Between Memory and Present Aspirations: Canadian Identities and Religious Diversity Paul William Reid Bowlby, Ph. D

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Between Memory and Present Aspirations:

Canadian Identities and Religious Diversity

Paul William Reid Bowlby, Ph.D.

Department of Religious Studies

Saint Mary’s University

Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 3C3

1-902-420-5863 (office)

1-902–420-5181 (fax)

Commissioned by the Department of Canadian Heritage for the

Ethnocultural, Racial, Religious, and Linguistic Diversity and Identity Seminar

Halifax, Nova Scotia

November 1-2 2001

Available on-line in English and French at
The views expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect
those of the Department of Canadian Heritage.


This paper situates the discussion of the impact of religious diversity on the formation of Canadian identities within two contexts. The first is a brief account of the historical patterns of diversity characteristic of the establishment-type Christian denominations. The second examines the relationship of religions to the meaning of culture as constituted by the fields of ethics and aesthetics. The argument follows that the historic churches held a dominant cultural role in colonial and post-colonial Canada. As such, they contributed in a major way to the formation of the public discourse on social and political issues. In contemporary Canada, by contrast, the diasporic religious traditions, such as the Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh, join with the marginalized historic traditions of Native peoples, Christians and Jews as voices among many others in the Canadian culture debates. Religions then are no longer dominant, but integral contributors to the ethical and aesthetic fields of Canadian cultures. The paper illustrates these dialogical interconnections by reviewing selected patterns of contention within religious traditions and, secondly, in the ways by which those traditions engage Canadian cultures and institutions in their processes of adaptation. These patterns of contention are, the paper argues, integral to the processes which shape Canadian identities in the midst of religious diversity.

The title of this paper is intended to evoke the fact that many Canadians, be they native peoples or historic or recent immigrants, have been and continue to be religious.i Whether historic or diasporic,ii religious or not, Canada’s citizens reside in landscapes which support complex, intersecting relations between remembered traditions and present aspirations. The historical patterns and social impact of religions have been a matter of scholarly inquiry for a long time (Crysdale and Wheatcroft 1976; Slater 1977; Murphy 1991; O’Toole 1996). The results have shown the diverse ways by which the historic patterns of religious diversity, understood primarily as Roman Catholic and Protestant churches such as the Anglican and the United Churches of Canada, have been a central fact of Canadian social, political and cultural life. More recently, scholarship has turned its attention to understanding religions in the multicultural, Canadian landscape. This more recent picture also includes Protestant churches, such as the Mennonite and Hutterite religious communities, as well as the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. The growth of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh religious communities, to mention only a few, (Bryant 1989; Buchignani 1988; Coward 1999 2000b; Dawson 1998; Hadad 1978; Hinnells 1997a; Husieni 1990; O’Toole 1996; Rukmani 1999; Rummens 2000) fundamentally transforms the characteristics of religious diversity.
It is not clear how the new complexity of religious diversity will alter Canadian identities or affect economic, social, political and cultural policy in the territories, provinces and federally. Recent scholarship illustrates the weaknesses in our understanding the relationship of religions to Canadian identities. Joanna Rummens was commissioned by the Department of Heritage in the Government of Canada to review the interdisciplinary scholarly literature on Canadian identities. In her conclusions she states: “(R)eligious identity remains an especially underdeveloped research area and yet is particularly salient among several newcomer immigrant and refugee groups.” (Rummens 2000b:22) Rummens is correct that there is little research directly on religions and their relation to Canadian identities in the databases surveyed. However, there is a substantial body of research which deals with the larger question of religious diversity in Canada.iii That literature, as we shall see, has important implications for an understanding of Canadian identities as shaped and informed by religious traditions.
Contemporary public language has difficulty inserting the viewpoints arising from the religions and spirituality of Canadians into debates about ethics, public policy and culture in general. Indeed, the voices of religious leaders on contemporary issues are likely to be inaudible to the press and to governments or, if heard, viewed as simply inappropriate (Robinson 2001) because the views are shaped in a religious language and may express moral views which are different from the apparent social consensus of the times. The impoverished state of public vocabulary pertaining to religions has a number of effects both on religions and on public life. It breeds the ignorance upon which prejudice, hate and racism can flourish (cf. Roberts 1999; Kaspar and Noh 2001). It also creates unnecessary barriers for religious men and women to contribute to public policy relating to diversity. Finally, it diminishes our capacity to formulate an understanding of Canadian identities based upon a comprehensive appreciation of the sum of characteristics which define diversity.
To address the impoverished state of our public language pertaining to religions, this paper situates the discussion of religious diversity in two contexts: first, the historic role of religions in Canada; second, the meaning of “culture” and its relation to religions. These two contexts illustrate the contestediv landscapes of religious diversity and provide the framework for a review of their impact on the discussion of Canadian identities. We first look at the patterns of contention within diasporic religious traditions and then explore the ways by which those traditions engage Canadian cultures in their processes of adaptation.
Historical Considerations
Since the 1960s, religion in Canada has undergone a profound change. There has been a significant decline in religious participation in the various Christian denominations in Canada (Bibby 1983 1987; Statistics Canada 1993a&b and 2000). Furthermore, changes in immigration policy have resulted in the introduction and growth of the diasporic religious traditions—Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh, to mention only a few of the living religious traditions in Canada (Coward 1997; Statistics Canada 1993a&b). The diasporic traditions, together with Jewish and Christian denominations and sects and the new patterns of spirituality (Valpy 2000; Dawson 1998), are proof of entirely new patterns of religious life in Canadian society.
It is commonplace to suggest that public policy ought to imitate the American model of separation of Church and Statev as a way to negotiate the public relationship between religions and society at large. However, the constitutional solution of the American Revolution was never characteristic of the relationship of religion and the nation-state in Canada. O’Toole has rightly argued that:
(I)n contrast, Canadian religion boasts manifestly establishmentarian roots. Though sectarianism has undoubtedly played a vital and vigorous minor role, it has been large churches with strong links to powerful political, business and cultural elites which have dominated Canadian religious experience since their importation (O’Toole 1996:121).
O’Toole asserts that the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, with Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Methodists (after church union in 1925, the United Church of Canada) in supporting roles, were a type of established Churchvi throughout much of Canada’s colonial and post-colonial society until well into the twentieth century. The vast majority of citizens were members of those churches (Statistics Canada 1993a&b). As a result, the public language of debate was rooted in the ethical-religious language of the churches. Canadians said much about their identity as a people when they named their country “The Dominion of Canada” in which the term “dominion” was a direct allusion to Genesis 1.28 in the King James Biblevii. Among the lasting inheritances of the establishment place of the major Christian denominations is the constitutional protection for Roman Catholic religious schools (Shilton 1999), and less well known, the tax benefits accorded to Protestant ministers and priests (Faulkner 1999).
The hegemonic social and cultural influence of religions in Canada, for good and for ill, was founded on the intimate connection understood to exist between the membership in the Christian denominations and the powerful elites in the society. As a result, there were profound social influences originating in the religious traditions:
In the broadest sense, the vitality of Victorian Christianity has profoundly shaped the character or identity of the nation. Thus, many features of modern Canadian life, including the political party system, the welfare state, foreign policy goals and a distinct “law and order” bias arguably originate, at least in part, in religious ideas, attitudes and structures which are now quite unfamiliar to contemporary Canadian Christians (O’Toole 1996:121).
The very endurance of these institutions suggests within them a remarkable flexibility, adaptability and capacity for change (Kymlicka 1998). Whether or not those enduring qualities are related to their religious origins is not clear. What is clear is that they had to acknowledge denominational diversity from the outset, and this tacit recognition is a plausible ground for their adaptability.
Notwithstanding these positive contributions, to read O’Toole’s list as the only role of the denominations is, of course, a profound error. It must not be forgotten that there was an intimate relationship between the churches and Canadian imperialist policies appropriated from Great Britain (Said 1993) which endorsed both racism (Clifford 1977; Johnston 1979; Cairns 2000; Day 1999) and anti-semitism through government policies of ethnic assimilation. The missionary zeal of Canada’s colonial churches paralleled the political zeal of English-speaking Canada for British Imperialism (Said 1993; Day 2000; Cairns 2000). Taken together, such views helped define the meaning of assimilation in relation to Native Peoples, French Canadians or the first African and Asian immigrants. As with all institutions then, it is important to remember critically the history of religions in Canada and their contribution, for good and for ill, in the formation of Canadian institutions and identities.
The implications for Canadian identities of the convergence between the missionary role of the churches and the conceptions of the imperial destiny of Great Britain and its colonies are significant indeed. To be “Canadian” implied that citizenship and religious allegiance were coeval. This does not imply that they were identical or uncritical of one another, but does make clear how public language drew upon both religious and imperialist discourses in the formation of Canadian identities and public policies. That historic identification is, of course, gone. Multiculturalism names our religious and ethnic pluralism and we speak of our Canadian identities situated in our diverse cultures. What remains, however, is an important principle. Religious allegiance and citizenship, or political allegiance, are theoretically compatible with one another in contemporary Canadian cultures. That compatibility does not imply a homogeneous relationship between religious and political allegiances. Indeed, it is much more likely that the relationship will be contested as people debate ethical and political issues out of their diverse conceptions of being religious and being a citizen.viii Unlike the historic pattern of the relationship of religions and citizenship, contemporary Canadian ethnic and religious diversity is situated in the context of “multi-culturalism.” The key element of that term is “culture.” I wish to turn, now, to its significance in order to better understand these relationships.
Culture,” “Religion” and “Identity” in Canada
In contemporary Canadian society, religion is viewed primarily as a subcategory of culture. “Culture” is one of those immensely useful terms, the utility of which lies in the diverse usages it encompasses. Bruce Lincoln (2000) has usefully analyzed both the meanings of culture and religion’s place in it.ix He argues that the primary fields of content conveyed by the term are usefully named “ethics” and “aesthetics.” The ethical field of culture is made up of public mores, etiquette, constitutions, legislation and laws which provide citizens with the ethical tools and content for living a civil life. Multiculturalism, as legislated public policy, fits within this dimension of culture, as do the distinctive ethics and mores of diasporic peoples who embody the heritage of the “culture” of their ancestors. In its aesthetic sense, culture is evident in museums, galleries and theatres, in literature and music, in sacred spaces such as temples or churches, and in popular “culture,” from advertisements, films, sport, jazz and rap. Diasporic peoples express their distinctive identities as they build temples or mosques, open restaurants to recreate the foods of their homelands or contribute artistically to Canadian life and society. Following Lincoln then, “culture,” with its primary fields of ethics and aesthetics, names the complex framework within which peoples negotiate how to live a good life. Such a negotiation is, I would argue, at the center of identity formation for all peoples, both historically and contemporaneously.
Lincoln’s definition begs the question of culture’s relationship to “religion.” Religion is not, in Lincoln’s view, a core attribute of culture. Religion, he argues, may be prominent, even hegemonic, in relation to “culture,” or it may function within it or even in the background. Because religion may function so differently, it cannot necessarily be a primary attribute of culture. Nonetheless it plays very important functions—both as a partner or as a contender—within the fields of ethics and aesthetics.
In Lincoln’s view, religion possesses four elements which make up its primary characteristics:x a) discourses about beliefs; b) ritual and ethical practices; c) conceptions of community, and d) institutions which regulate the beliefs, practices and communal characteristics. These four elements are to be taken together, and understood to be constantly interacting. Furthermore, they are contested both from within religions, involving disagreements about interpretation of texts or rituals, and from without, as a religion critically engages the primary fields of culture. The relationship between the critical appropriation of religious traditions and the critical appropriation of the primary attributes of culture defines the settings in which, to follow Charles Taylor (1994), the dialogical formation of identities takes place. So situated, the dialogical contradicts a common assumption about religions and their relation to culture. John Hinnells, in The Study of Diaspora Religion, points out that “typically, scholarship on religions tends to view the traditions as monolithic wholes and anything that is different as deviant” (1997:684). The stereotype has its root in the ways western scholarship has named the religions of the world. Thus “Hinduism,” while a seemingly convenient term, disguises the ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity commonly subsumed underneath the titlexi. Such distortions were historically convenient to European imperialism and colonialism and to the western scholarship which served those interests (Said 1978, 1993; Balagangadhara 1994).
Suffice it to say that when one speaks of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, there lies behind the label not a monolith, but a diversity of meaning and interpretation. Behind every name we must see historical change, ethnic diversity, contested textual and legal interpretations, regional and linguistic distinctions, distinct gender role differences, class, caste and gender distinctions, and in the case of the diasporic religions, issues rooted in the homelands of the religions. Such varied issues bring to the fore distinct understandings of what it means for people to be Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim, Christian or Jew. This is particularly true for diasporic religions which, at one level, are detached from their roots in a homeland and, at another, seek to exist in continuity with those roots while surviving in, and engaging, a foreign culture.
In what follows, then, this paper assumes that no religious tradition has ever been static and fixed; rather participants in every religious tradition engage in continuing debates—sometimes heated and acrimonious—about how best to live life from within the wisdom, norms and practices of a religious tradition and the society in which it is set. In this respect, religions are no different from any other aspect of cultures.
Lincoln’s notions about culture and religion are very helpful for understanding major themes about religions in Canada. In the phase of Canada’s history from its colonial origins up to the 1960s, we have argued that Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations played dominant roles in Canadian cultures as quasi-established churches. This corresponds to Lincoln’s view that religion can play a hegemonic role in the ethical and aesthetic fields of culture.
Lincoln’s thesis also helps to interpret the current situation in which religions, and particularly the historic denominations, no longer hold the allegiance of a majority of people in Canada (Statistics Canada 2000; Bibby 1983, 1987, 1993). As a result, what some would call secularization of Canadian society corresponds to the fact that the debates in the ethical and aesthetic fields of Canadian culture do not, as we have seen, comfortably include voices from the religions. Religion in the contemporary Canadian context is not, in Lincoln’s terms, a primary characteristic of Canadian cultures.
Nonetheless, the place religion occupies for those citizens for whom it is a primary allegiance. To suggest that this population could include up to a third of Canadian citizens is to lend considerable significance to this point (Statistics Canada 2000; Bibby 1983, 1987, 1993). Within both the historic and the diasporic communities, the religious tradition may well be hegemonic as a strategy for community building and for negotiating a Canadian identity. We shall therefore see below that numerous, ethnically-diverse communities have developed in Canada centered on sacred spaces such as mosques, temples, centres and gurdwaras. From within the security of those spaces, the communities can carry forward debates on two fronts. Debates within the community touch upon the authoritative interpretation of ethics, customs, icons, rituals and sacred texts which connect them to the religion in their places of origin. Sacred spaces also provide a place for the community to discuss the religious implications of the diverse issues which arise out of their day-to-day life in relation to government, society, economic life, and the mainstream cultures of Canadian society. The capacity of a religious community to adapt to its setting and to negotiate a life within the cultures of Canada emerges from both types of conversation.
Identity, both for individuals and for the religious community, takes shape as these types of conversations, or negotiations, unfold. Lincoln’s thesis about the relationship of culture and religions helps define the terms in which it is possible to understand the relationship of religions to identity formation in Canadian society. I therefore wish to use it in the following discussion of two aspects of religious diversity in Canada: the contested diversity within diasporic religious communities and the contested diversity between diasporic religious traditions and Canadian cultures.
Contested Diversity Within Religious Communities
Immigrants to Canada have always brought their religious beliefs, practices, conceptions of community and institutions with them. Once established in Canada, they have set out to create societies in which Lincoln’s four characteristics of religion could play a significant, if not central part. This was as true for colonial immigrants as it is for the diasporic religious traditions growing today in Canadian society.
Both recent and historic immigrants brought with them some portion of the diverse interpretations of the religion from which they derived in their countries of origin. Such continuities provide the initial outward expressions of religious and communal identity. Some of these characteristics can endure for very long periods of time. This was true of the Irish Catholic immigrants to Newfoundland or the Scottish Protestants in Nova Scotia (Murphy and Byrne 1987), many of whose churches, rituals, languages, ethics, music and step dances continue to this day. It is reasonable to expect that similar characteristics will endure in the identities of Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus as their religious communities evolve in Canada.
A shared religious tradition of beliefs and liturgical practices provides a common ground for building and sustaining religious communities and institutions (Lincoln 2000). Several overlapping elements may be viewed as stages of religious community development as well as varied strategies for community maintenance. When the numbers of new immigrants sharing a common religion are small, the tendency is to subsume ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences in an effort to form a supportive religious community for all. The accent is placed on what is shared within the religion. As the religious community’s numbers increase, the tendency is to create more ethnically-specific religious communities and institutions (Israel 1994; Coward et al. 2000b; Coward 1999; Bowlby 2000; McGown 1999). In this development, the accent is once again placed on what is shared in the religion, but the religious is framed by the ethnic and cultural characteristics of a common homeland. Simultaneously from both multiethnic religious communities and from the ethnically specific communities, collaborative endeavors lead to the creation of regional, national and international organizations intended to support and sustain the local religious communities. Each of these strategies for community building contributes elements to communal and individual identity formation as a religious person. That religious identity derived from a homeland adapts as individuals engage the culture at work, in society and in the dialogues about how to be religious within the culture.
For example, during the 1960s and 1970s, the individuals who were instrumental in the growth of the Islamic Association of the Maritime Provinces (IAMP) (Bowlby 2000) and the construction of the first Muslim mosque in Halifax were from Turkey, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), West Pakistan and the Republic of India. The majority of Muslims were from South Asia. The first Imam for the community was from Egypt. This ethnically-diverse group shared their Muslim faith in common, worshipped together in homes, and worked effectively to build the Association. A primary goal of the community was the purchase of land and the construction of a mosque which could serve both as a place of prayer and the headquarters for IAMP. These early Muslims in the Halifax region were for the most part professional families. As a result, in addition to successful fundraising enabling them to establish the mosque, additional funds were raised for a small school and for international charitable works for Muslims around the world.
Growth in the Muslim community lead to a second mosque in Truro, Nova Scotia. There a plot of land had been purchased for a Muslim cemetery in the 1940s. IAMP took it over and built a Mosque on the site which can be used for funerals for Muslims from across the Atlantic region. IAMP also played a key role in the growth of the Muslim school, now called the Muslim Academy. It is located in Halifax on the site of a former public school. The Academy has 115 students and offers all grades, from primary to twelve. The school buildings also function as an additional mosque.
In the 1990s, the numbers and diversity of the Muslims in Halifax grew to its present total of approximately 12,000-15,000 persons. Additional mosques were built by the new Muslim groups in suburban metropolitan Halifax and in Bridgewater, a small town on the South Shore of Nova Scotia about 60 kilometers from Halifax.
The initial strategy of the Halifax Muslims was to build a regional organization which could serve to develop Islam in the Maritimes. McDonough has shown that this strategy, albeit on a larger scale, was also shared by other Muslims in Canada and the United States. As a result, there are numerous national and international Muslim organizations in North America, such as the very active Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) (McDonough 2000). ISNA promotes the development of mosques and schools and each year hosts a continent-wide convention of Muslims. ICNA tends to focus on the development of the faith da’wa or missionary meetings, publications and audio-visual resources which may be used to advance the cause of Islam in North America. In addition, the Muslim Arab Youth Association (MAYA), which began in the United States, has branches in Canada. A very active Council of the Muslim Community of Canada (CMCC) was founded in 1973. This council has spun off several additional organizations: “Canadian Council of Muslim Women, Families Meeting Families, International Development and Refugee Foundation, Muslim Youth Camping, Islamic Schools Federation of Ontario, National Christian-Muslim Liaison Committee, Muslim Elders Network and Vision TV” (McDonough 2000:184). Such a range of activities are clearly oriented toward the internal development of Islam in Canada and toward engagement with the society at large. In terms of identity formation, all of the organizations create a sense of involvement in the growth and expansion of Islam. In turn that feeling reinforces the sense of appropriateness of a Muslim identity for life in Canada.
The sudden growth in the Muslim community in Halifax in the 1990s brought about a change in the ethnic makeup of the community. The majority of Muslims now came from Middle Eastern countries. This shift led to an ambitious plan for a new mosque and social center to serve the newer immigrant community needs. In this development, Muslims in Halifax appear to be following a second pattern which has been identified by scholars : as immigrant communities grow and diversify, they also experience ethnic diversity as a characteristic of their “religion” and that awareness becomes a stimulus for religious adaptation and change.
Rima Berns McGown has documented the impact of the ethnic diversity of the Somali Muslims in Toronto:
(S)omalis are not as homogeneous a people as they have frequently been depicted, and there are significant differences in culture and even language between the northern pastoralists and the southerners, with their more mixed economy, and between the histories that have accompanied each tradition (McGown 1999:22).
Despite these differences, the experience of immigration has not prevented the Somali Muslims from sharing the established mosques and schools that earlier arrivals had established. But, from within these established mosques, McGown also reports that the Somali Muslims have significantly transformed Islam in Toronto with their views on how Islam is to be practiced. She reports that :

(T)he Muslims already in Toronto, according to the same imam, tended to be reticent about religious demands, perhaps because they did not feel that their numbers warranted their demands, but when the Somalis arrived, notably in the schools, and began to pray in the halls because there was no prayer-room, the schools had to wrestle for the first time in earnest with meeting the needs of significant numbers of Muslims (McGown 1999:25-26).

McGown makes clear that the Somalis played a major role in the setting of new standards for adherence to Muslim faith and practice.
The issue of multiethnic communities also characterizes the South Asian religions : Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism (Coward 2000b; Israel 1994). The vast majority of South Asian immigrants, in the 1960s and 1970s, were professionals. This led in each case to the establishment of multiethnic religious institutions which parallel what we have seen among the Muslim arrivals in the same period. Cooperation produced religious institutions such as temples and gurdwaras which, through compromise, served the relatively small numbers of people.
In Halifax, for example, the Maritime Sikh Society provides a center for worship for Sikhs from across the Atlantic region. So too, a Hindu temple, the Vedanta Ashram Society, hosts services each Sunday morning for a highly diverse community. The Hindu temple is a modified, house-like building in central Halifax. In the case of the Sikhs, they have built a new gurdwara in the suburbs that draws participants from across the Atlantic region.
The Halifax gurdwara and Hindu temple correspond to the kinds of initial establishments found in other parts of Canada. Israel (1994:31ff) describes in detail the evolution of the “community of communities” of South Asians in Ontario, in which Hindus initially work out of common interests to establish centers of worship and community life and subsequently fragment into sub-communities representative of ever more refined ethnic, religious and linguistic groups with more temples or centers.
How worship is conducted also appears to follow a pattern of adaptation. The pattern of individual and family home worship in Hindu life is very well established (Coward 2000a) and the Muslim injunction to pray five times a day is possible in any location so long as the prayer’s orientation is toward Mecca. Worship requires significant adaptation in the temples, mosques and gurdwaras and it is not unusual for that to become quite controversial and divisive (Sekhar 1999).
In the Halifax Vedanta temple, for example, the hall for worship does not permit circumambulation of a sanctum where images of the gods are situated. Rather it is focused on a raised platform at one end of the hall where both the priest who leads the worship and the sacred images are located. In contrast to such simplicity serving a diverse community, the Ganesh Temple complex in Toronto recreates a south-Indian style of temple permitting simultaneous worship (darshan) at the 14 altars which house images of Ganesh, Shiva and Durga and other deities (Coward 2000a:157; Israel 1994:55-57).
Religions maintain important international connections with the homeland of the tradition. Teachers, priests and gurus come to Canada to offer instruction and advice to participants in the tradition (Coward 2000a). These international connections have been particularly important in the Hindu community. Traditional religious education took place in the family setting in which the oral traditions found in sacred texts and rituals were literally learned by participation in the morning household puja at dawn. In the Canadian setting, this practice has broken down under the pressures of the time demands for schooling and employment. Its replacement has centered on a redefinition of puja inspired by visiting gurus (Miller 1976-77). Home worship focuses on the mantra given by a guru which can be chanted in brief moments of prayer or worship in the course of the day (Coward 2000a:162; Goa, Coward and Neufeldt 1984).
To move from multiethnic religious communities toward the establishment of more and more ethnically-specific religious institutions is one pattern which seems well established. At the same time, these institutions provide support for adaptation within urban Canada. This pattern of change invites comparative study. It would, for example, be instructive to review the scholarship on the mainline Christian churches and the small sects of Mennonites, Doukhobors and Hutterites with a view to seeing how the more recent immigrant experiences compare with these more historic examples. Terrence Murphy identifies two patterns, both of which are evident in the preceding discussion. The first involves “creating under the auspices of the Church an entire network of social institutions“ (Murphy 1991:310) while the second, adopted by smaller sectarian groups, is described as the “colony” approach in which sects establish small yet quite self-sufficient agricultural settlements. With regard to the second type, the focus for comparison emerges as the settlements are complimented by the development of the sect in urban centers. At that point the sect must explore how to preserve ethnic and religious identity without the resources of the self-sufficient settlement (Driedger 1988).
The Muslims in Canada live primarily in urban centers. They have adopted many aspects of the network strategy suggested by Murphy (1991). The range of institutions, from local mosques and schools to regional, national and international organizations, provides a network of connections across North America. Such networks provide support for local mosques and communities and are probably crucial to the continued growth and expansion of Islam as the second, third and fourth generations become participants in the religious tradition.
The majority of the members of the South Asian religious traditions also live in the cities. The exception is found in the Sikhs in British Columbia. Somewhat like the Mennonites, many Sikhs have established colonies based on an elaborate agricultural economic base. Having said that, Sikhs, like the diverse Hindu population, are also living and working in cities. As a result Sikhs must develop strategies of continuity which can continue to serve both their members who are based in agricultural economies and those who have either moved or settled in the large urban centers.
Leo Driedger (1988) has studied the Mennonite urban strategy and discovered that “the crucial factor in maintaining ethnic identity is the strength of institutional support. The more a group establishes its own churches, publications, welfare institutions, and voluntary agencies the more it retains its distinctive character” (Murphy 1991:311). This pattern, as we have seen, appears to be ubiquitous across the diasporic religious traditions. However, further research is required to verify the appropriateness of these suggestive comparisons of strategy.
In summary, it would not be possible to talk about the diasporic religions in Canada were it not for the fact that, despite diversity and contestation, common beliefs and practices exist and are recognized among ethnically-specific and ethnically-diverse religious communities. No less common is the resultant creation of new religious “sects” which set out to shape new religious institutions either on the basis of ethnicity or as a result of disagreements over interpretation of a belief, a ritual, a scripture, a customary practice. Assuming such differences of interpretation, it is also important to see that diasporic traditions establish and maintain local sacred spaces and they participate in regional, national and international networks. These networks permit people to see themselves both as integral parts of a local religious community and also as part of the extensions of that community nationally and internationally. This appears to be a central contribution of religious traditions to identity formation. It is possible to see oneself as Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist or Hindu—and here I would add to the list the Jewish and Christian traditions as well—as an identifiable part of a religious tradition that exists in Canadian localities, in homelands and through networks of national and international connections.
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