Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Thursday, November 25, 2010
To read my full comment on this article, visit the University of Notre Dame's Contending Modernities blog.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Professor Couton summarizes the main points of my book and states that “the result is an original, richly detailed study of one the world’s great diasporas, and one that makes a clear, well-supported argument about the role of ethnic and mainstream religious institutions in the lives and adaptation of immigrants in three very different social settings.”
After pointing out the book’s merits, he then critiques the book because it “often seems biased in favour of Catholic organizations and quick to dismiss or at least ignore their potential problems (of which the current spate of scandals is only one). It has been widely known that religion is a very common lifeline for immigrants (particularly refugees, illegals, and others who face difficult situations), but organized religion has almost as often been a crutch or worse.”
In response to Couton’s review, Brian McDonough, the director of the Social Action Office of the Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal wrote to me in an email, “I'm not sure that I agree with Couton's assertion that organized religion has been ‘a crutch or worse’ for immigrants. On what grounds does he make this assertion? Also his reference to the ‘current spate of scandals’ is a cheap shot that is hardly relevant to the role the institutional Church play in welcoming and assisting in the integration of persons who have just arrived [in Canada].” As a lawyer and a member in good standing of the Québec Bar, a former board member of Montreal’s United Way ("Centraide du Grand Montréal) and the founding president of Community Chaplaincy of Montreal (a prison ministry program), McDonough’s reply provides an expert voice questioning Couton’s assertions.
In early November 2010, I presented the findings of my book to a group of scholars who participated in a seminar on Religion and Public Life in Canada organized by Solange Lefebvre from the University of Montreal. In that presentation, I stated that, as evidenced by Couton’s review, the dominant perception in Canada (and particularly in Quebec) is that organized religion is a crutch for weak members of society and that the personal failures of members of Catholic Church impede its institutional work for the poor. This popularly accepted narrative portrays religion as a problem in society rather than as part of the solution to society’s problems. In contrast, my book portrays the power of Haitians’ faith—lived through organized religious communities—to transform their lives. Furthermore, I show how Catholic social service institutions—another expression of organized religion—were once crucial to the successful integration of Haitians in Montreal. The soon-to-be-published scholarship from the November 2010 conference at the University of Montreal will provide further information on the long-overlooked contributions of religion to public life in Canada.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
A selection of the book review is below. Please click here to see the full review (for subscribers to Contemporary Sociology) or email me for the full review (for non-subscribers).
Raphaël Liogier’s book is a provocative argument about French discourse and practice regarding laïcité, a term generally translated as secularism. Liogier correctly points out that scholars should interrogate how well actual practices reflect the discourse and common understandings of terms such as secularism and laïcité. Liogier makes a powerful and convincing argument that French laïcité is not what many inside and outside of France believe it to be, the separation of church and state, but rather an organized and hierarchical system of state intervention in religion.
Friday, July 23, 2010
To see the abstract (full public) and full text (individual or institutional subscribers only), click here.
Abstract: Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen, a sample of nearly 3,924 students at 28 of the most selective college and universities in the United States, this paper tests hypotheses about religion, academic performance, and satisfaction at college. Two measures of religiosity—attending religious services every week or more and a 1 to 10 scale of observance of one's religious traditions and customs—increase the amount of hours students report spending on academic work and extracurricular activities, as well as reduce the hours students report going to parties. Even when controlling for time spent partying, studying and in extracurricular activities, regular attendance at religious services increases academic achievement. Finally, students who attend religious services weekly and those who are more observant of their religious traditions also report being more satisfied at college.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Friday, March 26, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Monday, February 22, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
The website also contains testimonials I received about relief work in Haiti. Father Mario Serrano wrote about setting up an aid distribution center in Port-au-Prince. My uncle Walter Mooney wrote to me about his trip to Haiti with the U.S. Geological Survey. Teresa Gonzalez of Amor en Accion wrote about the relief efforts being organized in Miami, and Carlo Dade wrote about the the role of the Haitian disapora in rebuilding Haiti.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Monday, January 18, 2010
I congratulate Fred Grimm for his passionate writing and insightful interpretation of what it means to worship God amidst the current ruinous state of Haiti. He both presents the worldview of the Haitians he observed at Sunday services in Haiti—one based on God’s goodness and ability to bring new life from ashes—and he lays bare what I dare say is the worldview of most American commentators on the situation in Haiti (including Mr. Grimm)—namely, that God, if he exists at all, would not have let such a terrible thing happen. As I write about in my book, Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora (University of California Press, 2009), because Haiti is so poor, others often interpret Haitians’ boundless faith in God as simply a crutch to rely on. However, as I found in my research in three Haitian Catholic communities of the diaspora (Miami, Montreal and Paris), the expressions of faith such as those Mr. Grimm describes— people coming together to pray, to ask for forgiveness, to thank God for miracles—help communities renew from within. Clearly the Haitian people need all the material and logistical help they can get right now. But let us not forget that this inward renewal and community strength will greatly magnify any external help we send to Haiti. The Haitian people will not and should not be the passive recipients of external aid. The Haitian people are the greatest resource Haiti has to rebuild itself. Their resilience in the face of disaster forms a foundation upon which all organizations rushing to aid Haiti can build upon. I hope that all of those who help Haiti open their hearts, as Mr. Grimm did, to the possibility that maybe we have something to learn from the Haitian people’s response to the disaster that has struck them. Although Mr. Grimm starts off his column clearly disheartened by the “random, awful, incalculable cruelty” that has occurred in Haiti, he concludes by admitting that it does indeed appear miraculous that people buried under rubble for several days could be rescued alive and recover. If we don’t believe we will see miracles as we rush to help Haiti, why would we expend so much effort looking for life under rubble? If we don’t believe that the faith of Haitian people presents Haiti’s greatest resource as we move forward, with what purpose will we expend millions of dollars in effort and send thousands of relief workers? Regardless of one’s personal worldview or religious faith, we cannot deny that communities of faith provide a tremendous resource to further the hard work that must be done for Haiti’s recovery.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
From November 6-10, 2009, I traveled to Montreal, Quebec, Canada to attend the Annual Meetings of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). In addition to presenting my book on a panel about World Christianity, I also visited the community in Montreal where I did my research, Notre Dame d'Haiti. At the AAR, I attended many sessions, including one on the history of religion in Quebec, one on inter-faith dialogue in Canada, one on the Bouchard-Taylor commission (a study of accommodating immigrants' ethnic and religious diversity in Quebec) and one on understanding secularism today (which included presentations by Charles Taylor, Jose Casanova, Craig Calhoun, and Saba Mahmood). The picture here is from the altar of the Basilica of Notre Dame in Old Montreal. Due to Quebec's rapid secularization since the 1960s, there is growing concern about preserving the cultural heritage of churches such as this one that have many fewer parishoners than before.
Gerardo Marti, Associate Professor of Sociology at Davidson College (pictured here with me), said he thinks my book's greatest contribution is the cross-national comparative research design, which allows me to highlight the importance of the nation-state’s relationships to immigrant communities. Although much work has been done on immigrant religious communities in the U.S., my work highlights how different national contexts contribute to shaping the institutions which immigrants rely on succeed in their new societies. I agree with Gerardo that most scholars in the U.S. find the cross-national comparative research design to be the greatest strength of my book. However, visiting Quebec for the AAR reminded me that the national context also influences what readers think my book's most important contribution will be. In the last 40 years, Quebec has become one of the most secular societies in the world. Many intellectuals and members of the general public in Quebec tend to look upon religious piety as an escape from worldly probelms and they generally view religious institutions as oppressive. Hence, in Quebec, my book may be most cited for demonstrating how religous faith can give people agency and how religious institutions can empower the poor. In Quebec, it is generally known that the American people are generally pro-religious and the American government works extensively with faith-based and other types of private associations in delivering social services. If Americans sometimes forget that our national context is generally pro-religious, then the parallel is that Quebeckers sometimes forget that religion can be liberating and that their state does not perfectly meet all social needs.
Friday, October 30, 2009
All of the panelists commented that they enjoyed my use of theological concepts in the book, something that is not very common among sociologists who study religion. Michael Emerson asked me to expand on what I meant when I wrote at the end of the introduction that, in my book, a theological imagination accompanies the sociological imagination. In the course of my fieldwork, I experienced the shortcomings of the position from where I started my inquiry. What I saw again and again in my fieldwork was: I was trying to bracket out their faith, move past it quickly, and get to what “really” mattered from the position where I started: immigrants need social services, legal papers, health care and I thought the church helped them get there. But I realized that something was wrong with the position from which I started my inquiry. Over and over again, my interviewees wanted to talk to me first about their faith in God. I came to realize that their theological imagination—their understanding of who God is and how they relate to God—profoundly influences their social struggles. So in writing Faith Makes us Live, I invite my readers to leave behind their position from which they would look into this situation and take seriously the position from which the people I interviewed began their inquiry. I realized that for the people I interviewed just the fact that someone from a very different position in the world was trying to understand their position in the world itself was a powerful healing force for all the suffering they had experience. From their position, using a theological imagination, I am also a child of God, thus I could understand their suffering and console them even though I am from a different social background. My interviewees didn’t see me as simply the product of social forces that have made me a light-skinned, highly educated Cuban-American. They saw me as another human being capable of entering not only their material world, but their symbolical world. I genuinely trying to understand their meaning, I reinforced their belief that faith can triumph over suffering and that faith can trump differences in class, race, and power. In sharing their suffering with me, we met on a level deeper than that of social class, skin color, money. We met as human persons. By entering into their world personally, I learned better what was going on at these faith communities more generally: communion with others relieves suffering. Eucharistic communion as celebrated in Catholic communities is not just about a one-on-one encounter with Jesus, it is about a community coming together to heal, fortify and build strength. Thus, the theological imagination leads us to transcendence, to the concept of the person as a gift and in relationship to others through his or her relationship to God.