Dr. Melissa Borja, a core faculty member in the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program, earned a Ph.D. and M.Phil. in history from Columbia University, in addition to an M.A. in history from the University of Chicago and an AB in history from Harvard University. Before teaching at the University of Michigan, Dr. Borja was Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York. Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, she is proud to return to Michigan as a faculty member at U-M.
Dr. Borja researches and teaches about religion, migration, race, ethnicity, and politics in the United States and the Pacific World, with special attention to how Asian American religious beliefs and practices have developed in the context of pluralism and the modern American state. Her book, Follow the New Way: American Refugee Resettlement Policy and Hmong Religious Change (Harvard University Press), draws on oral history and archival research to investigate the religious dimensions of American refugee policy—how governments have expanded capacity through partnerships with religious organizations and how refugee policies have shaped the religious lives of refugees. Animating her work is a deep fascination with how new religious diversity has complicated old practices of governance and, in turn, how Americans have attempted to govern new religious diversity.
Her research appears in Shaped by the State: Toward a New Political History of the Twentieth Century, The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Race in American History, The Oral History Review, The Review of Faith and International Affairs, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The American Historian, Wiley Blackwell’s Companion to American Religious History, and The Routledge Handbook of Religion, Medicine, and Health. She has also shared her research in The Washington Post, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, and Spark. She contributes regularly to the religious history blog Anxious Bench, and her lecture on Southeast Asian refugees was featured on C-SPAN’s “Lectures in American History.”
An active public scholar, Dr. Borja is a senior advisor to Religion and Resettlement Project, a three-year national project led by Princeton University's Office of Religious Life and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops aiming to improve understanding of the role that religion plays in the lives of refugees as they resettle in the United States. An expert on anti-Asian racism during the Covid-19 pandemic, she is the lead investigator of the Virulent Hate Project and has contributed research to Stop AAPI Hate. She is part of a national research team that received support from the Louisville Institute to study Filipino American theology and religious life during the Covid-19 pandemic. Finally, she serves as an advisor to the Vietnamese Boat People project, the COVID-19 Community Oral History Project at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University.
In recognition of her work addressing anti-Asian racism during the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Borja was named one of USA Today's Women of the Year in 2022. In addition, Dr. Borja was named a 2022 Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader, a 2021-2022 Research and Community Impact Fellow with the Anti-Racism Collaborative at the National Center for Institutional Diversity, a 2020-20201 Faculty Fellow at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University, and a 2018-2019 Young Scholar in American Religion. Her research and writing have been supported by grants from the Donia Center for Human Rights; Poverty Solutions and the Center for Social Solutions; the Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative; the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life; the Immigration History Research Center; and the Center for the Study of World Religions. She was awarded the ACLS/Mellon and Charlotte Newcombe fellowships.
She is a National Research Fellow with the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, and she currently serves on the steering committee for the North American Religions unit in the American Academy of Religion.
Photo credit: Patricia Burmicky
Core Faculty: Program in Asian/Pacific Islander American (A/PIA) Studies