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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.

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Public School Islamic Religious Education as Safe Space for Identity Development and Bottom-Up Negotiation of Citizenship

by Inkeri Rissanen

In this interview, Prof. Jasmin Zine discusses her research into Canadian Muslim schools and brings forth the role of these schools as safe havens for young Muslims to develop their identities. Generally speaking, it is vital to discuss and research schools as spaces where identity, belonging, and citizenship are continuously shaped through everyday discourses and practices. Schools mediate the legal recognition of minority rights by the state, and often by looking at the way in which religious and cultural minority groups are recognized and their identities supported in the educational system, one quickly gets a sense of the level of multiculturalism policy adoption in the country in question. Religious schools can be regarded as one good way to realize religious freedom and recognize minorities. In Europe, many Islamic schools have been found to have high aims for supporting responsible citizenship and social cohesion (see e.g. Rissanen & Sai, 2017). As Prof. Zine discussed in the interview, Muslim parents’ decision to send their children to Muslim school is often based on experiences of discrimination and Islamophobia in the public schools, as well as their willingness to ensure strong grounding for their children’s identities. However, there are also alternative ways of creating safe educational spaces that support the often more complex value and identity negotiations of minorities; Finnish solutions of accommodating Muslims in its educational system, which I have researched, offer here an interesting point of comparison.

Both Finland and Canada have been ranked as countries with “strong multiculturalism policy,” (Multiculturalism Policy Index 2010). However, there are no Islamic schools in Finland and very few other religion-based schools. The Finnish national core curriculum for basic education states that the different cultural and religious identities should be supported in school. Students have a right to religious education according to their own religion if at least three students who belong to the same tradition reside in the same area and their parents make a request. Thus, most Muslim students in Finland participate in Islamic religious education (IRE) as a compulsory school subject. Those Muslim students I have interviewed in my research have described IRE lessons as a “safe haven” during the school day where they don’t have to defend their identities to outsiders and receive peer-support from other Muslims of their age. Furthermore, they experience IRE classroom as an in-between space where they can ask questions that they feel are too delicate to be discussed in religious communities or even with their parents but need to be discussed with an adult who is an insider of their tradition but also understand their everyday life at school. I observed IRE teachers being bombarded with questions, for instance, about alcohol, dating, career choices, and how to relate to other religions and worldviews. Islamic religious education is not only an Islamophobia-free zone, it is emerging as a space where the compatibility of Muslim identity with Finnish citizenship and with modern Western democracies is negotiated ‘bottom up’ (Rissanen 2012).

Going to a Muslim school definitely offers a lot more comprehensive support for identities than participating in an IRE lessons once or twice a week and includes the possibility of having an Islamic perspective also in the study of secular subjects. However, the advantages of educating Muslims in public schools and offering IRE there is that doing so tends to normalize Muslim identities in the public sphere. Also, many other European countries include Islamic religious education in the curricula of their public should (see e.g. Berglund, 2018) – though sometimes, plainly, as a measure of securitization. Nevertheless, the fact that the state organizes Islamic religious education in public schools is a powerful sign that Muslim identities are regarded as legitimate and also that they can be expressed in the public sphere; both Muslim students and teachers I have interviewed have reflected on IRE as an act of recognition by the Finnish state. Furthermore, in my comparative study between Finland and Sweden (Rissanen 2018, Rissanen in press, I found that the existence of Islamic schools in Sweden sometimes indicated less space for negotiation in public schools due to the opportunity to ‘outsource’ religious rights to religious schools: if Muslim parents or students expressed religion-based needs that the principals were unwilling to accommodate, the principals often endeavored to legitimize their authoritative stances by stating that the parents can always send their children to Muslim school if they were not happy with the school policies.

The questions concerning inclusion of Muslims in public education are part of the wider debate related to the public role of religion. Many scholars have started to talk about the emergence of a post-secular society (e.g. Habermas, 2008). The notion of post-secularity does not indicate that more people are becoming more religious, but it acknowledges the increased issue salience of religion and the need to pay more attention to the intersections of religion and citizenship in contemporary liberal democracies. The academic criticism of the secular normativity and religion-blindness in European schools has pointed out how the hegemonic secular narrative includes false claims of neutrality, does not recognize its own Christian roots, and misrecognizes religious identities in a way that sometimes leads to discrimination (e.g. Fernando 2010; Berglund, 2017; Rissanen 2018, Rissanen in press). The presence of religious minorities in schools is needed to counter this illusion of neutrality: the risk of having religious minorities educated in faith-based schools is that doing so allows the public mainstream schools – and their students – to remain “religion-blind.”  Public schools can also become spaces for the much-needed complementary learning processes between secular and religious citizens, where religious minorities have agency to participate in the bottom-up cultural production of multicultural citizenship. Students, of course, should not be expected to serve as representatives of their religious or cultural groups in public schools – it is not their responsibility to “multiculturalize” or educate the majority members. However, when public schools are demanded to ensure support for all students’ identities without the opportunity to outsource this support to faith-based schools, it becomes more necessary for them to recruit teachers representing different minorities. For instance, IRE teachers in Finland often (willingly) serve as “cultural brokers” in the school communities – they increase the level of cultural and religious literacy in the school, consult other teachers and principals, and are able to contribute to the grass-root level negotiations on multicultural citizenship. Thus, having IRE in schools contributes to the development of two kinds of spaces of negotiation that both are vital in the present post-secular context: a safe space for the insiders of religion to negotiate their tradition in relation to the present cultural context and a space where representatives of a tradition (teachers) can demand agency and help to develop an inclusive school culture.

 

Inkeri Rissanen is a university lecturer in multicultural education and the vice manager of the Research Centre on Transnationalism and Tranformation at the University of Tampere in Finland. Her teaching and research focuses on religious and worldview education, Muslim inclusion and Islamic religious education, and inclusive citizenship.

 

References

Berglund, J., ed. (2018). European Perspectives on Islamic Education and Public Schooling. Sheffield: Equinox.

Berglund, J. (2017). Secular normativity and the religification of Muslims in Swedish public schooling. Oxford Review of Education 43, 524-535.

Fernando, M. L. (2010). Reconfiguring freedom: Muslim piety and the limits of secular law and public discourse in France. American ethnologist 37(1): 19-35.

Habermas, J. (2008). Secularism’s crisis of faith. New Perspectives Quarterly 25(4): 16-29.

Multiculturalism Policy Index. 2010. Available at: http://www.queensu.ca/mcp/

Rissanen, I. (2018). Negotiations on inclusive citizenship in a post-secular school: Perspectives of “cultural broker” Muslim parents and teachers in Finland and Sweden. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research. doi: 10.1080/00313831.2018.1514323

Rissanen, I. & Sai, Y. (2017). A comparative study of how social cohesion is taught in Islamic Religious Education in Finland and Ireland. British Journal of Religious Education 40 (3), 337-347. DOI: 10.1080/01416200.2017.1352487

Rissanen, I. (2012). Teaching Islamic education in Finnish schools: A field of negotiations. Teaching and Teacher Education 28 (5): 740–749.

Rissanen, I. (in press). School principals’ diversity ideologies in fostering the inclusion of Muslims in Finnish and Swedish schools. Race Ethnicity and Education.

 

D. Mitra Barua on Immigrant Buddhism in the West

D. Mitra BaruaDr. D. Mitra Barua is an instructor of Religious Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, and has a Masters in Buddhist Philosophy undertaken in Sri Lanka. His doctorate concerned several generations of Sri Lankan immigrants in Toronto, and how their Buddhist practices are affected by being transplanted to Canada.

In this in-depth interview with Chris Silver, Barua discusses the links between ethnic and religious identity, and how the relationship has changed over time. They discuss how traditional Buddhist teachings are reinterpreted in order to harmonise their Buddhism with the multicultural society in which they are embedded, although this has not been uncontroversial. Buddhism, of course, has historically been geographically and theologically diverse, and this has continued in a North American context. 

They also discuss how these affect our models of religion and culture. Are the appropriations of Buddhist traditions like meditation in therapeutic contexts to be considered ‘religious’? Dr Barua also describes some of the practical issues with carrying out fieldwork within a monastic community.

You can also 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.uk or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when buying your important books etc. Remember… Christmas is on the way!

This interview marks the beginning of a short series of podcasts from the RSP on Religion, Migration and Diaspora, which began last week with Andrew Dawson discussing Sante Daime, and concludes next week with Monika Salzbrunn speaking to Hanna Lehtinen about Religion, Migration and Diaspora.

Religion and Globalization

Over the past few weeks we have been looking at ‘religion’ in a ‘global context’ – from Mark Juergensmeyer’s sociotheological approach to ‘cosmic war’, to Douglas Pratt’s discussion of the ‘persistence and problem’ of ‘religion’, and Ryan Cragun’s introduction and overview to Mormon demographics across the globe. The final interview in this series was recorded in Ottawa in November 2012, and features Chris speaking with Peter Beyer, Professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa, who – as Chris has proudly stated ad nauseum – literally wrote the book on Religions in Global Society.

What do we mean by globalization? What does this concept have to say to the study of religion? How have religions been agents in the globalization process? What theoretical and methodological issues arise when trying to answer such questions? All of these questions and more are tackled in an interview which touches on post-colonialism, secularization theory, theodicy, Rational Choice Theory, and something called Post-Westphalianism. We hope you enjoy it!

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, ‘Like’ us on Facebook, and/or follow us on Twitter. And if you want to support the RSP, you can click through to Amazon.co.uk through our affiliates link, and we will earn referral fees from any transactions during your visit.

In the earlier parts of his career, Peter Beyer focused his research primarily on sociological theory of religion and on themes in Canadian religious history, doing his doctoral dissertation on the Louis Riel and postdoctoral studies on 19th and 20th century French Canadian Roman Catholicism. Since the mid-1980s, however, his main interests have centred on the sociological understanding of the relations between religion and globalization and on religion in contemporary Canada. His current research focuses on religious diversity and multiculturalism in Canada, especially as concerns recent immigrants and the second generation of these immigrants. He is the author of Religion and Globalization, Religions in Global Society, and co-editor (with Lori Beaman) of Religion, Globalization, and Culture (International Studies in Religion and Society Series).

Nuancing the Qual-Quan Divide: The Vitality of Research Methods in the Academic Study of Religion

Nuancing the Qual-Quan Divide:The Vitality of Research Methods in the Academic Study of Religion

By Yasaman S. Munro, Wilfrid Laurier University

Published by the Religious Studies Project on 4 July 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with David Voas on Quantitative Research (2 July 2012).

By using “vitality” in the title above, I mean to point to two aspects of the same urgent call. First, I simply mean that research methods are vital to the academic study of religion. As Stausberg and Engler suggest, “it is through methods that data and theory speak to each other and become part of a shared horizon” (2011: 11), and indeed it is still not a platitude to recall that theory, method and data can be considered three sides of that triangle we conjure, whether implicitly or explicitly, whenever we conduct research in this discipline. Second, I mean to claim that the active engagement of students and scholars embedded in the study of religion with research methods contributes to the ongoing vitality of our discipline. Please allow me to elaborate.

In this interview with Professor David Voas—a social scientist in Britain specializing in demography, and a scholar who is deeply involved in quantitative research himself—interviewer David Robertson asks about the oft-cited distinction between quantitative and qualitative research. I’d like to comment on this, specifically on what my own social research methods professor called the “qual-quan” divide. Professor Voas goes so far as to contrast the “qualitative people” to scholars using quantitative methods. Yet, what he does hint at, but has not had a chance to elaborate upon here in this short interview, is that the division between qualitative and quantitative research methods can be quite blurry in practice, and furthermore, they can and often are used in conjunction, as for instance in mixed methods research (Stausberg and Engler 2011: 13). Both Voas and Robertson themselves point to what could arguably be considered qualitative problems inherent in quantitative research designs, namely issues around designing valid questionnaires to administer to an appropriate sample of people in order to address specific research questions. Or, for example, in my own research on domestic health and healing practices among Hindu migrants in Canada, I have found myself asking interviewees what Voas refers to as the “how much, to what extent” sorts of questions that could be classified as quantitative questions.

But, even more significant than recognizing this blurry divide is what I noticed in this podcast to be a tendency not to nuance either qualitative and quantitative research methods. Voas rightly points to the usually forgotten difference between methods of data collection and analysis, considering surveys conducted among individuals or organizations. He also outlines some pros and cons for using primary and secondary data collection and analysis. What seems to be missing here is the acknowledgement that both quantitative and qualitative research often involves far more than simply statistical data gleaned from surveys, or in-person interviews, respectively.

Michael Stausberg and Steven Engler’s recent edited volume is a breath of the proverbial fresh air in this regard. In this pioneering handbook on research methods in the study of religion, the editors and the diverse contributors consider a wide variety of research designs, data analysis and collection strategies. Included are everything from issues in research ethics and hermeneutics to network analysis and material culture. Another recent work, by Hilary Rodrigues and John S. Harding, does address approaches to the study of religion—a subject area for which Walter Capps (1995) deserves a notable mention—and would be more suitable for undergraduate students being introduced to research methods. Those of us immersed in religious studies would benefit from pursuing works like these.

Why are research methods so vital to us? A while ago Russell McCutcheon (1997) called on us to pay more critical attention to theory (and method) in the study of religion. We do have a number of important works dealing with theoretical topics in the study of religion (e.g. Braun and McCutcheon 2000; Hinnells 2005; Taylor 1998), and as Stausberg and Engler have in my opinion rightly claimed, our Method and Theory courses have tended to focus more on theory than on method per se. Furthermore, as Capps among others, has reminded us, “where one stands determines what one sees and what one can know” (1995: 334-5); arguably both our theories and methods are implicated in where we stand. Because our methods, just as it is the case with our theories, play such a vital part in structuring, and arguably even producing, the data we find in our research, when we do not explicitly address our research methods, we are not adequately taking advantage of the resources we have to render high quality research. We could more clearly examine our research questions, our methods for data collection and analysis (beyond simply claiming we are conducting “quantitative” or “qualitative” research), and we could more explicitly employ strategies to establish our project’s methodological credibility, among other things. We are each encouraged to immerse ourselves in these sorts of things not only for the sake of our own ongoing research but because doing so will benefit the students and colleagues whose research we continue to help foster together.

Given the interviewee’s background, the interview tends to focus on issues that are usually important to scholars practicing the sociology of religion, issues such as how to measure the degree of religiosity of adherents, and how demographic factors are complicit in these processes. The interview could therefore more accurately be titled “Quantitative Research in the Sociology of Religion in Europe and the United States.” What is important to note here is that Voas’ perspectives on the value of quantitative research, involving particular data collection and analysis strategies (especially those involving large-scale surveys), while valuable, do stem from his adherence to the particular research questions of concern to him. What listeners are therefore exposed to here does not by any means exhaust the possibilities for research designs available to other kinds of scholars carrying out other kinds of research in our multi-faceted discipline.

At the end of the interview, Voas and Robertson encourage young scholars to engage with quantitative research methods. While I wholeheartedly support their inviting sentiments, I suggest it is vital for students and scholars of religion to pay closer attention to research methods more generally. As I have heard often enough in multiple places, the research questions are what ultimately drive the method, and therefore quantitative research designs may not be suitable for all projects. In my own doctoral research, for example, I have found the use of semi-structured interviews in domestic spaces and photography of household medical items indispensable for addressing my particular research questions.

It was a pleasure listening to what I hope to be the first of several more podcasts addressing the richly various aspects of research methods in our discipline. The interview does provide listeners with a good introduction to some important topics, such as validity, sampling, and generalizability. Still, given that research methods courses are a long way from being abundantly accessible to students in the discipline, students (and scholars) of religious studies would benefit from continually engaging with some of the established and emerging literature on research design and methodology so they can further nuance their understandings (e.g. Creswell 2009; Bryman, Teevan and Bell 2009; Berg 2007; Denzin and Lincoln 2011). I have been fortunate in that at my academic institution we have had a “Fieldworkers’ Group” meeting at least once a term for several years to discuss issues we have collectively experienced in mostly anthropological fieldwork. Indeed, beyond classroom and textbook, we all might find it helpful to engage more in occasional roundtables at conferences or at our institutions to discuss best practices in our ongoing adventures with research methods.

I therefore join Stausberg and Engler among others in inviting students and scholars in our discipline to open the lines of dialogue and debate on the vital topic of research methods in the academic study of religion, otherwise our research triangles run the risk of looking a bit more like boomerangs.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author:

Yasaman S. Munro is a PhD candidate in the joint Wilfrid Laurier University-University of Waterloo Religious Diversity in North America doctoral program. Her doctoral research focuses on relational and material dimensions of Āyurveda and associated South Asian medical modalities unfolding in the domestic spaces of Hindu migrants in the Waterloo Region of Canada. In particular, she is tracing how the health and healing ideas and practices manifesting in these spaces are linked to those elsewhere and at other times, and what these can tell us about people’s religious and other social identities. More broadly, Yasaman’s work examines intersections between what we call “religion” and “health” from a multidisciplinary approach.

References:

Berg, Bruce L. (2007). Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences, Sixth Edition. Long Beach: California State University.

Braun, Willi, and Russell McCutcheon, Eds. (2000). Guide to the Study of Religion. London and New York: Cassell.

Bryman, Alan, James J. Teevan and Edward Bell. (2009). Social Research Methods, Second Canadian Edition. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Capps, Walter H. (1995). Religious Studies: The Making of a Discipline. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Creswell, John W. (2009). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Denzin, Norman K., and Yvonna S. Lincoln, Eds. (2011). The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, 4th revised edition. London and Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Hinnells, John R., Ed. (2005). The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion. London and New York: Routledge.

McCutcheon, Russell T. (1997). Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and The Politics of Nostalgia. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary, and John S. Harding. (2009). Introduction to the Study of Religion. London and New York: Routledge.

Stausberg, Michael, and Steven Engler, Eds. (2011). The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion. Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge.

Taylor, Mark C., Ed. (1998). Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

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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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.

Public School Islamic Religious Education as Safe Space for Identity Development and Bottom-Up Negotiation of Citizenship

by Inkeri Rissanen

In this interview, Prof. Jasmin Zine discusses her research into Canadian Muslim schools and brings forth the role of these schools as safe havens for young Muslims to develop their identities. Generally speaking, it is vital to discuss and research schools as spaces where identity, belonging, and citizenship are continuously shaped through everyday discourses and practices. Schools mediate the legal recognition of minority rights by the state, and often by looking at the way in which religious and cultural minority groups are recognized and their identities supported in the educational system, one quickly gets a sense of the level of multiculturalism policy adoption in the country in question. Religious schools can be regarded as one good way to realize religious freedom and recognize minorities. In Europe, many Islamic schools have been found to have high aims for supporting responsible citizenship and social cohesion (see e.g. Rissanen & Sai, 2017). As Prof. Zine discussed in the interview, Muslim parents’ decision to send their children to Muslim school is often based on experiences of discrimination and Islamophobia in the public schools, as well as their willingness to ensure strong grounding for their children’s identities. However, there are also alternative ways of creating safe educational spaces that support the often more complex value and identity negotiations of minorities; Finnish solutions of accommodating Muslims in its educational system, which I have researched, offer here an interesting point of comparison.

Both Finland and Canada have been ranked as countries with “strong multiculturalism policy,” (Multiculturalism Policy Index 2010). However, there are no Islamic schools in Finland and very few other religion-based schools. The Finnish national core curriculum for basic education states that the different cultural and religious identities should be supported in school. Students have a right to religious education according to their own religion if at least three students who belong to the same tradition reside in the same area and their parents make a request. Thus, most Muslim students in Finland participate in Islamic religious education (IRE) as a compulsory school subject. Those Muslim students I have interviewed in my research have described IRE lessons as a “safe haven” during the school day where they don’t have to defend their identities to outsiders and receive peer-support from other Muslims of their age. Furthermore, they experience IRE classroom as an in-between space where they can ask questions that they feel are too delicate to be discussed in religious communities or even with their parents but need to be discussed with an adult who is an insider of their tradition but also understand their everyday life at school. I observed IRE teachers being bombarded with questions, for instance, about alcohol, dating, career choices, and how to relate to other religions and worldviews. Islamic religious education is not only an Islamophobia-free zone, it is emerging as a space where the compatibility of Muslim identity with Finnish citizenship and with modern Western democracies is negotiated ‘bottom up’ (Rissanen 2012).

Going to a Muslim school definitely offers a lot more comprehensive support for identities than participating in an IRE lessons once or twice a week and includes the possibility of having an Islamic perspective also in the study of secular subjects. However, the advantages of educating Muslims in public schools and offering IRE there is that doing so tends to normalize Muslim identities in the public sphere. Also, many other European countries include Islamic religious education in the curricula of their public should (see e.g. Berglund, 2018) – though sometimes, plainly, as a measure of securitization. Nevertheless, the fact that the state organizes Islamic religious education in public schools is a powerful sign that Muslim identities are regarded as legitimate and also that they can be expressed in the public sphere; both Muslim students and teachers I have interviewed have reflected on IRE as an act of recognition by the Finnish state. Furthermore, in my comparative study between Finland and Sweden (Rissanen 2018, Rissanen in press, I found that the existence of Islamic schools in Sweden sometimes indicated less space for negotiation in public schools due to the opportunity to ‘outsource’ religious rights to religious schools: if Muslim parents or students expressed religion-based needs that the principals were unwilling to accommodate, the principals often endeavored to legitimize their authoritative stances by stating that the parents can always send their children to Muslim school if they were not happy with the school policies.

The questions concerning inclusion of Muslims in public education are part of the wider debate related to the public role of religion. Many scholars have started to talk about the emergence of a post-secular society (e.g. Habermas, 2008). The notion of post-secularity does not indicate that more people are becoming more religious, but it acknowledges the increased issue salience of religion and the need to pay more attention to the intersections of religion and citizenship in contemporary liberal democracies. The academic criticism of the secular normativity and religion-blindness in European schools has pointed out how the hegemonic secular narrative includes false claims of neutrality, does not recognize its own Christian roots, and misrecognizes religious identities in a way that sometimes leads to discrimination (e.g. Fernando 2010; Berglund, 2017; Rissanen 2018, Rissanen in press). The presence of religious minorities in schools is needed to counter this illusion of neutrality: the risk of having religious minorities educated in faith-based schools is that doing so allows the public mainstream schools – and their students – to remain “religion-blind.”  Public schools can also become spaces for the much-needed complementary learning processes between secular and religious citizens, where religious minorities have agency to participate in the bottom-up cultural production of multicultural citizenship. Students, of course, should not be expected to serve as representatives of their religious or cultural groups in public schools – it is not their responsibility to “multiculturalize” or educate the majority members. However, when public schools are demanded to ensure support for all students’ identities without the opportunity to outsource this support to faith-based schools, it becomes more necessary for them to recruit teachers representing different minorities. For instance, IRE teachers in Finland often (willingly) serve as “cultural brokers” in the school communities – they increase the level of cultural and religious literacy in the school, consult other teachers and principals, and are able to contribute to the grass-root level negotiations on multicultural citizenship. Thus, having IRE in schools contributes to the development of two kinds of spaces of negotiation that both are vital in the present post-secular context: a safe space for the insiders of religion to negotiate their tradition in relation to the present cultural context and a space where representatives of a tradition (teachers) can demand agency and help to develop an inclusive school culture.

 

Inkeri Rissanen is a university lecturer in multicultural education and the vice manager of the Research Centre on Transnationalism and Tranformation at the University of Tampere in Finland. Her teaching and research focuses on religious and worldview education, Muslim inclusion and Islamic religious education, and inclusive citizenship.

 

References

Berglund, J., ed. (2018). European Perspectives on Islamic Education and Public Schooling. Sheffield: Equinox.

Berglund, J. (2017). Secular normativity and the religification of Muslims in Swedish public schooling. Oxford Review of Education 43, 524-535.

Fernando, M. L. (2010). Reconfiguring freedom: Muslim piety and the limits of secular law and public discourse in France. American ethnologist 37(1): 19-35.

Habermas, J. (2008). Secularism’s crisis of faith. New Perspectives Quarterly 25(4): 16-29.

Multiculturalism Policy Index. 2010. Available at: http://www.queensu.ca/mcp/

Rissanen, I. (2018). Negotiations on inclusive citizenship in a post-secular school: Perspectives of “cultural broker” Muslim parents and teachers in Finland and Sweden. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research. doi: 10.1080/00313831.2018.1514323

Rissanen, I. & Sai, Y. (2017). A comparative study of how social cohesion is taught in Islamic Religious Education in Finland and Ireland. British Journal of Religious Education 40 (3), 337-347. DOI: 10.1080/01416200.2017.1352487

Rissanen, I. (2012). Teaching Islamic education in Finnish schools: A field of negotiations. Teaching and Teacher Education 28 (5): 740–749.

Rissanen, I. (in press). School principals’ diversity ideologies in fostering the inclusion of Muslims in Finnish and Swedish schools. Race Ethnicity and Education.

 

D. Mitra Barua on Immigrant Buddhism in the West

D. Mitra BaruaDr. D. Mitra Barua is an instructor of Religious Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, and has a Masters in Buddhist Philosophy undertaken in Sri Lanka. His doctorate concerned several generations of Sri Lankan immigrants in Toronto, and how their Buddhist practices are affected by being transplanted to Canada.

In this in-depth interview with Chris Silver, Barua discusses the links between ethnic and religious identity, and how the relationship has changed over time. They discuss how traditional Buddhist teachings are reinterpreted in order to harmonise their Buddhism with the multicultural society in which they are embedded, although this has not been uncontroversial. Buddhism, of course, has historically been geographically and theologically diverse, and this has continued in a North American context. 

They also discuss how these affect our models of religion and culture. Are the appropriations of Buddhist traditions like meditation in therapeutic contexts to be considered ‘religious’? Dr Barua also describes some of the practical issues with carrying out fieldwork within a monastic community.

You can also 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.uk or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when buying your important books etc. Remember… Christmas is on the way!

This interview marks the beginning of a short series of podcasts from the RSP on Religion, Migration and Diaspora, which began last week with Andrew Dawson discussing Sante Daime, and concludes next week with Monika Salzbrunn speaking to Hanna Lehtinen about Religion, Migration and Diaspora.

Religion and Globalization

Over the past few weeks we have been looking at ‘religion’ in a ‘global context’ – from Mark Juergensmeyer’s sociotheological approach to ‘cosmic war’, to Douglas Pratt’s discussion of the ‘persistence and problem’ of ‘religion’, and Ryan Cragun’s introduction and overview to Mormon demographics across the globe. The final interview in this series was recorded in Ottawa in November 2012, and features Chris speaking with Peter Beyer, Professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa, who – as Chris has proudly stated ad nauseum – literally wrote the book on Religions in Global Society.

What do we mean by globalization? What does this concept have to say to the study of religion? How have religions been agents in the globalization process? What theoretical and methodological issues arise when trying to answer such questions? All of these questions and more are tackled in an interview which touches on post-colonialism, secularization theory, theodicy, Rational Choice Theory, and something called Post-Westphalianism. We hope you enjoy it!

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, ‘Like’ us on Facebook, and/or follow us on Twitter. And if you want to support the RSP, you can click through to Amazon.co.uk through our affiliates link, and we will earn referral fees from any transactions during your visit.

In the earlier parts of his career, Peter Beyer focused his research primarily on sociological theory of religion and on themes in Canadian religious history, doing his doctoral dissertation on the Louis Riel and postdoctoral studies on 19th and 20th century French Canadian Roman Catholicism. Since the mid-1980s, however, his main interests have centred on the sociological understanding of the relations between religion and globalization and on religion in contemporary Canada. His current research focuses on religious diversity and multiculturalism in Canada, especially as concerns recent immigrants and the second generation of these immigrants. He is the author of Religion and Globalization, Religions in Global Society, and co-editor (with Lori Beaman) of Religion, Globalization, and Culture (International Studies in Religion and Society Series).

Nuancing the Qual-Quan Divide: The Vitality of Research Methods in the Academic Study of Religion

Nuancing the Qual-Quan Divide:The Vitality of Research Methods in the Academic Study of Religion

By Yasaman S. Munro, Wilfrid Laurier University

Published by the Religious Studies Project on 4 July 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with David Voas on Quantitative Research (2 July 2012).

By using “vitality” in the title above, I mean to point to two aspects of the same urgent call. First, I simply mean that research methods are vital to the academic study of religion. As Stausberg and Engler suggest, “it is through methods that data and theory speak to each other and become part of a shared horizon” (2011: 11), and indeed it is still not a platitude to recall that theory, method and data can be considered three sides of that triangle we conjure, whether implicitly or explicitly, whenever we conduct research in this discipline. Second, I mean to claim that the active engagement of students and scholars embedded in the study of religion with research methods contributes to the ongoing vitality of our discipline. Please allow me to elaborate.

In this interview with Professor David Voas—a social scientist in Britain specializing in demography, and a scholar who is deeply involved in quantitative research himself—interviewer David Robertson asks about the oft-cited distinction between quantitative and qualitative research. I’d like to comment on this, specifically on what my own social research methods professor called the “qual-quan” divide. Professor Voas goes so far as to contrast the “qualitative people” to scholars using quantitative methods. Yet, what he does hint at, but has not had a chance to elaborate upon here in this short interview, is that the division between qualitative and quantitative research methods can be quite blurry in practice, and furthermore, they can and often are used in conjunction, as for instance in mixed methods research (Stausberg and Engler 2011: 13). Both Voas and Robertson themselves point to what could arguably be considered qualitative problems inherent in quantitative research designs, namely issues around designing valid questionnaires to administer to an appropriate sample of people in order to address specific research questions. Or, for example, in my own research on domestic health and healing practices among Hindu migrants in Canada, I have found myself asking interviewees what Voas refers to as the “how much, to what extent” sorts of questions that could be classified as quantitative questions.

But, even more significant than recognizing this blurry divide is what I noticed in this podcast to be a tendency not to nuance either qualitative and quantitative research methods. Voas rightly points to the usually forgotten difference between methods of data collection and analysis, considering surveys conducted among individuals or organizations. He also outlines some pros and cons for using primary and secondary data collection and analysis. What seems to be missing here is the acknowledgement that both quantitative and qualitative research often involves far more than simply statistical data gleaned from surveys, or in-person interviews, respectively.

Michael Stausberg and Steven Engler’s recent edited volume is a breath of the proverbial fresh air in this regard. In this pioneering handbook on research methods in the study of religion, the editors and the diverse contributors consider a wide variety of research designs, data analysis and collection strategies. Included are everything from issues in research ethics and hermeneutics to network analysis and material culture. Another recent work, by Hilary Rodrigues and John S. Harding, does address approaches to the study of religion—a subject area for which Walter Capps (1995) deserves a notable mention—and would be more suitable for undergraduate students being introduced to research methods. Those of us immersed in religious studies would benefit from pursuing works like these.

Why are research methods so vital to us? A while ago Russell McCutcheon (1997) called on us to pay more critical attention to theory (and method) in the study of religion. We do have a number of important works dealing with theoretical topics in the study of religion (e.g. Braun and McCutcheon 2000; Hinnells 2005; Taylor 1998), and as Stausberg and Engler have in my opinion rightly claimed, our Method and Theory courses have tended to focus more on theory than on method per se. Furthermore, as Capps among others, has reminded us, “where one stands determines what one sees and what one can know” (1995: 334-5); arguably both our theories and methods are implicated in where we stand. Because our methods, just as it is the case with our theories, play such a vital part in structuring, and arguably even producing, the data we find in our research, when we do not explicitly address our research methods, we are not adequately taking advantage of the resources we have to render high quality research. We could more clearly examine our research questions, our methods for data collection and analysis (beyond simply claiming we are conducting “quantitative” or “qualitative” research), and we could more explicitly employ strategies to establish our project’s methodological credibility, among other things. We are each encouraged to immerse ourselves in these sorts of things not only for the sake of our own ongoing research but because doing so will benefit the students and colleagues whose research we continue to help foster together.

Given the interviewee’s background, the interview tends to focus on issues that are usually important to scholars practicing the sociology of religion, issues such as how to measure the degree of religiosity of adherents, and how demographic factors are complicit in these processes. The interview could therefore more accurately be titled “Quantitative Research in the Sociology of Religion in Europe and the United States.” What is important to note here is that Voas’ perspectives on the value of quantitative research, involving particular data collection and analysis strategies (especially those involving large-scale surveys), while valuable, do stem from his adherence to the particular research questions of concern to him. What listeners are therefore exposed to here does not by any means exhaust the possibilities for research designs available to other kinds of scholars carrying out other kinds of research in our multi-faceted discipline.

At the end of the interview, Voas and Robertson encourage young scholars to engage with quantitative research methods. While I wholeheartedly support their inviting sentiments, I suggest it is vital for students and scholars of religion to pay closer attention to research methods more generally. As I have heard often enough in multiple places, the research questions are what ultimately drive the method, and therefore quantitative research designs may not be suitable for all projects. In my own doctoral research, for example, I have found the use of semi-structured interviews in domestic spaces and photography of household medical items indispensable for addressing my particular research questions.

It was a pleasure listening to what I hope to be the first of several more podcasts addressing the richly various aspects of research methods in our discipline. The interview does provide listeners with a good introduction to some important topics, such as validity, sampling, and generalizability. Still, given that research methods courses are a long way from being abundantly accessible to students in the discipline, students (and scholars) of religious studies would benefit from continually engaging with some of the established and emerging literature on research design and methodology so they can further nuance their understandings (e.g. Creswell 2009; Bryman, Teevan and Bell 2009; Berg 2007; Denzin and Lincoln 2011). I have been fortunate in that at my academic institution we have had a “Fieldworkers’ Group” meeting at least once a term for several years to discuss issues we have collectively experienced in mostly anthropological fieldwork. Indeed, beyond classroom and textbook, we all might find it helpful to engage more in occasional roundtables at conferences or at our institutions to discuss best practices in our ongoing adventures with research methods.

I therefore join Stausberg and Engler among others in inviting students and scholars in our discipline to open the lines of dialogue and debate on the vital topic of research methods in the academic study of religion, otherwise our research triangles run the risk of looking a bit more like boomerangs.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author:

Yasaman S. Munro is a PhD candidate in the joint Wilfrid Laurier University-University of Waterloo Religious Diversity in North America doctoral program. Her doctoral research focuses on relational and material dimensions of Āyurveda and associated South Asian medical modalities unfolding in the domestic spaces of Hindu migrants in the Waterloo Region of Canada. In particular, she is tracing how the health and healing ideas and practices manifesting in these spaces are linked to those elsewhere and at other times, and what these can tell us about people’s religious and other social identities. More broadly, Yasaman’s work examines intersections between what we call “religion” and “health” from a multidisciplinary approach.

References:

Berg, Bruce L. (2007). Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences, Sixth Edition. Long Beach: California State University.

Braun, Willi, and Russell McCutcheon, Eds. (2000). Guide to the Study of Religion. London and New York: Cassell.

Bryman, Alan, James J. Teevan and Edward Bell. (2009). Social Research Methods, Second Canadian Edition. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Capps, Walter H. (1995). Religious Studies: The Making of a Discipline. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Creswell, John W. (2009). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Denzin, Norman K., and Yvonna S. Lincoln, Eds. (2011). The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, 4th revised edition. London and Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Hinnells, John R., Ed. (2005). The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion. London and New York: Routledge.

McCutcheon, Russell T. (1997). Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and The Politics of Nostalgia. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary, and John S. Harding. (2009). Introduction to the Study of Religion. London and New York: Routledge.

Stausberg, Michael, and Steven Engler, Eds. (2011). The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion. Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge.

Taylor, Mark C., Ed. (1998). Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.