Transnational religious practices and negotiation of difference among Zimbabwean Catholics in Britain

This paper brings together a number of research strands within the field of transnational migration studies: integration, transnational religious connections, cosmopolitan sociability and difference. It does so by drawing from an in-depth study of Zimbabwean Catholics in Britain and bringing together the concepts of transnationalism and cosmopolitan sociability as heuristic devices to explore what happens to Catholicism when it is swept up into larger patterns of migration and displacement in the contemporary world. The main focus of this paper is rather more specific. It examines the experiences of Zimbabwean Catholic migrants in the UK, exploring how the transnational flows of religious practices, traditions and rituals transform and reshape existing practices, liturgy and institutions. Relatedly, the paper also explores the conflicts, negotiations and collaboration that comes as a result of the encounters between migrants and other UK-based Catholics, some of whom are non-migrants, migrants and/or descendants of migrants. The paper weaves together the story of the transnational religious practices of Zimbabwean Catholics who retain strong ties with the church in the homeland (through hymns, guilds, material and financial support) but also build bridges and create new connections (through music and pilgrimages) in their encounters with UK-based Catholics. As evidence from the case study will illustrate, the Catholic church’s extended pattern (see Levitt 2004) is far from ‘seamless’ as tensions and conflict, as well as negotiation and collaboration are integral to the encounter between migrants and non-migrants.