Syracuse University Magazine

Research Snapshot


Project: The Incorporation of Minorities in Canada and the United States

Investigator: Prema Kurien

Department: Sociology

Sponsor: National Science Foundation

Amount Awarded: $65,811 (August 2013-May 2015)

Background: Large-scale international immigration and the ethnic formation of new groups have transformed the political contours of Western societies over the last few decades. The political mobilization of contemporary ethnic groups to claim public recognition and rights is raising unexpected questions about nationhood, citizenship, and secularism, and has created dilemmas about how to institutionalize pluralism. Contemporary theories of political incorporation discuss two major factors affecting the political mobilization of immigrant groups: the political opportunity structures of receiving countries, and the characteristics and resources of immigrant groups. Professor Kurien’s project seeks to uncover the factors that shape the civic activism and political incorporation of religious minorities, specifically Hindus and Sikhs, in Canada and the United States. Hindus and Sikhs have broadly similar patterns of migration to the two countries and have close ties with their compatriots across the border, yet manifest divergent activism profiles within and between Canada and the United States. By comparing the two groups within and across the two countries, the goal is to understand what accounts for the inter-country and intra-country variation in their political activism. This research also aims to uncover the factors that influence the form that mobilization takes—whether ethnic, racial, or religious. It will examine how different opportunity structures (both national and local), and differences in the characteristics of the groups, shape how they frame their grievances and mobilize. This project will be conducted in Toronto, Vancouver, New York/New Jersey, and Northern California, and will include interviews, analyses of information about the organizations, and media coverage of the groups.

Impact: This comparative project will help illuminate how immigration and settlement policies, national ideologies, and transnational ties shape the sense of belonging and civic engagement of immigrants and their children who are religious minorities. South Asians in the United States and Canada comprise a large and politically active population that is non-white and largely non-Christian. Consequently, an understanding of their political mobilization patterns will help policy makers and members of the wider society develop an appreciation for the concerns of many of the new ethnic groups becoming established in North America. It is also important for members of new ethno-religious groups to understand what types of organizations and activities are effective in helping them shape public policies.


Thousands of Sikhs join the annual Khalsa Day parade in Toronto, marking the Sikh New Year.