Bonding and Bridging Social Capital Among Immigrants in the United States: A Study Reconciling Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Principles as a New Paradigm for Reaching Out to a Racially Disjointed Community

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Practical Theology

First Advisor

Eric J. Moeller


The research investigates the formation of social capital based upon the bonding and bridging of immigrants and non-immigrants in the 21st century by focusing on the racially diverse area of Antioch, Tennessee, in the United States, and devises a strategy to reach out to culturally and ethnically disconnected members of the community. The uniqueness of this research is its attempt to come up with a paradigm that reconciles homogeneous and heterogeneous principles as a means of establishing contacts among different racial and ethnic groups in order to address their social and spiritual needs, within the framework of a plural-ethnic and plural-religious milieu of urban communities.

The study does not provide a how-to technique, as is currently done with most church planting and growth models. It devotes itself to identifying those connective approaches that can best lead to the formation of social capital among immigrants, which have been afforded less attention by scholars or social strategists, including church leaders. Further, the application of the paradigm presented in this research could be beneficial if applied in various setting, from strategizing a church planting, creating a social ministry, developing a Christian program, or devising a community outreach initiative. The study addresses two key missional challenges of the 21st century. The first is how to reach immigrants from different ethnic groups living in the alien landscape of the U.S. who do not necessarily look like the person reaching out to them. The second is how to involve these immigrants in the glocal-global mission of inspiring their own ethnic groups in the U.S. to bond with each other and bridge into the larger community, and then transfer this mission back to their country of origin.

The research examines social capital among immigrants, not by looking at whether they have more or less, but rather assuming that they have already harvested the social capital within their ethnic group; through the formation of intense bonding relationships, and questions how best to bridge this capital into relationships with other racial and ethnic groups in the hosting country.

Chapter Two presents a sociological, cultural, and philosophical discourse about the functionalism of immigrants in an alien landscape. A number of researchers posited that assimilation is unlikely to take place for "old" and "new" immigrants arriving post 1965, because racial discrimination, as well as other social, economic, political, and religious factors do not permit immigrants to establish a firm foothold on the U.S. soil. Other scholars found that immigrants live in a 'home away from home' culture, thereby preserving their ethnic values and norms during an acculturation process that is slowed as a result, for both first- and second-generation immigrants. Full acculturation requires a commitment by each immigrant to a complex process requiring the establishment of relationships with the mainstream society and only thereafter achieving upward mobility in the social, economic, political, and religious spheres. The unresolved dilemma facing social scientists, including theologians, is how to bring together people who are alike in many respects, including social class, ethnicity, and race, with people who are very much unlike them in most every ethnic, social, and cultural way.

Chapter Three discusses the multidimensional layers within which a study of social capital takes place. Any human inter-relational examination needs to consider the "insider" and "outsider" mind of the participant, which is developed through experiences within a particular context. The basis for this qualitative study was in-depth, face-to-face interviews conducted with 35 selected participants from a community-wide sampling. Of these, 30 were immigrants representing different nationalities, experiences, and social status in the U.S. who were willing to narrate their stories, and thereby share their understandings of the immigrant experience with bonding and bridging in a foreign land. The remaining five interviews were carried out with social agent leaders willing to share their stories of regularly interfacing with legal and illegal immigrants and refugees in diverse social, religious, and business setting. Study participants provided profound "insider's" and "outsider's" perspectives on how immigrants form social capital though bonding and bridging in the overall infrastructure of the U.S. system. An investigation uncovered how immigrants can strategically interact with their ethnic group members and build relationship with immigrants from different countries and hosting groups, such as African-Americans and Anglo-Americans. The characteristics that lead to long-term successful bonding and bridging between and among immigrants and non-immigrants were examined.

In Chapters Four and Five, religion was found to be more than worship in the life of immigrants. Religion has a major role in developing and organizing the lives of ethnically and racially diverse newcomers in a new environment. Religion, therefore, is one of the community capitals that immigrants can rely upon when developing new social capital with which to bridge into social, economic, political, and religious life in the U.S. It appears that developing relationships in small groups based on racial and ethnic aggregates is a vital and initial step in developing congregational diversity and building mutual relationships among various groups. It was discovered that the interplay between social capital and other community capitals is needed, particularly human, built, cultural, and religious, in order to develop the necessary resources for effective acculturation. The accumulation of social capital among immigrants is multi-dimensional: stable social capital can curtail other social issues, such as unemployment, insecurity, and racial prejudices in the country where immigrants relocate. As a result, immigrants and non- immigrants alike need to participate in social capital development for their mutual benefit. This study highlights the obvious finding that relationships matter to immigrants and the not-to-obvious finding that they look at issues from the standpoint of the group, not just as individuals. The study also found that immigrants are willing to establish and maintain interethnic interactions. The research took place within the context of religion, sociology, anthropology, and culture, and its findings can be tested, replicated, and applied in other diverse settings.

Chapter Six discusses hypothetical phrases and social capital theory implications in doing mission among immigrants. In Chapter Seven, a unique paradigm was offered that is comprised of five different components designed to work together to positively effect change in the mission approach with immigrants in the U.S. and then successfully applied outward to the world. The first focuses on the place for social capital in the Christian mandate. The second looks at how best to create a virtuous circle of connectivity that can be built upon to form social capital among immigrants in the U.S. The third component explores how to more effectively apply the Homogeneous- Heterogeneous Principle (HHP) in efforts designed to bridge a diverse community. The study demonstrated a process that allows for bonding (homogeneity) and bridging (heterogeneity) in the effort to establish close-knit, one-on-one relationships, and thereafter the transformation of these relationships into capable networks that are based upon mutual trust and friendship among dissimilar immigrant communities. The fourth component presents a theoretical model demonstrating why the inclusion of social institution policies, such as economic development, inclusive immigration policies, and positive ethnic relations can increase the social capital of individual members of the immigrant community. Fifth and last, a typology has been presented to bring forth, nurture, disciple and maintain relationships among racially and ethnically diverse memberships in Multi-Cultural Congregations. Such congregations should promote the involvement of immigrants at every level, including ownership, leadership, and fellowship, and take place in settings that honor the experience and celebrate the diversity of small and large immigrant and non-immigrant communities.


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