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African Christianity in the Jewish State: Adaptation, Accommodation and Legitimization of Migrant Workers' Churches, 1990-2003

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This paper examines the role of African Initiated Churches (AICs) in the lives of African migrant laborers in Israel. Its aim is to attain a deeper understanding of religion and church affiliation among African migrant laborers in Israel from the perspective of the Africans themselves. It traces the creation and development of the AICs in Israel, including the various services and activities that the churches provided for their members in the social, economic and political arenas. It argues that the African churches in Israel occupied a particularly large and central place in their members' lives compared to migrant churches in other western diasporas, taking on roles of other traditional social, economic, political and civil actors in Africa. The paper examines the AICs' multiple adaptations to unique conditions in Israel and to the needs of their membership. Though many of the patterns identified are similar to those found in other diaspora communities, certain features of Israel and its society, mainly those connected to the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and the limited civic horizon open to non-Jews, made for substantial differences. These features forced Africans to create their own Afro-Christian space to fulfill their needs and became the key anchors in the spiritual, emotional and practical lives of the African migrants in Israel. Finally this article argues that the churches became the main space for the production of a sense of belonging within the Israeli civic context, in spite of the fact that the migrants' religious identities and institutions were not used as vehicles for recognition or channels for gaining legitimacy in Israel's public sphere.


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