In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Immigration and Spirituality

  • Introduction
  • Books/Book Chapters
  • Memoirs/Novels
  • Blogposts, Media, and Online Resources
  • Film Media
  • Reports
  • Anthologies
  • Dissertations/Theses

Social Work Immigration and Spirituality
Jennifer Chappell Deckert
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 November 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 November 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0293


Social workers who study and/or work with migrant populations are often faced with the most immediate tasks of addressing psychological trauma and immediate physical needs for functioning in a new context. However, understanding client needs under a social work framework must include a biopsychosocial and spiritual understanding of their well-being and current and future functioning. It is important to acknowledge the different reasons why people migrate, including economic opportunities, family reunification, natural disasters, and safety from political violence. The spiritual perspectives of some migrant populations are intimately connected to their mobility. In addition to reviewing scholarship related to migrant populations and spirituality, this entry also addresses spiritual perspectives that influence the reception of migrant populations into a new society and anti-immigrant sentiment. These are niche topics in the field for sure, and are not fully studied in social work. Therefore, this entry borrows from other fields (in addition to social work) in order to provide a list of resources that could be helpful in understanding the varied nuances that relate to spirituality and migration, both for the migrants themselves and also for the communities that receive them. This list is not meant to be comprehensive but provides a beginning resource for scholars to examine the topic with the intent to supplement it as new scholarship is developed. The resources in this entry primarily focus on contemporary global migration.

Books/Book Chapters

This selection of books help us understand more about the spiritual perspectives and experiences of migrant populations. Canda, et al. 2019 provides a nice overview of the topic that specifically relates to social work practice and includes many helpful case scenarios. Daniel 2010, Delgado 2018, Kaemingk 2018, and Seitz 2017 focus more on the ways in which migrant populations are received in different contexts. Groody 2007 and Sandell 2015 give more details into the migrant experience as it relates to spirituality.

  • Canda, E. R., L. D. Furman, and H. J. Canda. 2019. Spiritual diversity in social work practice: The heart of helping. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Dr. Canda is an international pioneer in the field of spirituality and social work. This updated and revised text takes a comprehensive look at spirituality and social work, and is inclusive of varied religious and spiritual perspectives. While there is no highlighted chapter that relates to migrant populations specifically, there are references to immigration and refugees throughout the book that provide helpful insight and important information.

  • Daniel, B. 2010. Neighbor: Christian encounters with “illegal” immigration. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

    Ben Daniel is a theologian who conducted interviews with immigrants who related to the US/Mexico border and spent time working with nonprofit, religious-based organizations who support migrant populations there. His book shares stories from these encounters as a way to make a moral, theological, and historical argument in support of immigration. He calls for Christians to embrace migrant populations as “neighbor” and to counter negative and xenophobic attitudes and policies that restrict social inclusion.

  • Delgado, M. 2018. Sanctuary cities, communities, and organizations: A nation at a crossroads. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Delgado writes this book as a counternarrative to anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States. While the entire book is not directly related to spirituality, it examines spiritual perspectives that contribute to this counternarrative. In particular, chapter 7, “Sanctuary Organizations,” relates to faith-based organizations and their desire to create a reality that is more welcoming and kinder toward migrant populations.

  • Groody, D. G. 2007. Border of death, valley of life: An immigrant journey of heart and spirit. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    This author explores Mexican immigrant spirituality through the psychological and physical toll of crossing the US/Mexico border. Through a Christian lens, he weaves stories of migrant crossings that call for dignity and hope. This account illustrates the complex needs and beautiful stories of those most impacted by border crossings. The book is a unique blend of academic and humanitarian perspectives.

  • Joselit, J. W. 2007. Parade of faiths: Immigration and American religion. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This book explores the influence of immigration on religious perspectives in the United States. Joselit argues that there has been an expansion of religious space and time through varied perspectives brought on by immigration. She illustrates this through a series of case studies arranged by religious theme.

  • Kaemingk, M. 2018. Christian hospitality and Muslim immigration in an age of fear. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans.

    In an era of fear and increased xenophobia, this scholar takes on a Christian ethic of hospitality and calls for Christians to engage in creative and effective ways of welcoming Muslim people. He also normalizes and highlights the fruitful and valuable spaces that are already here that include interfaith or varied faith perspectives, including Muslim perspectives. He argues for “Christian pluralism” which seeks justice, hospitality, and grace for Muslim immigrants in the United States.

  • Sandell, D. P. 2015. Open your heart: Religion and cultural poetics of Greater Mexico. Notre Dame, IN: Univ. of Notre Dame Press.

    Sandell is an anthropologist whose ethnography explores spiritual and religious rituals and their meaning with Latinos living in Fresno, California. His exploration of prayer, storytelling, music, dance, aesthetics, silence, and emotions expressed through ritual provides a framework for anti-oppressive and radical rebellion against othering.

  • Seitz, D. K. 2017. A house of prayer for all people: Contesting citizenship in a queer church. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

    David Seitz examines a particular church in Toronto (the Metropolitan Community Church) as it relates to queer identities and religious experiences. Perhaps most relevant to this entry are chapters 3 and 4, where he explores the experiences of queer people seeking asylum and belonging in a Christian church context. This book is grounded theoretically and offers insight into the ways in which Christians could respond to queer migrant populations.

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