Refugee health and religion: Karenni Catholics in Omaha, United States




Social networks, mobility, transnationality, youth, Europe


This article argues, based on the author’s research and years of engagement with resettled Karenni refugees in Omaha (U.S.) and illustrated by a characteristic case of a health emergency, that refugees’ religious beliefs and networks can increase access to resources needed to boost their resilience, improve their health, and advance their sense of wellbeing, and subsequently encourages agencies working with refugees and other migrants to pay attention to refugees’ religious beliefs and networks and closely collaborate with religious organizations. The author conceptualizes religious values and networks as social capital and calls for qualitative studies to explore the role of religion in improving resilience, health, and wellbeing of refugees and migrants.

Author Biography

Alexander Roedlach, Creighton University

Associate Professor in Anthropology and Psychiatry


Adler, P. & Kwon, S. W. (2002). Social capital: Prospects for a new concept. The Academy of Management Review, 27, 17-40.

Brouwer, K., & Rodwell, T. (2007). Assessment of community member attitudes towards health needs of refugees in San Diego. Retrieved from

Burwell, R., Hill, P., & van Wicklin, J. (1986). Religion and refugee resettlement in the United States: A research note. Review of Religious Research, 27(4), 356-366.

Coleman, J. (1990). Foundations of social theory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Dolfsma, W., & Dannreuther, C. (2003). Subjects and boundaries: Contesting social capital-based policies. Journal of Economic Issues, 37, 405-413.

Dudley, S. (2000). Celebration, affirmation, and transformation: A 'traditional' festival in a refugee camp in Thailand. Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine, 9. Retrieved from

Dudley, S. (2007). Re-shaping Karenni-ness in exile: Education, nationalism and being in the wider world. In Gravers, M. (Ed.), Exploring ethnicity in Burma (pp. 77-106). Copenhagen: Nordic Institute for Asian Studies Press.

Durlauf, S. (2002). Bowling alone: A review essay. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 47, 259-273.

Ekeh, C., & Smith, M. (2007). Minorities in Burma, briefing. Retrieved from

Ferlander, S. (2007). The importance of different forms of social capital for health. Acta Sociologica, 50(2), 115-128.

Geys, B., & Murdoch, Z. (2010). Measuring the 'bridging' versus 'bonding' nature of social networks: A proposal for integrating existing measures. Sociology, 44(3), 523-540.

Glaser, B., &Strauss, A. (2012). The discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for qualitative research [1967]. New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction.

Grace, E. (2017). Nebraska's recent refugee resettlement numbers are 'as bad as it can get,' officials say. But plenty of work remains. Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved from

Keng, H. P. (2018). Background and culture. Retrieved from

Kusserow, A. S. (1999). Crossing the great divide: Anthropological theories of the Western self. Journal of Anthropological Research, 55(4), 541-562.

Leonard, M. (2004). Bonding and bridging social capital: Reflections from Belfast. Sociology, 38(5), 927-944.

Lindholm, C. (1997). Does the sociocentric self exist? Reflections on Markus and Kitayama's 'Culture and Self.' Journal of Anthropological Research, 53(4), 405-422.

Luther, C. (1880). The Vintons and the Karens: Memorials of Rev. Justus H. Vinton and Calista H. Vinton. Boston: W.G. Corthell.

Lwin, T. (2011). Languages, identities, and education - In relation to Burma/Myanmar. Retrieved from

McLellan, J. (2009). Cambodian refugees in Ontario: Resettlement, religion and identity. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Nant, M. (n.d.). The missionaries, nationalities, and the Christian education. Unpublished paper.

Ngelay, B., Sanders, S., & Rödlach, A. (2016). Profile of the Karenni community in Nebraska. Retrieved from

Nohr, E. (2016). 'A welcoming state': Nebraska led the nation in resettling most refugees per capita in the last year. Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved from

Office of Refugee Resettlement. (2015). Refugee arrival data. Retrieved from

Pew Research Center. (2016). Just 10 states resettled more than half of recent refugees to U.S.

Retrieved from

Putnam, R. (1993). Making democracy work: Civic traditions in modern Italy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling alone: Collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Putnam, R., & Gross, K. (2002). Introduction. In Putnam, R. (Ed.), Democracies in flux: The evolution of social capital in contemporary society (pp. 1-19). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Refugee Processing Center. (2018). Archives. Retrieved from

Rödlach, A. (2018). Religion as social capital for resettled refugees. Karenni Catholics in Omaha, United States. Journal of Religion and Society, Suppl. 16, 52-72.

Singer, A., & Wilson, J. (2006). From 'there' to 'here': Refugee resettlement in Metropolitan America. Retrieved from

Smidt, C. (2003). Introduction. In Smidt, C. (Ed.), Religion as social capital: Producing the common good (pp. 1-18). Waco: Baylor University Press.

Smith, Y. (2013). We are all Bantu - we have each other: Preservation of social capital strengths during forced migration. Journal of Occupational Science, 20(2), 173-184.

Su, D., Toure, D., Do, K., Nlam, N., & Ern, J. (2017). Refugee health needs assessment in Omaha, Nebraska. Retrieved from

Suter, B., & Magnusson, K. (2015). Before and after: New perspectives on resettled refugees' integration process. In Suter, B. and Magnusson, K. (Eds.), Resettled and connected? Social networks in the integration process of resettled refugees (pp. 55-144). Malmö: Malmö University Press.

Uphoff, N. (1999). Understanding social capital: Learning from the analysis and experience of participation. In Dasgupta, P. and Serageldin, I. (Eds.), Social capital: A multifaceted perspective (pp. 215-249). Washington: The World Bank.

Willis, M., & Nkwocha, O. (2006). Health and related factors for Sudanese refugees in Nebraska. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 8(1), 19-33.

Woolcock, M. (1998). Social capital and economic development: Toward a theoretical synthesis and policy framework. Theory and Society, 27, 151-208




How to Cite

Roedlach, A. (2019). Refugee health and religion: Karenni Catholics in Omaha, United States. Migration Letters, 16(3), 389–397.