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.