When is it race or religion?

Tuesday Jun 04 8:30 am to 10:00 am
ANGU 435

Session Code: RAE1
Session Format: Regular
Session Language: English, French
Research Cluster Affiliation: Race and Ethnicity
Session Categories: Regular Session

With the heated debates in Canada about reasonable accommodation in Quebec, religious arbitration in Ontario and wearing the niqab during the Canadian citizenship oath, it may be increasingly difficult for (visible) religious minorities to engage in religious and cultural practices in the public sphere. Although there is much research on the racialization of visible minorities, it becomes increasingly unclear what demographic variable is at play race, religion or both. Through different case studies, this session explores the theoretical and practical intermingled relationship between race and religion for different religious (and ethnic) groups in Canada. Tags: Applied Sociology, Race And Ethnicity, Religion, Social Theory

Organizer: Jessica Stallone, University of Toronto; Chair: Shirin Khayambashi, McMaster University; Discussant: Neda Maghbouleh, University of Toronto


Xavier Scott, Seneca College

Racism and religious discrimination: commonalities and differences

This paper proposes a method for categorizing cases of racial and religious discrimination in order to better guide individuals and institutions in navigating cases of religious difference. It begins with a brief overview of the ways in which religious discrimination overlaps with racial discrimination and raises several of the ways that religious discrimination is said (often by secularists) to be conceptually distinct from racism. It then seeks to lay out a spectrum of cases that increasingly make religious discrimination distinct from more standard instances of racism. They are:  standard  racism (e.g. a person is assumed to be a member of a religion because of their perceived racial identity); cultural racism (e.g. discriminating against the religious cultural symbols of a religious group); political intolerance of religion (e.g. worry that a religious culture will subvert the laws or customs of the state); and intolerance of religious intolerance (e.g. pressuring a religious person who is doing something unlawful/unjust on the basis of a religious principle to abandon that action/principle). This paper argues that only the last of these positions makes religious and racial discrimination distinct and ends by offering ways to navigate between relativist and discriminatory approaches to religious difference in such instances.

Bonar Buffam, University of British Columbia

Race, Martyrdom and the Public Memorialization of Mewa Singh in British Columbia

Since 2015, several civic organizations in Metro Vancouver have participated in a public campaign to commemorate the centenary of Mewa Singhs execution by local state authorities in 1915. Earlier that year, Singh had pled guilty to the murder of William C Hopkinson, an immigration agent and court translator who led the states surveillance of local anti-colonial groups like the Ghadar Party. At a parade in 2016, the Ghadar Party Centenary Celebration Committee mounted a billboard with a petition that called on the Government of Canada to overturn Singhs conviction and declare him a martyr and Canadian hero.  This paper draws on fieldwork and archival research to explicate the complex political processes that have framed how Singh is positioned and remembered as a criminal, martyr, and national hero. Situating Singhs case in the regions broader histories of race state power, this paper tracks how law has shaped the political circumstances of local Sikh and South Asian populations. Drawing on critical secular studies, it explores the political conditions of martyrdom and sacrifice to consider how Sikh populations have been governed as religious and racialized minorities across different historical periods.   

Joshua Harold, University of Toronto

Collective Memory and the Boundaries of Jewish Whiteness

Are Jews white or of color? Are they mainstream or marginal? Are Jews “model minorities” or eternal “strangers” in Simmel’s sense? The relationship between Jews and whiteness in North America is far from simple. The decades following the Second World War brought about significant changes in the acceptance and integration of Jews into mainstream American and Canadian society, and today Jews are among the most successful ethnic groups in Canada. Yet, social integration, acceptance, and claims to whiteness are tempered by histories of exclusion and persecution, and by rising levels of antisemitism and white nativism in many parts of the world. This makes Jewish identity in multiethnic Canada complex and contradictory. Drawing on semi-structured interview data, this paper examines how collective memory shapes the boundaries of Jewish whiteness. It contributes to understandings about groupness and ethnic boundary work by exploring how Jews navigate an ever-shifting color line and how whiteness is both mobilized and jeopardized in the lives of Canadian Jews.