Postmedia News - May 27, 2011
Study shows split between children of Christian, Muslim immigrants
BY SHANNON PROUDFOOT, POSTMEDIA NEWS
Evangelical Christian children of immigrants feel they can't openly practise their religion and worry that Christianity is no longer a guiding force in Canadian society, while Muslims say they're free to follow their faith in this country — but face other forms of discrimination.
Those are some of the intriguing findings of new research that will be presented on Sunday at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the largest multi-disciplinary academic gathering in Canada.
"I was a little bit surprised by the degree to which Christians feel put upon. The 'Religulous' message is getting across and it's not a good message," said Peter Beyer, a professor of religious studies at the University of Ottawa, referring to the 2008 Bill Maher film that cast a critical eye on organized religion.
"They feel like there's prejudice against religious people: 'I can't pull out my Bible, I can't talk about my religion without getting shot down. I don't even mention it for fear of getting a bad reaction.' "
His study gathered insights from about 350 second-generation Canadians aged 18 to 30 through 36 focus groups in Sydney, N.S, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Each focus group drew together young adults with common religious backgrounds, and many Christians expressed the worry that Christianity is no longer a dominant force in Canadian society, Beyer said.
On the other hand, Muslims attributed the discrimination they felt to racial or cultural prejudices rather than religious issues, saying they felt they could follow their faith unfettered in Canada.
"They feel that they're perfectly free to practice Islam here in Canada, unlike some of the Christians who feel that their ability to practise their religion is restricted in this country," Beyer said. "But they did feel Islamophobia."
The qualitative study reveals some of the complex fault lines in Canadian society.
Young adults from across religious and cultural lines agreed that Muslims have faced discrimination since 9/11, but non-Muslims also said there should be limits on religious freedom and expressed concerns that Muslims "could be a problem," Beyer said.
In terms of Canadian identity and culture, many children of immigrants couldn't define it, denied its existence or pinned it on the fuzzy notion of multiculturalism. But second-generation Canadians in Quebec had a strong sense of the province's unique identity — to the point that some identified as sovereigntists.
"They all had to do with the fact that there is a Quebecois culture and a sense of nationhood and something you can attach yourself to," Beyer said. "Whereas in the rest of Canada, we asked them what's a Canadian and we got a lot of answers such as, 'Who knows?' One group said there is no such thing as Canadian culture."
Second-generation Canadians are both optimistic and critical of the entire concept of multiculturalism in Canada, he said. They believe integrating and learning from each other could be a hugely positive experience that too often turns into immigrant communities living in "silos" side by side — and they blame their immigrant parents, not the rest of society, for that.
"One of the myths that's very much alive in Canada is that the United States is worse on every score," he said. "The idea that we live in a mosaic and they live in a melting pot, in spite of the fact that it's not true as far as the evidence shows — that's certainly believed by a lot of people."
Beyer will present his work Sunday at the Congress, which is jointly hoisted this year by the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University and expected to draw more than 6,000 delegates to Fredericton. The conference kicks off Saturday and runs until June 4.
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