main objectives.

This book is appropriate for college courses in comparative religions or social ethics with a focus on immigration concerns. With its varied approaches, the book also is suitable for sociological, political, and contemporary-issues courses that discuss policy, justice, diversity, and inclusion. A significant advantage in this volume is the inclusion of an index. Anthologies often do not provide this valuable component to assist researchers and readers in crossing the borders between contributors’ work to discover pertinent information not immediately apparent from chapter titles or section headings. The Meaning of My Neighbor’s Faith is a timely and valuable tool to help move the conversation forward about critical immigration challenges and pluralistic religious issues that are growing concerns for contemporary society.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Joyce Ann Konigsburg is a faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies at DePaul University.

Date of Review: 
April 16, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Alexander Y. Hwang is adjunct faculty at Saint Leo University and Associate Dean of international faculty at the Université Protestante au Coeur du Congo. 

Laura E. Alexander is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and holds the Goldstein Family Community Chair of Human Rights at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

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