Strangers as Neighbors: How Religious Dialogue Can Help Re-Frame the Issue of Immigration

Media Contact: Teddy DeRosa,, 203-254-4000 ext. 2118

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (January 7, 2015) — Are words like “people,” “community,” and “understand” the key to changing the national dialogue on immigration?  A new study by Fairfield University’s Center for Faith and Public Life, suggests that the words and frames people use when discussing the topic of immigrants or immigration may shift the national dialogue away from the coarse rhetoric of “law and order” to an emphasis on “love and inclusion” and less contentious conversation.

The project, Strangers as Neighbors: How Religious Dialogue Can Help Re-Frame the Issue of Immigration, explored how language choice influences how people think about and discuss immigration on Long Island, which may have implications for the current national and international debate on the global migration crises. The study looked at two Roman Catholic parishes on Long Island and found that when framed in terms of religion/spirituality and local/individual experience, a more positive and empathetic discussion on immigration emerged.  Alternatively, when participants discussed immigration in terms of a government or institutional frames, a more negative dialogue developed.

While further research into the structure and nature of such discussion groups is needed, the study finds that engaging parishioners in dialogue with each other represents a viable strategy for meeting the needs of American people to contemplate difficult issues. Further, the research found that parishioners are seeking these opportunities for dialogue within the community of the church, although, outside of formal religious gatherings (such as liturgy).

The project team included Dr. Jocelyn Boryczka, Associate Professor and Chair of Politics; Dr. David Gudelunas, Associate Professor of Communication and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Gisela Gil-Egui, Associate Professor of Communication and Rev. Richard Ryscavage, S.J., professor of sociology and the founding director of the Center for Faith and Public Life where he also oversaw two grant-funded initiatives that relate to different aspects of the immigration issue: the Immigrant Student National Position Paper, examining the issues of undocumented students in higher education and Strangers as Neighbors: Religious Language and the Response to Immigrants in the U.S. The results of that project led to this most recent study, funded by the Jesuit Conference and the Long Island based Hagedorn Foundation.

Fr. Ryscavage served as national director of the Jesuit Refugee Service USA and has chaired the humanitarian section of InterAction, the largest coalition of American non-governmental organizations working internationally. He is considered a specialist in the areas of migration, refugees, non-governmental organizations, humanitarian assistance and pubic policy advocacy.

The Center for Faith and Public Life — through multi-disciplinary academic research, engaged teaching, and events—prepares students to be global citizens; generates research-based solutions to current social problems; and creates a public forum for dialogue on issues where faith and public life intersect. Anchored in Jesuit tradition and Catholic social teaching, the Center is committed to advancing the common good by improving social conditions to allow for the full flourishing of individuals and society.


#Vol. 48, No. 73

Fairfield University is a Jesuit University, rooted in one of the world’s oldest intellectual and spiritual traditions. More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students from 36 states, 47 foreign countries, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are enrolled in the University’s five schools.  In the spirit of rigorous and sympathetic inquiry into all dimensions of human experience, Fairfield welcomes students from diverse backgrounds to share ideas and engage in open conversations. The University is located in the heart of a region where the future takes shape, on a stunning campus on the Connecticut coast just an hour from New York City.

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Posted on January 11, 2016

Vol. 48, No. 73

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