Association of American Geographers 2011 (Seattle, WA)

A few updates on the sessions in this Association of American Geographers in Seattle’s Washington State Convention Center and the Sheraton.

Betsy Olson, Claire Dwyer, and I co-organized a session on Wednesday, 13 April 2011, at 10 AM entitled Religion and transnationalism/Traveling faith (#2244).  This paper featured paper presentations by Murat Es, Abby Day, Ben Kogaly, Sharon Suh, and Patricia Ehrkamp.  Claire Dwyer, David Ley, and I also gave our presentation on Richmond’s “Highway to Heaven”:

While geographers have written much about the varying dimensions of transnational urbanism (Ley 2004, MP Smith 2001, Mitchell 2004) religious transnationalism remains under explored despite the establishment of many new spectacular religious buildings in diaspora cities in the last decade and evidence of the continuing significance of religious practice for many migrants (Levitt 2007, Tweed 2002). In this paper we draw on recent empirical work in the multicultural suburb of Richmond, Vancouver to explore the complex geographies of a transnational suburban religious landscape. Along the Number 5 Road, on the eastern boundary of the city and adjacent to the major 99 highway, more than twenty religious buildings including mosques, churches, religious schools, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh temples are clustered within 3 kilometres. This suburban religious landscape has been produced by the complex intersection of suburban planning regulations, municipal multiculturalism and the transnational activities of a range of different diasporic faith communities living in greater Vancouver and beyond. Our paper traces the processes by which this landscape has been produced and raises some questions about the possible outcomes of planning for religious and cultural diversity and the varying trajectories of religious transnationalism.

I am also giving a paper on Thursday, 14 April 2011, at 10 AM in the Issues in Ethnic Geography II (#3220) session.  Here is the paper abstract:

Until recently, ethnic, religious, and ethno-religious spaces in North America have been assumed to be apolitical.  Urban ethnic centres (such as Chinatowns), ethnoburbs (such as Richmond in Metro Vancouver), and ethnic churches and temples have often been seen as sites where migrant cultures to North America have been preserved; indeed, the only politics in which they are involved may be anti-segregation and anti-racism protests.  However, Cantonese Christians have not been apolitical.  In 2008, Cantonese Christians successfully campaigned for the election of a Conservative Member of Parliament in Richmond, British Columbia; a parallel in the San Francisco Bay Area was an alliance of Chinese evangelicals with the larger evangelical movement to pass Proposition 8 to ban same-sex unions.  Such a trend has also been noticed by Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, running a front-page article on immigrants and the conservative vote.  In this presentation, I propose a working approach to such migrant religious communities that takes into account their politics.  We must ask: what are the civic imaginations and practices of Cantonese Christians who are said to vote conservative?  This paper grounds this question in Vancouver and San Francisco as the starting point of a new line of inquiry into the political agency of communities formerly thought to be ethnic enclaves running parallel religious lives in North America.  It is the hope of this paper to initiate a new approach to immigrant and ethnic geographies from which empirical data can be collected.

Finally, in the usual great run-up of speakers for the Geography of Religion and Belief Systems Annual Lecture, Claire Dwyer will be giving this year’s lecture (#4258):

Encountering the Divine in W5 and Highway 99: stories of the suburban sacred
This lecture reflects on my on-going collaborative research on suburban faith spaces in London and Vancouver to explore the significance of everyday geographies of religion.  Recent research on suburban faith spaces offers both into a reinterpretation of the assumed secularism of suburban space and an analysis of the transnational and postcolonial connections shaping suburban geographies. Through this analysis of suburban faith spaces I develop two broader arguments about the geographies of religions and belief systems. First, I ask what geographies of religion have to offer to wider theoretical discussions within the discipline. Second, I reflect on the  possibilities and challenges of accessing the suburban sacred as part of a wider reflection on geographies of encounter and enchantment.

Metropolis Canada: 23-26 March 2011

Just wanted to check in and report on the success of a paper session I co-organized with my friends Claire Dwyer, David Ley, and Paul Bramadat at Metropolis Canada.  Here’s the session information:

Immigrant Integration, Religious Diversity and the Suburbs
This session brings together academics and policy makers to discuss the ways in which the civic engagement and integration of immigrants is facilitated through religious institutions and organisations. It focuses on the emergence of new religious spaces in the suburbs of many Canadian cities and the challenge of planning for diversity.

Organizer | Organisateur
Claire Dwyer, University College London
Justin Tse, University of British Columbia
David Ley, University of British Columbia
Paul Bramadat, University of Victoria

Participants
Claire Dwyer, University College London, Justin Tse and David Ley, University of British Columbia
‘Highway to Heaven’: The Making of a Transnational Suburban Religious Landscape in Vancouver

Ranu Basu, York University
Kali in the Legions to Eid with Christmas Lights: Integrative Multiplicity in Toronto Suburbs

Meharoona Ghani, Ministry of Regional Economic and Skills Development, British Columbia
Multiculturalism and Inclusive Communities

Alan Hill, City of Richmond
Cultural Diversity and Integration

Chair | Modérateur
Paul Bramadat, University of Victoria

Discussant | Commentateur
Balwant Sanghera, Interfaith Bridging Project

A CLAIM TO FAME: our session was mentioned by Douglas Todd in The Search for our presentation on religion.  Thanks so much, Douglas, and yes, it provoked some great discussion on religion, secularism, migration, and the suburbs in Canada!

Sing Tao Daily (3 Feb 2011)

At the Metropolis BC conference, I was interviewed by a journalist for Vancouver’s Sing Tao Daily (星島日報).  He asked for supplemental information to our talk on No. 5 Road and wanted to discuss especially the Chinese Christian organizations in the talk.  He asked specifically about new migrants from the People’s Republic of China.

Most of what I said was fairly represented in the following article.  The Chinese version is here.  I have translated most of it (with assistance from family and girlfriend) into English here:

New immigrants are changing the culture of religious communities
Chu Lam (Sing Tao Daily, Vancouver)

An immigration research organization has pointed out that as NGOs and religious communities become increasingly concerned about multiculturalism, multiple levels of officials need more attention and understanding as they make new policies toward minorities’ religions and cultures.

Metro Vancouver’s immigration research organization invited Canadian academics, the government, NGOs, and religious communities for a dialogue on Wednesday.  They spoke from the perspective of all three levels of government on what they should pay attention to in policymaking.

The provincial economic and capacity development organization [Embrace BC] and immigration research Metropolis BC on Wednesday was entitled: Religion and society: a policy research symposium on immigration, multiculturalism, and social change in Canada.  This academic symposium invited the academics, government officials, and NGO leaders from all over the nation to participate in researching minorities and immigrant religious cultures and their impact on the changing Canadian social landscape.

UBC Human Geography’s doctoral candidate Justin Tse used ‘tsunami’ to represent the increasing numbers of PRC migrants to Canada.  He pointed out that Canadian Chinese religious organizations are mostly Cantonese-speaking and are mostly from Hong Kong, and that new migrants from the PRC find a gap in language and political values.  Although there are barriers, Chinese religious organizations are step-by-step incorporating new migrants, and the new migrants are participating willingly and happily because of their curiosity and need for religion, so the religious culture is changing from the inside, and it changes people’s view of politics and culture, causing the policymakers to pay attention.

Ryerson University’s urban planning professor Sandeep Agrawal expressed that up till now, the government has planned insufficiently for religion.  For example, in the Greater Toronto Area, there are 147 religious organizations, but there are only 123 religious places of worship, so on average one of these organizations must serve 10,000 people.  Many religious organizations can only hold their events in residential areas.

Agrawal said that when the government plans the city, they need to have the right amount of religious sites planned, so that they can ensure that multicultural and different religions are incorporated into the city development plans.

——

A FEW CLARIFICATIONS:

Sadly, and perhaps fortunately, I was not the one who coined the term “tsunami.”  I got it from another article written on 5 February 2010 in a Christian newsletter on Canadianchristianity.com on Chinese churches by Meg Johnstone entitled “Chinese churches thrive.”  In my own interviews for my master’s project on a transnational Hongkonger church, there were also people who expressed the phenomenon as new migrants “flooding into” the church “all of a sudden.”  We found similar sentiments expressed by some of the Cantonese-speaking churches on No. 5 Road.  A similar phenomenon was also noted by a fourth-year undergraduate geography student I helped who studied a prominent Cantonese-speaking church in Vancouver for his Research Methods: Migration course in Geography.  So no, “tsunami” is not from me; it is common parlance from the ground.

My comments on language also need to be taken in the context of Chinese Christianity in Metro Vancouver, not religion as a whole.  Most of the Buddhist places I’ve been studying on No. 5 Road are actually Mandarin-speaking: the Lingyen Mountain Temple is mostly from Taiwan (although there is a Cantonese tour guide, as well as a prominent figure who is non-Chinese), as is the Dharma Drum Buddhist Meditation Centre; some of the monks at Thrangu Monastery are proficient in Mandarin in addition to Tibetan.  But 74% of the Chinese Christian churches in the 2007 Vancouver Chinese Evangelical Ministerial Fellowship’s directory are Cantonese-speaking; the major Chinese Christian events also seem to be in Cantonese.  This situation is quickly changing as we speak, though, as many churches have started Mandarin ministries.  Moreover, far from all Mandarin ministry being new, there are also very well-established Mandarin-speaking churches in Metro Vancouver, such as Evangelical Chinese Bible Church (ECBC); I also have some very good Taiwanese Christian friends in the area as well; and Stream of Praise (讚美之泉), a very popular Taiwanese Christian music group based near Irvine in Orange County, CA, comes here to tour quite a bit too (and their Mandarin songs are sung in many Cantonese churches too!).

Christianity is important within the Chinese population because according to the 2001 census, there were more Christians (24%) than Buddhists (15%) within the Chinese population in Metro Vancouver.  For further reading, see Yu Li’s chapter on “Christianity as Chinese religion” in the edited 2010 volume on Asian Religions in British Columbia as well as my 2010 article in Population, Space, and Place on “Making a Cantonese-Christian family.” David Ley also has a section in his new book Millionaire Migrants: Trans-Pacific Life Lines (2010: pp. 213-217) on Chinese Christian churches as new civic spaces as well as a 2008 article in Urban Studies on the immigrant church as an urban service hub that focuses on German, Korean, and Chinese churches in Metro Vancouver.

On the difference of “political values,” I was referring to what my respondents had noted as a difference of political sensibilities between Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China.  Of course, the PRC is a big place, and Hong Kong is also very diverse, but this was also a common sentiment on the ground.  As I told the reporter, I think the jury is still out on whether PRC migrants are more politically conservative, liberal, apathetic, etc. than their Hongkonger counterparts in Vancouver.  That may partly comprise some of my doctoral research.  Stay tuned.

The paragraph also seems to suggest that I think that Chinese religious organizations in Vancouver will completely change from Hongkonger to PRC.  I think it’s messier than that, although with new migrants coming into the church, some things will inevitably change.  I am starting to see that already.  But will it completely change?  That also remains to be seen.

Lastly, on the policymakers paying attention, yes, I think this was a hopeful sentiment.  I spoke with a policymaker today, however, who couldn’t care less.  But I think this is perhaps the main thrust of my upcoming doctoral project: what are the civic imaginations and practices of Hongkonger Christians in the Pacific region?  If there is change from new, non-Cantonese migration, then perhaps some things may change politically in perhaps swinging religious votes or perhaps affecting land use or perhaps engagement in new forms of civil participation.  Perhaps.  I still have to do the research there.  But yes, like the article, I hope that policymakers do pay attention to Chinese Christians.

All this said, I think this article is overall a fair representation of the interview I gave and the symposium as a whole (at least the morning portions).  My hope is that the comments quoted especially by Sandeep and myself will not be taken as written in stone by the experts but will prompt further research by academics and policymakers as well as deeper reflection on religion and society by the people reading this in their daily newspaper.

Religion and Society: a policy symposium on immigration, multiculturalism, and social change in Canada (Metropolis BC and Embrace BC)

On Wednesday, 2 February 2011, I had the pleasure of being the lead presenter on work done in collaboration among Dr. Claire Dwyer (University College London, Geography), Dr. David Ley (UBC Geography), and myself on Richmond’s No. 5 Road, otherwise known as the “Highway to Heaven” for its over-20 religious institutions on three big blocks of converted Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

The talk we chose to give was entitled: Talking infrastructure: another topic for interfaith dialogue on Richmond’s “Highway to Heaven.” I was the lead presenter.

Our main point was that because the “Highway to Heaven” lay on mostly newly-converted ALR, its lack of infrastructure often forced religious institutions to cooperate to get things built, often only as one-off projects.  We discussed three key issues.  The first was that while No. 5 Road has been portrayed as a miracle of interfaith cooperation (mostly in the sharing of parking lots), our research shows that there have been potentials for conflict, particularly within ethnic groups, although these clashes have also tended to be minor.  The second was a demonstration through the case of sewage lines that interfaith collaboration were often one-off projects and that failures and successes were usually not the product of theological or cosmological conflicts.  The third was that policy from the City of Richmond often had the unintended side effects of frustrating some religious practices, such as in the proposed Blundell Interchange onto Highway 99 or the requirement to farm the back third of the lots for tax exemption.

We got great feedback on this project.  People from the City of Richmond who were present were very receptive to our comments and are beginning to discuss with us more possibilities for collaboration to minimize those unintended policy side effects.  We have also begun to learn much more about the ALR as a result and are finding that rural and urban spaces really do matter for geographies of religion.  We also met many members of the Richmond community, including representatives from two interfaith organizations (one English-speaking, another Chinese), who encouraged us to do more thinking along the lines of theological reflection and interaction with the City as good neighbours.  We were very pleased with the turnout for the event and grateful for all the suggestions for our project, which is still a work in progress.

The PowerPoint should be available from Metropolis BC at some point, and I will keep you posted on when.

Other interesting talks of the day included talks by the co-organizers of the symposium, Paul Bramadat (University of Victoria, Centre for Studies in Religion and Society) and Meharoona Ghani (Embrace BC) on the necessity of a policy discussion of religion in a world where faith and politics are increasingly important, especially in British Columbia.  In our panel on Space, Place and the Sacred: Managing Religious Diversity in a Multicultural Society (chaired by Paul Bramadat), there were two colleagues whose work focused on the Greater Toronto Area as comparative sites for British Columbia: Heidi Hoernig (McGill University, Office of Research Services) and Sandeep Agrawal (Ryerson University, School of Urban and Regional Planning).  Another panel on projects from Embrace BC’s Interfaith Bridging Projects featured talks from Clare Whelan-Sadike (Embrace BC), Tahzeem Kassam (DIVERSECity, Surrey), Bruce Curtis (Community Justice Centre, Comox Valley), and Julie Papaioannou (CIC BC/Yukon).  The day was capped by an open discussion on post-secularism led by Paul Bramadat and Julie Drolet (Thompson Rivers University, Social Work), where much of the discussion focused on the need for education for religious literacy at all levels of schooling to address a multicultural, multi-religious society that is increasingly not following the patterns of secularization once prescribed for it in the 1960s and 1970s.

We are looking forward to a larger conversation that will happen at the Metropolis Canada conference to be held in March 2011.  Claire Dwyer and I are co-organizing a session on religion and migration, and our panel will include people from Embrace BC, the City of Richmond, and Richmond’s Interfaith Advisory Committee.

“Highway to Heaven?” New suburban religious landscapes and immigrant integration (Metropolis BC)

In 2010-2011, Professor David Ley (University of British Columbia), Dr. Claire Dwyer (University College, University of London), and I will be conducting a study of No. 5 Road in Richmond, British Columbia.  The road is better known as the “Highway to Heaven” because it features multiple religious buildings on the road between Blundell Road and Steveston Highway .  Examples of these institutions include five Chinese Christian churches, two Christian schools, two mosques (one Shia, one Sunni) with Muslim schools, a gurdwara, three Buddhist institutions, two Hindu centres, a Jewish day school, one Korean Christian church plant, and three older English-speaking Canadian churches.  Other religious institutions are slated to join the road in due time as well.

We are interested in how religious landscapes like the “Highway to Heaven” emerge in suburbs like Richmond and how these religious institutions are part of the migrant experience in metropolitan areas like Vancouver.  In particular, we have three foci.  First, we are interested at an urban planning level in how suburban planners plan for these religious landscapes.  Second, we want to explore how these religious institutions help immigrants to Canada integrate into society and how people at these churches experience this help in their everyday lives.  Third, we want to understand how residents in Richmond understand the role of No. 5 Road in how they practice being multicultural Canadians.  What this means at a very broad level is that we are interested in how No. 5 Road intersects with the everyday lives of people in Richmond, and we are very happy to talk to anyone who wants to talk with us!

This project is funded by Metropolis BC (http://riim.metropolis.net), a provincial division of the larger Metropolis Project (http://canada.metropolis.net) that examines how migration is changing the face of Canadian cities.  It is NOT my Ph.D. dissertation research, although the presence of Chinese churches (three of which are Cantonese-speaking and Hongkonger-based) means that this research is not too far afield in what I have been interested in for my MA research on a Hongkonger Christian church in Richmond and my upcoming Ph.D. research on evangelical Christianity in Hong Kong.  It is a collaborative project between David Ley, Claire Dwyer, and myself: the teamwork and discussion has been phenomenal as we have been able to openly talk through issues in geographies of religion and migration.  A link to the University College London announcement of this project is here: http://www.geog.ucl.ac.uk/about-the-department/news/highways-to-heaven.

If you’re interested in knowing more about this project, you can approach me by email at jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca or Claire Dwyer at claire.dwyer@ucl.ac.uk.