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Space for Race: Decoding Issues of Race, Belonging and Multi- Culturalism in Canada and Beyond

A response to “Religion and Multiculturalism in Canada and Beyond”

By Dr. Laura Morlock

With the election of President Donald Trump south of the border, many Canadians started asking whether a similar political outcome could take place in the True North. Researcher and public commentator Michael Adams’ new book Could it Happen Here?: Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit was an instant national bestseller. Op-eds fill newspapers and radio interviews on whether Canada could follow suit.

Could it Happen Here? winner of the 2004 Donner Prize for best book on Canadian public policy. Author Michael Adams is the founder and president of Environics.

In her interview with Carmen Celestini, Wendy Fletcher warns that our political machinery has the capacity to override anybody’s rights or freedoms with a majority government [1]. Like many other scholars of diversity, Fletcher wants Canadians to be vigilant and aware that the capacity exists for the dissolution of the the “respect and dignity of multiculturalism.” Canada is not as “safe” as we tend to assume. By international cultural and legal standards, Canada is one of the world’s most open and accepting societies [2]. Yet there is a significant disparity between that ideal and the reality of numerous minorities’ lived experiences.

Most Canadians take great pride in the country’s diversity and official policy of multiculturalism (adopted as federal policy in 1971 in 1971 and enshrined in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act in 1988 [The current federal cabinet reflects what is both a reality and a national value, including (among many others) ministers from Francophone, Indigenous, Afghan, Somali, Italian, Chinese, Argentinian, and Indian heritage, with women filling 15 of the cabinet’s seats.] Prime Minister Justin Trudeau uses Twitter to welcome those seeking asylum and to diversity is Canada’s strength.

See the source image

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p style=”text-align: center;”>Fig. 2 2015 Federal Cabinet
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office in 2015, he felt it was important to choose a cabinet that reflected Canada’s diversity. When a reporter asked him why he thought having women form half the cabinet, he famously replied, “Because it’s 2015.”

At the same time, public enthusiasm for multiculturalism exists alongside heated public debates around “accommodation,” politicians experimenting with “scary foreigner” tropes, and comes after a long history of discriminatory laws, views, and practices. The current conversation exists in a context where many Canadians see themselves as a nation that champions human rights and diversity, alongside and entwined with ideals of secularism and religious neutrality. This often leads to disputes around what constitutes “diversity.”

In their new work, A Space for Race: Decoding Racism, Multiculturalism, and Post-Colonialism in the Quest for Belonging in Canada and Beyond, Wendy Fletcher and Kathy Hogarth use narrative to explore the questions of ethnic and racial identity against the backdrop of Canada’s multicultural policies. In this interview, Fletcher argues that whether people feel like they belong is central to how well Canada is succeeding in this vision. She believes that greater awareness of the significant role religion plays in the lives and identities of Canadians is likewise necessary.

This brings to mind José Casanova’s seminal work Public Religions in the Modern World, in which he argues that the marginalization of religion is not a necessary outcome of the differentiation of secular spheres from religious institutions because public religions in modern societies do not necessarily threaten the foundations of liberal democracies [3].

Canadians encounter diversity on a daily basis. Most of these experiences are non-events [4]. Lori Beaman emphasizes this throughout her extensive scholarship, including Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity (2017) and Beyond Accommodation: Everyday Narratives of Muslim Canadians (2018, with Jennifer Selby and Amélie Barras). Different beliefs can lead to dissimilar priorities for governing our lives, and some of these contrasts are irreconcilable. Therefore, Beaman argues that some common commitment and understanding is necessary for Canadian society to function and thrive, but this must be a narrative that allows for such diversity (and sameness). As cliché as it may seem, Beaman successfully demonstrates that what unites us truly is deeper than what divides us [5]. To some degree, we are all “us.”

Like Fletcher and Hogarth’s challenges to look beyond a simple mosaic model and earnestly ask what the new Canada will look like, Beaman wants her readers to consider the implications of phrases such as “religious accommodation” and their inherent power imbalances (someone must have the authority to grant the accommodation to the “other”) [6]. It is important to keep power (im)balances in view, while in practical terms of social cohesion and institutional function it is first necessary for individuals to become aware of and comfortable with the realities of religious diversity and multiculturalism.

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Above, Lori Beaman lectures based on The New Diversity at Uppsala University on January 25, 2018


It would be a worthwhile exercise to carefully read A Space for Race alongside Deep Equality, in which Beaman takes issue with a general emphasis in society and scholarship on difference. While not seeking to water down groups and individuals to some imagined lowest common denominator of “the same,” she argues that focusing on how the ways diverse people interact in uneventful everyday circumstances demonstrates the sameness that exists between them. She believes that this produces a “potential to create an alternative imaginary: from one of difference and diversity as ‘challenging’ and something to be ‘managed,’ to a framework of negotiation of difference, often through an emphasis on similarity … that models deep equality” [7]. This is in sharp contrast to, “us” tolerating or accommodating “them,” and ultimately preserving religious and cultural majority hegemonies [8]. Fletcher makes a similar point in her interview, speaking of a future that moves beyond “tolerance” to “celebration.” This is in sharp contrast to “us” tolerating or accommodating “them” and ultimately preserving religious and cultural majority hegemonies [9]. Minorities are an integral part of Canadian society, and – as Fletcher and Hogarth demonstrate – have been throughout the country’s history.

References

[1] In the interest of full disclosure, the author and Carmen Celestini are both graduates of the same doctoral program at the University of Waterloo, where Wendy Fletcher is a college president.

[2] Mary Anne Waldron, Free to Believe: Rethinking Freedom of Conscience and Religion in Canada (Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2013) 235-236.

[3] José Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).

[4] Lori Beaman, Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 3.

[5] See Beaman’s discussion on how “naiveté” is used as a charge to dismiss the power of non-divisive approaches to deep equality in Beaman, Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity, 185-189.

[6] Lori G. Beaman, ed. Reasonable Accommodation: Managing Religious Diversity. (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012).

[7] Beaman, Deep Equality, 8.

[8] See Introduction in Lori Beaman, Deep Equality.

[9] See Introduction in Lori Beaman, Deep Equality.

Religion and Multiculturalism in Canada and Beyond

Dr. Wendy Fletcher is the co-author of “Space for Race: Decoding Issues of Race, Belonging and Multi- Culturalism in Canada and Beyond.” Through personal stories and historical accounts not always included in the telling of multiculturalism in Canada, Fletcher explores the merits of belonging. Defining the term “belonging” we learn the reality of Canadian multiculturalism and re-conceive how Canada can move forward to truly be an inclusive society. Fletcher explains the importance of her work in this book, and how is can be use by religious studies scholars in the current political landscape.

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A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


Religion, Multiculturalism and the Quest for Belonging in Canada and Beyond

Podcast with Wendy Fletcher (11 March 2019).

Interviewed by Carmen Celestini.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at: Fletcher_-_Religion_Multiculturalism_and_the_Quest_for_Belonging_1.1

 

Carmen Celestini (CC): Today I’m speaking with Dr Wendy Fletcher, the President and Vice- Chancellor of Renison University College, affiliated with the University of Waterloo. Dr Fletcher is a co-author of A Space for Race: Decoding Racism, Multiculturalism in the Quest for Belonging in Canada and Beyond, which we’ll be discussing today. Dr Fletcher, thank you for sitting down and talking to us. I’m just going to ask a couple of questions about the book. The book contains personal stories of the authors and others. And it opens up with the merits of belonging. Could we expand on these merits and the personal experiences of the book?

Wendy Fletcher (WF): Sure. Thank you. Thank you very much for the question. It’s an important question to start with as a historian. I think narrative is all. And personal narrative and how it links to a broader narrative, in terms of telling the story of where people have come from and where we go, is really key. So I identify as a historian, as I believe there is no genuine objectivity. We can struggle for it, but of course we all live within our subjective contexts and experience. So for both of us – Kathy and I – writing the book, to locate ourselves in the context of the question of ethnicity – because the book is, of course, really struggling with that question of racial and ethnic identity against the backdrop of Canada’s vision of multiculturalism – was very important. So Kathy, of course, came to the book as a Jamaican immigrant and as a Canadian scholar. And I was raised as an Anglo-speaking Euro-descent settler who, over the context of a complicated story, found that I had some indigenous, ethnic, racial background myself. And in the context of my journey was adopted into other indigenous contexts as well. The point of it all being that in the backdrop of identity politics today, having the one who is speaking feel free to say something about who they are and be the one to define who they are, is very, very important. In the world of the university right now, especially, identity politics is all: who has the right to say what about who. So our first premise – of sharing these stories of how we understood ourselves, and then inviting others to do the same about themselves as the story of their research unfolded – was pretty key. Because we’re staking the ground for an individual’s right to say who they are, regardless of what anybody else wants to say about that. The identity of the self is first formulated through one’s own construction of narrative and belonging.

CC: Well that really comes though, very clearly, in the book. Definitely. So, these merits that you want to expand on: what are the merits of the belonging? Is this the individual voice, or are there other merits as well that you think are important, in our expression of who we are?

WF: So I go back to . . . I’m also an Anglican priest and so if I step back outside the world of the academy for a moment and I think about the spiritual dilemma of the human being, I think that the spiritual dilemma for the human being in every generation – but perhaps never more acutely than in this one – is a question of belonging. We all need to belong. We need be valued. We need our story to have meaning and place. And in the context that we often find ourselves today, “dislocation” and “belonging” seem to very dominant motifs. So for me, then, setting this story in the context of the question of belonging and not belonging – perhaps the truest measure of whether Canada’s multiculturalism has actually worked the way the frameworks of that vision intended – has been very important.

CC: Definitely. How do you think we should move towards belonging, and how would you define that sense of belonging?

WF: So I have this understanding about who the human being is where I start micro and go macro, usually, for me. I start with the trees and go to the forest. And my fundamental philosophy of the human being is that every human being matters infinitely. And that there is nobody like you. There is nobody like me. Every one of us is incredibly unique. We’re all on a path and a journey, and we all have a contribution to make to this world and its best becoming, that is uniquely our own. And it’s sometimes a contribution of harm depending on how the story goes for all of us on any given day. So the world I imagine, the Canadian society I imagine, is a place where that is how we understand respect. We talk about respect a lot, but if you go the dictionary and you look up what the word respect means, it’s actually in my view – and in particular from an indigenous perspective – not a very helpful definition. The word respect says to esteem or value someone because of their gifts, skills, abilities or contribution. Well in an indigenous context that’s not what respect means. Respect means to esteem, to value, to offer, to recognise the dignity of the other simply because they are (5:00). And for me that is the basis of a truly inclusive society that is capable of supporting the parameters of what the original framers of multiculturalism imagined. So that just because we are means we have a right to be here, we have place, we have values and should be accorded dignity. So genuine multiculturalism – multiculturalism that worked – would do that.

CC: Yes. Definitely. And I think that’s where – and this is my own personal opinion – but sort-of having the “politics of becoming”, and these things are happening. And I think this is really fundamental to those ideas, sort-of moving forward politically. What can a Religious Studies perspective bring to the table in this conversation?

WF: A good scholar, in my view of Religious Studies, understands that there is no one right voice. No one right path. That you take a hermeneutic of questioning to the journey of a Religious Studies discourse. So, insofar as the Religious Studies imagination understands that the story is framed by multiple voices, multiple experiences, multiple philosophies and multiple truths – like, competing truths – as a necessary way of telling any discourse, it contributes that. There is no genuine multiculturalism; there is no healthy pluralism in the society which doesn’t understand that what you believe and what I believe may not be the same thing but they’re both true, because they’re true for us and we’re holding that discourse and that voice as a piece of the whole.

CC: I like that concept, I really do. How might scholars working in Religious Studies navigate the current political landscape, using insights from this book?

WF: So, what the book does in part . . . I’m a historian so a lot of the book is actually historical. One of the things I learned as a teacher – in religious studies and history – I thought when I first started teaching that people would change their minds based on an idea or a philosophy. But they don’t. My experience of human beings around their prejudices, the narrowness or wideness of their worldview, actually is more influenced by – in this age that’s still living hanging on the edges of a modern discourse – that empiricism actually matters. I’d like to say it doesn’t, because we’ve all embraced the postmodern thing. But honestly, when you look at the fact that indigenous persons in this country received the vote in this country after persons of colour did in the United States – many years after – you go, “Woah! I didn’t know that abut Canada!” Did we know, in Canada, that we had a very tightly negotiated space? We have a policy of multiculturalism and at the same time we are tightly controlling immigration and racialising immigration according to preferred racial and ethnic groups. So we know that in Victoria children of the Chinese, for decades, were not allowed to swim in the swimming pools; were not allowed to shop in the stores; that persons of Asian descent in Vancouver were not allowed to work for certain people. So a white woman, for example, could never work for an Asian male. And an Asian child was not allowed to go to school in Victoria with a white child. Chinese schools were segregated. All these things are shocking to Canadians. But they are empirically the case. So while I, with Pilot, on any given day will say, “Well, what is truth?” There are some things that we just know to be true. Somethings that are actually measurable in the story. And so as I worked with students over many decades I understood that their worldviews were actually more significantly expanded through shocking empiricism than they were through any great rhetoric of a particular philosophical worldview. So the only way to get at the falsity of the illusion of multiculturalism in the Canadians story was to go after the bedrock of what the story actually was, through historical detail. So there’s tons, and tons, and tons of historical detail in the book as a way of helping to unmask our own self-delusion about multiculturalism.

CC: And I think it’s really successful at doing that. As I was walking in here I said, “This book made me rethink so many things.” Like, there was so much that I didn’t know about Canada. Now this concept of multiculturalism – I see it in a completely different way. The veil, it’s gone now. It’s a very powerful book and the stories really do tell that. The history changed my perspective a lot. So now, after I’ve said that, I’m going to ask this question: why does this matter in Religious Studies and in Canada’s understanding of multiculturalism – as we label ourselves?

WF: Right. So just to link, in the first instance then, Religious Studies and multiculturalism (10:00): we’re not as aware in Canada as elsewhere in the world of the extent to which religion continues to be a huge dividing factor. So as we talk about laying a table, in Canada, where everyone is welcome – the historically theoretical multicultural table – to not be aware of the ways in which religious difference and deep religious commitment actually lays a table of dissention, animosity and hatred, potentially – rather than respect for diversity – is going to be really key. So we think religion doesn’t matter in our society any more. But as the world comes to us, where religion does actually matter in the broader world in the way that it doesn’t in a fairly secularised Canada today, we are bumping up against not only the assumptions of newcomers and other cultures but our own prejudices. Because if we think religion doesn’t matter, but we’re living in a country where the newly-elected government of Quebec is talking about using the “notwithstanding clause“ to violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and disallow people to express their religion in their dress. So we are on the cusp of writing an article, right now. I’m writing an article that looks at the tension between the Charter of Human Rights and religious freedoms, and contemporary politics – where the political discourse of the day is going right now. And the two case studies I’m looking at in the book: one is the Trinity Western University law school issue, where it was agreed by the Supreme Court that particular rights and freedoms took precedence over religious rights and freedoms. But now the Quebec notwithstanding clause, where we see that our political machinery has the capacity to override anybody’s rights and freedoms including religious rights and freedoms, if a majority government decides that it wants to do that. . . over anything! That is actually . . . . Our constitution actually allows that. That is a disconcerting shock note into the middle of this story of a Canada where “we all feel safe and everybody’s rights are protected, and everybody has a place, and there’s dignity for all”. But this book freeze-frames that story and says: in what was the past that was simply not true; in what is, that unfortunately simply is not what is true. And with the way the constitutional framework has been set in our country, the possibility of it being unmade – as racism and xenophobia go wild, as immigration increases and the diversity of ways – has the possibility of just opening a Pandora’s box of a kind of Canada that bears no resemblance to this whole notion of respect and dignity for all, that we say we prize so much.

CC: It’s definitely shocking, what’s happening in Quebec, and even what’s happening here, as we see American politics in some ways affecting us. Look at Andrew Scheer and what’s happening, and Rebel Media, you know. It’s definitely a frightening idea of what could happen here when we think of who we are and the safety that we have here, in that sense.

WF: It’s so true. And I honestly believe that the most pressing political question of this generation for our world, let alone Canada, is: how will we live with the other? How will we live with the other? How are we going to live with difference? The old model of multiculturalism that we deconstruct in the book talks really about tolerance: “We’re going to tolerate the difference of the other.” The future, or a genuine multicultural vision, or a post-multicultural vision would actually not tolerate the one who is different, but embrace and celebrate the one who is different. And, in fact, may accommodate the difference. In other words, may oneself be changed because of value and esteem for the difference of the other. That’s different than the original multicultural vision. But here’s my critique. Can I just tell you, for the Listener, my big critique of the multicultural vision?

CC: Of course!

WF: Ok, so we have a whiteboard, right? And we have the image of a mosaic – you know, the Canadian mosaic – all the different tiles. We put all the different tiles up and put it there. There’s Canada, all the different faces. People keep the integrity of their difference, but it’s on a white board. And that’s the fundamental problem. That we’re going to tolerate all this difference on top of what is foundational. What is underneath is the whiteboard that we are attached to: the fundamental assumptions of a Euro-descent, Anglo-speaking, Western value system – which has been laid on top of a red soil, which was here prior to the arrival of European colonisers – and which is going to determine, then, how this mosaic actually is able to be lived out. So until we deconstruct that, the assumption of the normativity of Anglo-white culture . . . . It’s scary. Because what does the new Canada look like? Because what I’m basically arguing is the only way to take account of genuine multiculturalism is to move beyond tolerance and to adapt (15:00). So that I don’t know what the new Canada will look like because I haven’t been yet modified, adapted, and shaped by my original people and newcomer neighbours in the way that this course will demand if we are actually engaging each other out of respect for genuine difference.

CC: I really do like the sound of your Canada, I really do. I want to thank you so much for participating in this. Do you have any final thoughts or anything you’d like to add?

WF: Yes, maybe just a last one. So I’m a true believer in the notion that the world is a more liveable place when the unique diversities of every ethnic, racial, philosophical, gendered, sexual identity individual is respected in the story. And I do believe that it is actually possible to imagine a social fabric which makes space for that difference to co-exist. It’s only possible, I think, in a couple of ways. So my new book that I’m working on is actually how we actually can live into this world that we hope for. Which is what I think our framers on some level inclined towards – but they didn’t want to give up the whiteboard, right? So if we give up the whiteboard and start from where we are, we have several things going for us. We have a good constitution, and we have a constitution which is not only one that protects the basic notion of the rights of individuals to be different from each other, but it also is adaptive. So the constitution that we have can adapt, it can change. So newcomer voices and original peoples that want to renegotiate the fabric . . . it’s possible to adapt and evolve through our judicial system, in particular. And we can adapt this good constitution that we have. My fear of that, of course, is going to be whether the political will is there. Because if we have the dominance of . . . a majority that actually are willing to over-ride the rights protected in the constitution – because political will gives it the right to do that – will we ever get to the other table? So I’m a believer. I believe it’s possible. But only if the principles of democracy are held in balance with the rights of individual and ethnic and racial groups and religious groups and others to be heard on their own terms.

CC: It makes complete sense. I hope so. I mean, it’s a frightening time for sure. But I’m kind-of hoping, on a personal level, that what we see happening around us, south of the border, will actually bring out the good in us, and make us want to be better, and do the right thing, and include everyone for sure.

WF: It’s so true that in every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. And I think we have to trust that. We’re a couple of hundred years into a really strong tradition of liberal democracy in the West. And that is a gift of the West. We critique ourselves for our marginalisation of other worldviews, but held accountable to our own best principles we know that the discourse of diversity is the only way forward to a truly strong culture. So if we hold ourselves accountable to those virtues which are philosophically strong, I think that will mean that we have to change. I think we will find a way forward.

CC: I think we will. Thanks you so much, Dr Fletcher.

WF: My pleasure. Thank you.


Citation Info: Fletcher, Wendy ad Carmen Celestini. 2019. “Religion, Multiculturalism and the Quest for Belonging in Canada and Beyond”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 11 March 2019. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 6 March 2019. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/religion-multiculturalism-and-the-quest-for-belonging-in-canada-and-beyond/

If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with transcribing the Religious Studies Project archive, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The views expressed in podcasts are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT or the British Association for the Study of Religions.

Difference or Diversity: Promoting Dialogue of Diversity as Religious Studies Professionals

Prof. Martin Stringer, now of Swansea University, once again lends his expertise in religious diversity to the Religious Studies Project. In this podcast, Prof. Stringer discusses the changes the discourse of religious diversity. After years of studying in different locations in the U.K. – Birmingham, London, Manchester – Stringer began noticing a pattern in the way people identify.  Prof. Stringer states it is important to recognize the significant changes to the discourse on diversity. No longer are people identifying based on countries of origin or their ethnicities, but people often proclaim their religious identity as their marker. This is much different from the conversations of the 1960s and 70s, where the conversation is based on the ethnicities migrating throughout Europe.

Stringer mentioned the work of Steven Vertovec, and his concept of “super-diversity.”  According to Vertovec, looking at diversity solely through the lens of ethnicity or country of origin is misleading and one-dimensional (2006, 1). Vertovec’s proposition of “super-diversity” acknowledges that there is a large array of variables that make up the diversity of an area. As researchers, we ought to look into the variables of age, immigration status, languages, gender, and as Stringer mentions, religion.

dividedTo expand upon Vertovec’s theory of super-diversity, Stringer emphasizes the importance for religious studies professionals to develop a language to use when discussing this type of diversity, and be in conversation with our elected officials. According to Stringer, the language used to discuss religion has been secularized so much so that it almost as if we are no longer discussing religion. Cultivating a proper lexicon to discuss religion in public sphere is where religious studies professionals come in. This vocabulary comes in particularly useful when discussing the current atmosphere surrounding immigration and the tension brought on by the refugee crisis. As we start recognizing the differences that make up super-diversity, religion is a key component.

As Stringer points out, discourse is divided along the lines of diversity and difference. When discourse focuses on difference, it divides the subjects along categorical boundaries. These categorical boundaries are socially constructed and further the narrative of “us vs. them”. However, when building discourse surrounding groups that are, yes, different, but focused on the commonalities, that is building a discourse on diversity. Those are the conversations we, as religious studies professionals, need to be having as outreach to the public and to our elected officials. Stringer points out that we must create this lexicon, promote, and make it accessible to the people that do not study religion as in-depth as us. In the case of immigrants and refugees, it is important that we recognize religious differences, and develop that language for the general public and elected officials to use. We can create a discourse of diversity, rather than allowing them to continue with the discourse of difference. If the conversation around migration changes, maybe the culture of suspicion and distrust towards migrants will change to one of welcome and empathy.

At first while listening to this podcast, I was having a difficult time figuring out what angle I wanted to write this response. All of the research Stringer mentions is centered on the U.K. As a student in the United States, I am not familiar with the neighborhoods he mentions nor the discourse he actually observes to draw his conclusions. However, I can relate what Stringer states to a very similar set of issues we are having in the U.S. We have the same issue of correct religious vocabulary to use while discussing religious diversity, the same lack of use of religious studies professionals in the political sphere, heated discussions of immigrants and refugees incited by the discourse of difference, and the division along categorical lines are exacerbated as these conversations persist.

As we have seen over the course of the last few years, the gap between the right and left has increased. Furthering the problematic discourse of difference that Stringer discusses. In agreement with Stringer, I fully believe that religious studies professionals must engage in civic matters more actively. It is not enough that we study the people that make our super-diverse communities. It is not enough that we understand the religious beliefs of the refugees fleeing Syria. In the United States, as in much of Europe, U.S. citizens are divided on whether we should accept more refugees from Syria or bar them and their religious beliefs. My own elected officials have introduced legislation to restrict the flow of refugees from areas with ISIS strongholds, in fear that Muslim radicals would be a part of the admitted refugees. What is my duty as somebody that studies human rights and religion? It is to bring these conversations to light, and lend my expertise to my elected officials. However, we cannot wait to have a seat at this table, but we must create it.

I don’t know if Prof. Stringer had this type of conversation in mind as he sat down with the Religious Studies Project, or throughout his research of super-diversity, but this is a conversation we must also have. We have seen violence increase after the Brexit vote, through a variety of news outlets and perspectives:

In the U.S. we see the vitriol and hate-filled rhetoric expounded by Donald Trump and the far right:

Many of the conversations centered in these situations are focused on the difference between us (citizens of our countries) or them (the migrants). I cannot speak to the discourse that is happening in the U.K., but I can speak to the discourse in the United States. It is one of division, fear, and hate, and one that religious studies professionals can lend their hand to, to calm the discussion and shift the conversation and culture from what makes us different to what our commonalities are to overcome those differences.

Researching Religious Diversity

In Martin Stringer’s Discourses on Religious Diversity (2013a), and in further elaborations (2013b; 2014), he paints a picture of some of the prevalent everyday discourses on ‘religious diversity’ which he and his doctoral students have encountered over several years working in Birmingham, Manchester, London and other cities, bringing a large body of variously ‘circumstantial data’ (Stringer 2013a, 2) into conversation with new and innovatively gathered material (Stringer 2013b) and broader academic literature from anthropology and urban studies.

In this interview, we discuss the broad topic of diversity, contrast this with concepts of ‘difference’, and ask what on Steven Vertovec might mean by the concept of ‘super-diversity’ (2007). We then ask why scholars might be interested in situations of ‘religious diversity’, how they might avoid becoming mere puppets of the state, how this differs from ‘multiculuralism’, and how we might go about doing such research. Using examples from case studies in the Birmingham districts of Highgate and Handsworth, Stringer argues that scholars need to pay attention to the particularities of the localities in question, and that we need to rehink just how we disseminate the results of our research for public usage.

This interview was recorded at the BASR Annual Conference at the University of Wolverhampton, and draws on Professor Stringer’s keynote lecture “Beyond Difference: Challenging the Future for Religious Studies.”

Check out Martin’s previous podcast on ‘Situational Belief’ here.

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References

Stringer, Martin D. 2013a. Discourses of Religious Diversity: Explorations in an Urban Ecology. Farnham: Ashgate.
———. 2013b. “The Sounds of Silence: Searching for the Religious in Everyday Discourse.” In Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular, edited by Abby Day, Giselle Vincett, and Christopher R. Cotter, 161–71. Farnham: Ashgate.
———. 2014. “Religion, Ethnicity and National Origins: Exploring the Independence of Variables in a Superdiverse Neighbourhood.” Diskus: The Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religions 16 (2): 88–100.
Vertovec, Steven. 2007. “Super-Diversity and Its Implications.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 30 (6): 1024–54. doi:10.1080/01419870701599465.

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The Expanding Thought Trench: Ivy League Authority in South Korea

I spent two years as an English teacher in South Korea. I went because they wanted native speakers in their classrooms and promotional photos, particularly young American females, which made the salary tempting due to capitalistic law. Almost everyone I met there was desperate to learn from me, and I taught just about every demographic imaginable. I crawled on the floor with drooling toddlers, sipped Starbucks coffee with black-tie businessmen, gossiped with housewives over kimchi and tea, and kept awake teenagers cramming for exams until nearly midnight on Friday.

For the most part, overlooking several significant outliers, my students’ goals for learning the language was not communication. The goal was advancement within an extremely competitive system. English was the language of authority. It was generally accepted that English-speaking universities were somehow better than their Korean counterparts to the extent that a degree from a brand-name university was claimed to guarantee career success.

As a scholar trained in this university system, I feel the urge now to offer peer-reviewed evidence in support of my claims. The works I have read suggest a link between the demand for English and a mix of economic colonialism and Confucian values.[1] In my experience, this feels true, but these historical forces are expressed in a nuanced way that I have yet to find clearly or comprehensively expressed in literature. But the phenomenon is certainly there, and for my purpose here, its existence is enough.

What is relevant and clear from my experience in relation to the Masuzawa interview, though, is that British and American universities possess significant authority in Korean culture over the accepted way knowledge should be acquired, classified, and acknowledged.

What Masuzawa’s research shows is something both Koreans and Americans often forget: that the university, even the idea of the university as an institution, has a history, and their structures and traditions are less often the products of pure reason and rather products of specific historical circumstances. They are like the humans who made them, creatures of evolution.

More specifically, as Masuzawa chronicles for us, the current knowledge categories of the university were never inevitable nor even are they permanent as they stand. The interview shows us specifically how our current of understanding of religion is particular to our current point in history.

As a student of religious studies raised in the American intellectual tradition, this history, once pointed out, is obvious. Moreover, it is embedded within my language. In English, I can easily think of religion as an abstract concept, and call to mind specific behaviours that I think of as religious. Yet as the history of scholarship on religion shows, defining religion itself is a slippery task and has mostly abandoned.

The ability to be within an institution of knowledge and to still be critical of its foundations and categories is important. We can become aware of the logical fallacies and dialectical reactions within our institutions and work to correct them.

My point, however, is that the history of the university is not well known and perhaps is even willfully ignored in places where a degree from elite universities make significant practical differences. This is not limited to Korea, for these institutions are given similar authority by groups everywhere, even by those who are disenfranchised by that very elitism.[2]

Does it matter that many individuals aspiring so hard to attend these schools do not possess a critical understanding of the unsteady ground upon which disciplines draw their lines? In some senses, perhaps not. In time, and once inside the institutions, these individuals may come to understand their history just as I have.

It’s more likely, though, that in the short term, the authority of the universities will stand in the minds of those sending their children to Ivy Prep Academy.[3] That authority can be good when it sets in place standards and practices which leads to clear thinking. However, it also limits categories of thought by predetermining them.

New ideas begin with critical thinking, which is enhanced by diversity.[4] In Korea, for example, I questioned unfamiliar things, and sometimes the subsequent dialogue hatched new thoughts in myself and my students. The reverse process should occur when Korean students attend elite universities. Unfamiliar with the European cultural traditions and their associated thought trenches, they should question the standards and categories of knowledge. It is likely, though, that because of the status they give to elite universities, such questioning rarely happens. As a result, it is likely that they too will adopt the language of European universalism.

While I respect Masuwaza’s work on many levels, I mostly like it because she reminds me, again and again, to look at my tools of inquiry and see how my tools have shaped what I have found.

[1] A couple of the better titles I have found are the following: 1. Tsui, A. and Tollefson, J. (2007) Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 2. Sorensen, C. (1994) Success and Education in South Korea. Comparative Education Review. 38(1): 10-35. 3. Lee, S. and Brinton, M. (1996) Elite Education and Social Capital: The Case of South Korea. Sociology of Education. 69(3): 177-192. 4. Seth, M. (2002) Education Fever: Society, Politics, and the Pursuit of Schooling in South Korea. University of Hawaii Press.

[2] Mullen, for example, describes how some high-achieving but less-wealthy students avoid elite schools precisely because of they are elite. Mullen, A. (2009) Elite Destinations: Pathways to Attending an Ivy League University. British Journal of Sociology of Education. 30(1): 15-27.

[3] http://ivyprepacademy.net/pages/team/

[4] The relationship between critical thinking and diversity has often been studied. For example, see Laird, T. (2005). College Students’ Experiences with Diversity and Their Effects on Academic Self-Confidence, Social Agency, and Disposition toward Critical Thinking. Research in Higher Education. 46(4): 365-387.

Podcasts

Space for Race: Decoding Issues of Race, Belonging and Multi- Culturalism in Canada and Beyond

A response to “Religion and Multiculturalism in Canada and Beyond”

By Dr. Laura Morlock

With the election of President Donald Trump south of the border, many Canadians started asking whether a similar political outcome could take place in the True North. Researcher and public commentator Michael Adams’ new book Could it Happen Here?: Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit was an instant national bestseller. Op-eds fill newspapers and radio interviews on whether Canada could follow suit.

Could it Happen Here? winner of the 2004 Donner Prize for best book on Canadian public policy. Author Michael Adams is the founder and president of Environics.

In her interview with Carmen Celestini, Wendy Fletcher warns that our political machinery has the capacity to override anybody’s rights or freedoms with a majority government [1]. Like many other scholars of diversity, Fletcher wants Canadians to be vigilant and aware that the capacity exists for the dissolution of the the “respect and dignity of multiculturalism.” Canada is not as “safe” as we tend to assume. By international cultural and legal standards, Canada is one of the world’s most open and accepting societies [2]. Yet there is a significant disparity between that ideal and the reality of numerous minorities’ lived experiences.

Most Canadians take great pride in the country’s diversity and official policy of multiculturalism (adopted as federal policy in 1971 in 1971 and enshrined in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act in 1988 [The current federal cabinet reflects what is both a reality and a national value, including (among many others) ministers from Francophone, Indigenous, Afghan, Somali, Italian, Chinese, Argentinian, and Indian heritage, with women filling 15 of the cabinet’s seats.] Prime Minister Justin Trudeau uses Twitter to welcome those seeking asylum and to diversity is Canada’s strength.

See the source image

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p style=”text-align: center;”>Fig. 2 2015 Federal Cabinet
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office in 2015, he felt it was important to choose a cabinet that reflected Canada’s diversity. When a reporter asked him why he thought having women form half the cabinet, he famously replied, “Because it’s 2015.”

At the same time, public enthusiasm for multiculturalism exists alongside heated public debates around “accommodation,” politicians experimenting with “scary foreigner” tropes, and comes after a long history of discriminatory laws, views, and practices. The current conversation exists in a context where many Canadians see themselves as a nation that champions human rights and diversity, alongside and entwined with ideals of secularism and religious neutrality. This often leads to disputes around what constitutes “diversity.”

In their new work, A Space for Race: Decoding Racism, Multiculturalism, and Post-Colonialism in the Quest for Belonging in Canada and Beyond, Wendy Fletcher and Kathy Hogarth use narrative to explore the questions of ethnic and racial identity against the backdrop of Canada’s multicultural policies. In this interview, Fletcher argues that whether people feel like they belong is central to how well Canada is succeeding in this vision. She believes that greater awareness of the significant role religion plays in the lives and identities of Canadians is likewise necessary.

This brings to mind José Casanova’s seminal work Public Religions in the Modern World, in which he argues that the marginalization of religion is not a necessary outcome of the differentiation of secular spheres from religious institutions because public religions in modern societies do not necessarily threaten the foundations of liberal democracies [3].

Canadians encounter diversity on a daily basis. Most of these experiences are non-events [4]. Lori Beaman emphasizes this throughout her extensive scholarship, including Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity (2017) and Beyond Accommodation: Everyday Narratives of Muslim Canadians (2018, with Jennifer Selby and Amélie Barras). Different beliefs can lead to dissimilar priorities for governing our lives, and some of these contrasts are irreconcilable. Therefore, Beaman argues that some common commitment and understanding is necessary for Canadian society to function and thrive, but this must be a narrative that allows for such diversity (and sameness). As cliché as it may seem, Beaman successfully demonstrates that what unites us truly is deeper than what divides us [5]. To some degree, we are all “us.”

Like Fletcher and Hogarth’s challenges to look beyond a simple mosaic model and earnestly ask what the new Canada will look like, Beaman wants her readers to consider the implications of phrases such as “religious accommodation” and their inherent power imbalances (someone must have the authority to grant the accommodation to the “other”) [6]. It is important to keep power (im)balances in view, while in practical terms of social cohesion and institutional function it is first necessary for individuals to become aware of and comfortable with the realities of religious diversity and multiculturalism.

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p style=”text-align: center;”>

Above, Lori Beaman lectures based on The New Diversity at Uppsala University on January 25, 2018


It would be a worthwhile exercise to carefully read A Space for Race alongside Deep Equality, in which Beaman takes issue with a general emphasis in society and scholarship on difference. While not seeking to water down groups and individuals to some imagined lowest common denominator of “the same,” she argues that focusing on how the ways diverse people interact in uneventful everyday circumstances demonstrates the sameness that exists between them. She believes that this produces a “potential to create an alternative imaginary: from one of difference and diversity as ‘challenging’ and something to be ‘managed,’ to a framework of negotiation of difference, often through an emphasis on similarity … that models deep equality” [7]. This is in sharp contrast to, “us” tolerating or accommodating “them,” and ultimately preserving religious and cultural majority hegemonies [8]. Fletcher makes a similar point in her interview, speaking of a future that moves beyond “tolerance” to “celebration.” This is in sharp contrast to “us” tolerating or accommodating “them” and ultimately preserving religious and cultural majority hegemonies [9]. Minorities are an integral part of Canadian society, and – as Fletcher and Hogarth demonstrate – have been throughout the country’s history.

References

[1] In the interest of full disclosure, the author and Carmen Celestini are both graduates of the same doctoral program at the University of Waterloo, where Wendy Fletcher is a college president.

[2] Mary Anne Waldron, Free to Believe: Rethinking Freedom of Conscience and Religion in Canada (Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2013) 235-236.

[3] José Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).

[4] Lori Beaman, Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 3.

[5] See Beaman’s discussion on how “naiveté” is used as a charge to dismiss the power of non-divisive approaches to deep equality in Beaman, Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity, 185-189.

[6] Lori G. Beaman, ed. Reasonable Accommodation: Managing Religious Diversity. (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012).

[7] Beaman, Deep Equality, 8.

[8] See Introduction in Lori Beaman, Deep Equality.

[9] See Introduction in Lori Beaman, Deep Equality.

Religion and Multiculturalism in Canada and Beyond

Dr. Wendy Fletcher is the co-author of “Space for Race: Decoding Issues of Race, Belonging and Multi- Culturalism in Canada and Beyond.” Through personal stories and historical accounts not always included in the telling of multiculturalism in Canada, Fletcher explores the merits of belonging. Defining the term “belonging” we learn the reality of Canadian multiculturalism and re-conceive how Canada can move forward to truly be an inclusive society. Fletcher explains the importance of her work in this book, and how is can be use by religious studies scholars in the current political landscape.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, John Lennon memorabilia, Banksy prints, and more.


A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


Religion, Multiculturalism and the Quest for Belonging in Canada and Beyond

Podcast with Wendy Fletcher (11 March 2019).

Interviewed by Carmen Celestini.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at: Fletcher_-_Religion_Multiculturalism_and_the_Quest_for_Belonging_1.1

 

Carmen Celestini (CC): Today I’m speaking with Dr Wendy Fletcher, the President and Vice- Chancellor of Renison University College, affiliated with the University of Waterloo. Dr Fletcher is a co-author of A Space for Race: Decoding Racism, Multiculturalism in the Quest for Belonging in Canada and Beyond, which we’ll be discussing today. Dr Fletcher, thank you for sitting down and talking to us. I’m just going to ask a couple of questions about the book. The book contains personal stories of the authors and others. And it opens up with the merits of belonging. Could we expand on these merits and the personal experiences of the book?

Wendy Fletcher (WF): Sure. Thank you. Thank you very much for the question. It’s an important question to start with as a historian. I think narrative is all. And personal narrative and how it links to a broader narrative, in terms of telling the story of where people have come from and where we go, is really key. So I identify as a historian, as I believe there is no genuine objectivity. We can struggle for it, but of course we all live within our subjective contexts and experience. So for both of us – Kathy and I – writing the book, to locate ourselves in the context of the question of ethnicity – because the book is, of course, really struggling with that question of racial and ethnic identity against the backdrop of Canada’s vision of multiculturalism – was very important. So Kathy, of course, came to the book as a Jamaican immigrant and as a Canadian scholar. And I was raised as an Anglo-speaking Euro-descent settler who, over the context of a complicated story, found that I had some indigenous, ethnic, racial background myself. And in the context of my journey was adopted into other indigenous contexts as well. The point of it all being that in the backdrop of identity politics today, having the one who is speaking feel free to say something about who they are and be the one to define who they are, is very, very important. In the world of the university right now, especially, identity politics is all: who has the right to say what about who. So our first premise – of sharing these stories of how we understood ourselves, and then inviting others to do the same about themselves as the story of their research unfolded – was pretty key. Because we’re staking the ground for an individual’s right to say who they are, regardless of what anybody else wants to say about that. The identity of the self is first formulated through one’s own construction of narrative and belonging.

CC: Well that really comes though, very clearly, in the book. Definitely. So, these merits that you want to expand on: what are the merits of the belonging? Is this the individual voice, or are there other merits as well that you think are important, in our expression of who we are?

WF: So I go back to . . . I’m also an Anglican priest and so if I step back outside the world of the academy for a moment and I think about the spiritual dilemma of the human being, I think that the spiritual dilemma for the human being in every generation – but perhaps never more acutely than in this one – is a question of belonging. We all need to belong. We need be valued. We need our story to have meaning and place. And in the context that we often find ourselves today, “dislocation” and “belonging” seem to very dominant motifs. So for me, then, setting this story in the context of the question of belonging and not belonging – perhaps the truest measure of whether Canada’s multiculturalism has actually worked the way the frameworks of that vision intended – has been very important.

CC: Definitely. How do you think we should move towards belonging, and how would you define that sense of belonging?

WF: So I have this understanding about who the human being is where I start micro and go macro, usually, for me. I start with the trees and go to the forest. And my fundamental philosophy of the human being is that every human being matters infinitely. And that there is nobody like you. There is nobody like me. Every one of us is incredibly unique. We’re all on a path and a journey, and we all have a contribution to make to this world and its best becoming, that is uniquely our own. And it’s sometimes a contribution of harm depending on how the story goes for all of us on any given day. So the world I imagine, the Canadian society I imagine, is a place where that is how we understand respect. We talk about respect a lot, but if you go the dictionary and you look up what the word respect means, it’s actually in my view – and in particular from an indigenous perspective – not a very helpful definition. The word respect says to esteem or value someone because of their gifts, skills, abilities or contribution. Well in an indigenous context that’s not what respect means. Respect means to esteem, to value, to offer, to recognise the dignity of the other simply because they are (5:00). And for me that is the basis of a truly inclusive society that is capable of supporting the parameters of what the original framers of multiculturalism imagined. So that just because we are means we have a right to be here, we have place, we have values and should be accorded dignity. So genuine multiculturalism – multiculturalism that worked – would do that.

CC: Yes. Definitely. And I think that’s where – and this is my own personal opinion – but sort-of having the “politics of becoming”, and these things are happening. And I think this is really fundamental to those ideas, sort-of moving forward politically. What can a Religious Studies perspective bring to the table in this conversation?

WF: A good scholar, in my view of Religious Studies, understands that there is no one right voice. No one right path. That you take a hermeneutic of questioning to the journey of a Religious Studies discourse. So, insofar as the Religious Studies imagination understands that the story is framed by multiple voices, multiple experiences, multiple philosophies and multiple truths – like, competing truths – as a necessary way of telling any discourse, it contributes that. There is no genuine multiculturalism; there is no healthy pluralism in the society which doesn’t understand that what you believe and what I believe may not be the same thing but they’re both true, because they’re true for us and we’re holding that discourse and that voice as a piece of the whole.

CC: I like that concept, I really do. How might scholars working in Religious Studies navigate the current political landscape, using insights from this book?

WF: So, what the book does in part . . . I’m a historian so a lot of the book is actually historical. One of the things I learned as a teacher – in religious studies and history – I thought when I first started teaching that people would change their minds based on an idea or a philosophy. But they don’t. My experience of human beings around their prejudices, the narrowness or wideness of their worldview, actually is more influenced by – in this age that’s still living hanging on the edges of a modern discourse – that empiricism actually matters. I’d like to say it doesn’t, because we’ve all embraced the postmodern thing. But honestly, when you look at the fact that indigenous persons in this country received the vote in this country after persons of colour did in the United States – many years after – you go, “Woah! I didn’t know that abut Canada!” Did we know, in Canada, that we had a very tightly negotiated space? We have a policy of multiculturalism and at the same time we are tightly controlling immigration and racialising immigration according to preferred racial and ethnic groups. So we know that in Victoria children of the Chinese, for decades, were not allowed to swim in the swimming pools; were not allowed to shop in the stores; that persons of Asian descent in Vancouver were not allowed to work for certain people. So a white woman, for example, could never work for an Asian male. And an Asian child was not allowed to go to school in Victoria with a white child. Chinese schools were segregated. All these things are shocking to Canadians. But they are empirically the case. So while I, with Pilot, on any given day will say, “Well, what is truth?” There are some things that we just know to be true. Somethings that are actually measurable in the story. And so as I worked with students over many decades I understood that their worldviews were actually more significantly expanded through shocking empiricism than they were through any great rhetoric of a particular philosophical worldview. So the only way to get at the falsity of the illusion of multiculturalism in the Canadians story was to go after the bedrock of what the story actually was, through historical detail. So there’s tons, and tons, and tons of historical detail in the book as a way of helping to unmask our own self-delusion about multiculturalism.

CC: And I think it’s really successful at doing that. As I was walking in here I said, “This book made me rethink so many things.” Like, there was so much that I didn’t know about Canada. Now this concept of multiculturalism – I see it in a completely different way. The veil, it’s gone now. It’s a very powerful book and the stories really do tell that. The history changed my perspective a lot. So now, after I’ve said that, I’m going to ask this question: why does this matter in Religious Studies and in Canada’s understanding of multiculturalism – as we label ourselves?

WF: Right. So just to link, in the first instance then, Religious Studies and multiculturalism (10:00): we’re not as aware in Canada as elsewhere in the world of the extent to which religion continues to be a huge dividing factor. So as we talk about laying a table, in Canada, where everyone is welcome – the historically theoretical multicultural table – to not be aware of the ways in which religious difference and deep religious commitment actually lays a table of dissention, animosity and hatred, potentially – rather than respect for diversity – is going to be really key. So we think religion doesn’t matter in our society any more. But as the world comes to us, where religion does actually matter in the broader world in the way that it doesn’t in a fairly secularised Canada today, we are bumping up against not only the assumptions of newcomers and other cultures but our own prejudices. Because if we think religion doesn’t matter, but we’re living in a country where the newly-elected government of Quebec is talking about using the “notwithstanding clause“ to violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and disallow people to express their religion in their dress. So we are on the cusp of writing an article, right now. I’m writing an article that looks at the tension between the Charter of Human Rights and religious freedoms, and contemporary politics – where the political discourse of the day is going right now. And the two case studies I’m looking at in the book: one is the Trinity Western University law school issue, where it was agreed by the Supreme Court that particular rights and freedoms took precedence over religious rights and freedoms. But now the Quebec notwithstanding clause, where we see that our political machinery has the capacity to override anybody’s rights and freedoms including religious rights and freedoms, if a majority government decides that it wants to do that. . . over anything! That is actually . . . . Our constitution actually allows that. That is a disconcerting shock note into the middle of this story of a Canada where “we all feel safe and everybody’s rights are protected, and everybody has a place, and there’s dignity for all”. But this book freeze-frames that story and says: in what was the past that was simply not true; in what is, that unfortunately simply is not what is true. And with the way the constitutional framework has been set in our country, the possibility of it being unmade – as racism and xenophobia go wild, as immigration increases and the diversity of ways – has the possibility of just opening a Pandora’s box of a kind of Canada that bears no resemblance to this whole notion of respect and dignity for all, that we say we prize so much.

CC: It’s definitely shocking, what’s happening in Quebec, and even what’s happening here, as we see American politics in some ways affecting us. Look at Andrew Scheer and what’s happening, and Rebel Media, you know. It’s definitely a frightening idea of what could happen here when we think of who we are and the safety that we have here, in that sense.

WF: It’s so true. And I honestly believe that the most pressing political question of this generation for our world, let alone Canada, is: how will we live with the other? How will we live with the other? How are we going to live with difference? The old model of multiculturalism that we deconstruct in the book talks really about tolerance: “We’re going to tolerate the difference of the other.” The future, or a genuine multicultural vision, or a post-multicultural vision would actually not tolerate the one who is different, but embrace and celebrate the one who is different. And, in fact, may accommodate the difference. In other words, may oneself be changed because of value and esteem for the difference of the other. That’s different than the original multicultural vision. But here’s my critique. Can I just tell you, for the Listener, my big critique of the multicultural vision?

CC: Of course!

WF: Ok, so we have a whiteboard, right? And we have the image of a mosaic – you know, the Canadian mosaic – all the different tiles. We put all the different tiles up and put it there. There’s Canada, all the different faces. People keep the integrity of their difference, but it’s on a white board. And that’s the fundamental problem. That we’re going to tolerate all this difference on top of what is foundational. What is underneath is the whiteboard that we are attached to: the fundamental assumptions of a Euro-descent, Anglo-speaking, Western value system – which has been laid on top of a red soil, which was here prior to the arrival of European colonisers – and which is going to determine, then, how this mosaic actually is able to be lived out. So until we deconstruct that, the assumption of the normativity of Anglo-white culture . . . . It’s scary. Because what does the new Canada look like? Because what I’m basically arguing is the only way to take account of genuine multiculturalism is to move beyond tolerance and to adapt (15:00). So that I don’t know what the new Canada will look like because I haven’t been yet modified, adapted, and shaped by my original people and newcomer neighbours in the way that this course will demand if we are actually engaging each other out of respect for genuine difference.

CC: I really do like the sound of your Canada, I really do. I want to thank you so much for participating in this. Do you have any final thoughts or anything you’d like to add?

WF: Yes, maybe just a last one. So I’m a true believer in the notion that the world is a more liveable place when the unique diversities of every ethnic, racial, philosophical, gendered, sexual identity individual is respected in the story. And I do believe that it is actually possible to imagine a social fabric which makes space for that difference to co-exist. It’s only possible, I think, in a couple of ways. So my new book that I’m working on is actually how we actually can live into this world that we hope for. Which is what I think our framers on some level inclined towards – but they didn’t want to give up the whiteboard, right? So if we give up the whiteboard and start from where we are, we have several things going for us. We have a good constitution, and we have a constitution which is not only one that protects the basic notion of the rights of individuals to be different from each other, but it also is adaptive. So the constitution that we have can adapt, it can change. So newcomer voices and original peoples that want to renegotiate the fabric . . . it’s possible to adapt and evolve through our judicial system, in particular. And we can adapt this good constitution that we have. My fear of that, of course, is going to be whether the political will is there. Because if we have the dominance of . . . a majority that actually are willing to over-ride the rights protected in the constitution – because political will gives it the right to do that – will we ever get to the other table? So I’m a believer. I believe it’s possible. But only if the principles of democracy are held in balance with the rights of individual and ethnic and racial groups and religious groups and others to be heard on their own terms.

CC: It makes complete sense. I hope so. I mean, it’s a frightening time for sure. But I’m kind-of hoping, on a personal level, that what we see happening around us, south of the border, will actually bring out the good in us, and make us want to be better, and do the right thing, and include everyone for sure.

WF: It’s so true that in every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. And I think we have to trust that. We’re a couple of hundred years into a really strong tradition of liberal democracy in the West. And that is a gift of the West. We critique ourselves for our marginalisation of other worldviews, but held accountable to our own best principles we know that the discourse of diversity is the only way forward to a truly strong culture. So if we hold ourselves accountable to those virtues which are philosophically strong, I think that will mean that we have to change. I think we will find a way forward.

CC: I think we will. Thanks you so much, Dr Fletcher.

WF: My pleasure. Thank you.


Citation Info: Fletcher, Wendy ad Carmen Celestini. 2019. “Religion, Multiculturalism and the Quest for Belonging in Canada and Beyond”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 11 March 2019. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 6 March 2019. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/religion-multiculturalism-and-the-quest-for-belonging-in-canada-and-beyond/

If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with transcribing the Religious Studies Project archive, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The views expressed in podcasts are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT or the British Association for the Study of Religions.

Difference or Diversity: Promoting Dialogue of Diversity as Religious Studies Professionals

Prof. Martin Stringer, now of Swansea University, once again lends his expertise in religious diversity to the Religious Studies Project. In this podcast, Prof. Stringer discusses the changes the discourse of religious diversity. After years of studying in different locations in the U.K. – Birmingham, London, Manchester – Stringer began noticing a pattern in the way people identify.  Prof. Stringer states it is important to recognize the significant changes to the discourse on diversity. No longer are people identifying based on countries of origin or their ethnicities, but people often proclaim their religious identity as their marker. This is much different from the conversations of the 1960s and 70s, where the conversation is based on the ethnicities migrating throughout Europe.

Stringer mentioned the work of Steven Vertovec, and his concept of “super-diversity.”  According to Vertovec, looking at diversity solely through the lens of ethnicity or country of origin is misleading and one-dimensional (2006, 1). Vertovec’s proposition of “super-diversity” acknowledges that there is a large array of variables that make up the diversity of an area. As researchers, we ought to look into the variables of age, immigration status, languages, gender, and as Stringer mentions, religion.

dividedTo expand upon Vertovec’s theory of super-diversity, Stringer emphasizes the importance for religious studies professionals to develop a language to use when discussing this type of diversity, and be in conversation with our elected officials. According to Stringer, the language used to discuss religion has been secularized so much so that it almost as if we are no longer discussing religion. Cultivating a proper lexicon to discuss religion in public sphere is where religious studies professionals come in. This vocabulary comes in particularly useful when discussing the current atmosphere surrounding immigration and the tension brought on by the refugee crisis. As we start recognizing the differences that make up super-diversity, religion is a key component.

As Stringer points out, discourse is divided along the lines of diversity and difference. When discourse focuses on difference, it divides the subjects along categorical boundaries. These categorical boundaries are socially constructed and further the narrative of “us vs. them”. However, when building discourse surrounding groups that are, yes, different, but focused on the commonalities, that is building a discourse on diversity. Those are the conversations we, as religious studies professionals, need to be having as outreach to the public and to our elected officials. Stringer points out that we must create this lexicon, promote, and make it accessible to the people that do not study religion as in-depth as us. In the case of immigrants and refugees, it is important that we recognize religious differences, and develop that language for the general public and elected officials to use. We can create a discourse of diversity, rather than allowing them to continue with the discourse of difference. If the conversation around migration changes, maybe the culture of suspicion and distrust towards migrants will change to one of welcome and empathy.

At first while listening to this podcast, I was having a difficult time figuring out what angle I wanted to write this response. All of the research Stringer mentions is centered on the U.K. As a student in the United States, I am not familiar with the neighborhoods he mentions nor the discourse he actually observes to draw his conclusions. However, I can relate what Stringer states to a very similar set of issues we are having in the U.S. We have the same issue of correct religious vocabulary to use while discussing religious diversity, the same lack of use of religious studies professionals in the political sphere, heated discussions of immigrants and refugees incited by the discourse of difference, and the division along categorical lines are exacerbated as these conversations persist.

As we have seen over the course of the last few years, the gap between the right and left has increased. Furthering the problematic discourse of difference that Stringer discusses. In agreement with Stringer, I fully believe that religious studies professionals must engage in civic matters more actively. It is not enough that we study the people that make our super-diverse communities. It is not enough that we understand the religious beliefs of the refugees fleeing Syria. In the United States, as in much of Europe, U.S. citizens are divided on whether we should accept more refugees from Syria or bar them and their religious beliefs. My own elected officials have introduced legislation to restrict the flow of refugees from areas with ISIS strongholds, in fear that Muslim radicals would be a part of the admitted refugees. What is my duty as somebody that studies human rights and religion? It is to bring these conversations to light, and lend my expertise to my elected officials. However, we cannot wait to have a seat at this table, but we must create it.

I don’t know if Prof. Stringer had this type of conversation in mind as he sat down with the Religious Studies Project, or throughout his research of super-diversity, but this is a conversation we must also have. We have seen violence increase after the Brexit vote, through a variety of news outlets and perspectives:

In the U.S. we see the vitriol and hate-filled rhetoric expounded by Donald Trump and the far right:

Many of the conversations centered in these situations are focused on the difference between us (citizens of our countries) or them (the migrants). I cannot speak to the discourse that is happening in the U.K., but I can speak to the discourse in the United States. It is one of division, fear, and hate, and one that religious studies professionals can lend their hand to, to calm the discussion and shift the conversation and culture from what makes us different to what our commonalities are to overcome those differences.

Researching Religious Diversity

In Martin Stringer’s Discourses on Religious Diversity (2013a), and in further elaborations (2013b; 2014), he paints a picture of some of the prevalent everyday discourses on ‘religious diversity’ which he and his doctoral students have encountered over several years working in Birmingham, Manchester, London and other cities, bringing a large body of variously ‘circumstantial data’ (Stringer 2013a, 2) into conversation with new and innovatively gathered material (Stringer 2013b) and broader academic literature from anthropology and urban studies.

In this interview, we discuss the broad topic of diversity, contrast this with concepts of ‘difference’, and ask what on Steven Vertovec might mean by the concept of ‘super-diversity’ (2007). We then ask why scholars might be interested in situations of ‘religious diversity’, how they might avoid becoming mere puppets of the state, how this differs from ‘multiculuralism’, and how we might go about doing such research. Using examples from case studies in the Birmingham districts of Highgate and Handsworth, Stringer argues that scholars need to pay attention to the particularities of the localities in question, and that we need to rehink just how we disseminate the results of our research for public usage.

This interview was recorded at the BASR Annual Conference at the University of Wolverhampton, and draws on Professor Stringer’s keynote lecture “Beyond Difference: Challenging the Future for Religious Studies.”

Check out Martin’s previous podcast on ‘Situational Belief’ here.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, SPAM, moth balls, and more.


References

Stringer, Martin D. 2013a. Discourses of Religious Diversity: Explorations in an Urban Ecology. Farnham: Ashgate.
———. 2013b. “The Sounds of Silence: Searching for the Religious in Everyday Discourse.” In Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular, edited by Abby Day, Giselle Vincett, and Christopher R. Cotter, 161–71. Farnham: Ashgate.
———. 2014. “Religion, Ethnicity and National Origins: Exploring the Independence of Variables in a Superdiverse Neighbourhood.” Diskus: The Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religions 16 (2): 88–100.
Vertovec, Steven. 2007. “Super-Diversity and Its Implications.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 30 (6): 1024–54. doi:10.1080/01419870701599465.

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 19 July 2016

Calls for papers

Conference: Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism

June 6–7, 2017

Rome, Italy

Deadline: December 30, 2016

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Conference: Understanding and explanation in the study of religions

November 7–9, 2016

Jagiellonian University, Poland

Deadline: September 7, 2016

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Conference: Meditation in Buddhist-Christian Encounter: A Critical Analysis

June 29–July 3, 2016

Abbey of Montserrat, Spain

Deadline: February 28, 2017

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Journal: Antisemitism Studies

Deadline: September 15, 2016

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Jobs and funding

PhD grant

University of Antwerp, Belgium

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Lecturer in Sociology

Loughborough University, UK

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Sociology

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Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Germany

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The Expanding Thought Trench: Ivy League Authority in South Korea

I spent two years as an English teacher in South Korea. I went because they wanted native speakers in their classrooms and promotional photos, particularly young American females, which made the salary tempting due to capitalistic law. Almost everyone I met there was desperate to learn from me, and I taught just about every demographic imaginable. I crawled on the floor with drooling toddlers, sipped Starbucks coffee with black-tie businessmen, gossiped with housewives over kimchi and tea, and kept awake teenagers cramming for exams until nearly midnight on Friday.

For the most part, overlooking several significant outliers, my students’ goals for learning the language was not communication. The goal was advancement within an extremely competitive system. English was the language of authority. It was generally accepted that English-speaking universities were somehow better than their Korean counterparts to the extent that a degree from a brand-name university was claimed to guarantee career success.

As a scholar trained in this university system, I feel the urge now to offer peer-reviewed evidence in support of my claims. The works I have read suggest a link between the demand for English and a mix of economic colonialism and Confucian values.[1] In my experience, this feels true, but these historical forces are expressed in a nuanced way that I have yet to find clearly or comprehensively expressed in literature. But the phenomenon is certainly there, and for my purpose here, its existence is enough.

What is relevant and clear from my experience in relation to the Masuzawa interview, though, is that British and American universities possess significant authority in Korean culture over the accepted way knowledge should be acquired, classified, and acknowledged.

What Masuzawa’s research shows is something both Koreans and Americans often forget: that the university, even the idea of the university as an institution, has a history, and their structures and traditions are less often the products of pure reason and rather products of specific historical circumstances. They are like the humans who made them, creatures of evolution.

More specifically, as Masuzawa chronicles for us, the current knowledge categories of the university were never inevitable nor even are they permanent as they stand. The interview shows us specifically how our current of understanding of religion is particular to our current point in history.

As a student of religious studies raised in the American intellectual tradition, this history, once pointed out, is obvious. Moreover, it is embedded within my language. In English, I can easily think of religion as an abstract concept, and call to mind specific behaviours that I think of as religious. Yet as the history of scholarship on religion shows, defining religion itself is a slippery task and has mostly abandoned.

The ability to be within an institution of knowledge and to still be critical of its foundations and categories is important. We can become aware of the logical fallacies and dialectical reactions within our institutions and work to correct them.

My point, however, is that the history of the university is not well known and perhaps is even willfully ignored in places where a degree from elite universities make significant practical differences. This is not limited to Korea, for these institutions are given similar authority by groups everywhere, even by those who are disenfranchised by that very elitism.[2]

Does it matter that many individuals aspiring so hard to attend these schools do not possess a critical understanding of the unsteady ground upon which disciplines draw their lines? In some senses, perhaps not. In time, and once inside the institutions, these individuals may come to understand their history just as I have.

It’s more likely, though, that in the short term, the authority of the universities will stand in the minds of those sending their children to Ivy Prep Academy.[3] That authority can be good when it sets in place standards and practices which leads to clear thinking. However, it also limits categories of thought by predetermining them.

New ideas begin with critical thinking, which is enhanced by diversity.[4] In Korea, for example, I questioned unfamiliar things, and sometimes the subsequent dialogue hatched new thoughts in myself and my students. The reverse process should occur when Korean students attend elite universities. Unfamiliar with the European cultural traditions and their associated thought trenches, they should question the standards and categories of knowledge. It is likely, though, that because of the status they give to elite universities, such questioning rarely happens. As a result, it is likely that they too will adopt the language of European universalism.

While I respect Masuwaza’s work on many levels, I mostly like it because she reminds me, again and again, to look at my tools of inquiry and see how my tools have shaped what I have found.

[1] A couple of the better titles I have found are the following: 1. Tsui, A. and Tollefson, J. (2007) Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 2. Sorensen, C. (1994) Success and Education in South Korea. Comparative Education Review. 38(1): 10-35. 3. Lee, S. and Brinton, M. (1996) Elite Education and Social Capital: The Case of South Korea. Sociology of Education. 69(3): 177-192. 4. Seth, M. (2002) Education Fever: Society, Politics, and the Pursuit of Schooling in South Korea. University of Hawaii Press.

[2] Mullen, for example, describes how some high-achieving but less-wealthy students avoid elite schools precisely because of they are elite. Mullen, A. (2009) Elite Destinations: Pathways to Attending an Ivy League University. British Journal of Sociology of Education. 30(1): 15-27.

[3] http://ivyprepacademy.net/pages/team/

[4] The relationship between critical thinking and diversity has often been studied. For example, see Laird, T. (2005). College Students’ Experiences with Diversity and Their Effects on Academic Self-Confidence, Social Agency, and Disposition toward Critical Thinking. Research in Higher Education. 46(4): 365-387.