Sarat, “Fire in the Canyon: Religion, Migration, and the Mexican Dream”

This month, New York University Press will publish Fire in the Canyon: Religion, Migration, and the Mexican Dream by Leah Sarat (Arizona State Fire in the CanyonUniversity).  The publisher’s description follows.

The canyon in central Mexico was ablaze with torches as hundreds of people filed in. So palpable was their shared shock and grief, they later said, that neither pastor nor priest was needed. The event was a memorial service for one of their own who had died during an attempted border passage. Months later a survivor emerged from a coma to tell his story. The accident had provoked a near-death encounter with God that prompted his conversion to Pentecostalism.

Today, over half of the local residents of El Alberto, a town in central Mexico, are Pentecostal. Submitting themselves to the authority of a God for whom there are no borders, these Pentecostals today both embrace migration as their right while also praying that their “Mexican Dream”—the dream of a Mexican future with ample employment for all—will one day become a reality.

Fire in the Canyon provides one of the first in‑depth looks at the dynamic relationship between religion, migration, and ethnicity across the U.S.-Mexican border. Faced with the choice between life‑threatening danger at the border and life‑sapping poverty in Mexico, residents of El Alberto are drawing on both their religion and their indigenous heritage to demand not only the right to migrate, but also the right to stay home. If we wish to understand people’s migration decisions, Sarat argues, we must take religion seriously. It is through religion that people formulate their ideas about life, death, and the limits of government authority.

Yukich, “One Family Under God: Immigration Politics and Progressive Religion in America”

9780199988679_450This month, Oxford University Press releases One Family Under God: Immigration Politics and Progressive Religion in America by Grace Yukich (Quinnipiac University). The publisher’s description follows.

Behind the walls of a church, Liliana and her baby eat, sleep, and wait. Outside, protestors shout ”Go back to Mexico!” and ”Tax this political church!” They demand that the U.S. government deport Liliana, which would separate her from her husband and children. Is Liliana a criminal or a hero? And why does the church protect her?

Grace Yukich draws on extensive field observation and interviews to reveal how immigration is changing religious activism in the U.S. In the face of nationwide immigration raids and public hostility toward ”illegal” immigration, the New Sanctuary Movement emerged in 2007 as a religious force seeking to humanize the image of undocumented immigrants like Liliana. Building coalitions between religious and ethnic groups that had rarely worked together in the past, activists revived and adapted ”sanctuary,” the tradition of providing shelter for fugitives in houses of worship. Through sanctuary, they called on Americans to support legislation that would keep immigrant families together. But they sought more than political change: they also pursued religious transformation, challenging the religious nationalism in America’s faith communities by portraying undocumented immigrants as fellow children of God.

Yukich shows progressive religious activists struggling with the competing goals of newly diverse coalitions, fighting to expand the meaning of ”family values” in a globalizing nation. Through these struggles, the activists both challenged the public dominance of the religious right and created conflicts that could doom their chances of impacting immigration reform.

Call for Papers: “The New Cosmopolitanism”

The Contending Modernities Global Migration Working Group has issued a call for papers for a conference to take place in London in October, “The new cosmopolitanism: Global migration and the building of a common life”:

The global expansion of migration, within and between the global north and south, and the global resurgence and “publicization” of religion – have combined to bring religious and secular models of citizenship and civic education to the fore.  Nonetheless, there is surprisingly little consensus among religious leaders, educators, and policy makers as to what framework might allow people from different religious and ethical backgrounds to live together tolerantly and inclusively.  The lack of consensus is all the more vexing in that migration and religious revitalization today have created multicultural and multi-ethical landscapes all over the globe.  The question of the place of religion in modern multicultural societies is not an academic one, then, but one of the most pressing ethical challenges of our age.

Details are here.

Conference: Religion, Values and Immigration (March 21)

On March 21, the Brookings Institution will host a forum in connection with the release of a new national opinion survey on religion, values, and immigration reform. The event, in Washington, will be webcast live. Details are here.

Commonweal on the Bishops’ Religious Freedom Statement

Over the past week, I’ve written about criticism from the Catholic right of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ recent statement on religious freedom. Of course, there’s also been criticism from the Catholic left. This week, Commonweal has a negative editorial about the bishops’ statement. More in sorrow than in anger, Commonweal maintains that the statement veers into political partisanship. The  bishops’ simplistic, one-sided language, the editorial complains, makes them sound more like Republican party operatives than pastors. Young people already are turning away from organized religion because it seems too political and conservative on social issues. Surely the bishops do not want to exacerbate that trend?

I wonder about this criticism. It’s true that the bishops’ statement highlights the Obama Administration’s contraceptives mandate. The mandate is the first on the list of threats to religious freedom the bishops identify, and surely served as the prime motivation for their statement. But the second item on the list is state anti-immigration laws, like the recent Alabama measure forbidding assistance to undocumented immigrants. In criticizing these laws, the bishops are hardly mouthing GOP talking points. Republican politicians often favor such measures, while the Obama Administration has filed a lawsuit challenging the Alabama law.

Even with respect to the contraceptives mandate, the bishops could be forgiven for saying that they didn’t start this fight. The bishops surely knew that objecting to the HHS mandate would have the effect of highlighting the Church’s position on contraception, and that this position is unpopular, particularly with Millennials. But what choice was there? It was the Obama Administration that issued the mandate during an election year. For that matter, it was the Obama Administration that argued this Term in Hosanna-Tabor that the religion clauses did not even apply to a church’s decision to fire a minister, a position that a unanimous Court characterized as “remarkable.” If it’s inappropriately partisan for religious organizations to respond when government takes steps like these, then religious organizations can never defend themselves in public debate. That may be a good thing from a spiritual point of view, but I don’t think it’s a result Commonweal would approve.

Canada Bans Veils During Citizenship Ceremonies

Reuters reports that Canada’s immigration ministry has decided to forbid women at naturalization ceremonies from wearing veils that cover their faces, even for religious reasons. The ban will affect Islamic veils like the  niqab, which covers the face but has an opening to allow vision, and burqa, which has a mesh. The ministry argues that its decision will ensure that people who “join the Canadian family” do so “freely and openly,” but Reuters talks about a possible lawsuit by Canadians who believe the ban violates Muslims’s religious freedom. If such a case materializes, the governing precedent would likely be the Canadian Supreme Court’s 2006 Multani decision, the Sikh kirpan case, in which the court held that, under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, any restriction on religious freedom must serve an important government objective and be proportional to that objective — a test that resembles the pre-Smith Sherbert doctrine in American law.

Holland’s Moroccan Immigrant Population

A disturbing story about the problems of Moroccan integration in Dutch society.  If the report is true that 40% of Moroccan immigrants between the ages of 12 and 24 have been arrested, fined, or charged with criminal offenses, that seems to me an extraordinarily serious situation, irrespective of the cause. Even worse, this does not seem to be a problem that will improve in the near future.  The story also references the work of Dutch journalist Fleur Jurgens, who is clearly a committed opponent of Holland’s multiculturalist policies, and who has written that “Moroccan parents are to blame for the antisocial behavior of their children by teaching them at a young age to hate the Dutch and abhor their society.”  According to the story, the Dutch government “now says it will abandon the long-standing model of multiculturalism that has encouraged Moroccans and other Muslim immigrants to create a parallel society within the Netherlands.”  Difficult times indeed for the Netherlands.

Haddad on the Challenges Facing Muslims in America

This month, Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Professor of, among other subjects, history of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations at Georgetown University, publishes Becoming American? The Forging of Arab and Muslim Identity in Pluralist America (Baylor).  While Muslims face many unfortunate difficulties arriving in this nation—ugliness post 9/11 which I could elaborate on for hours—their arrival, in essence, forces those already here to examine who they are, to question what America—and being an American—means.  The publisher’s description is below.

Countless generations of Arabs and Muslims have called the United States “home.” Yet while diversity and pluralism continue to define contemporary America, many Muslims are viewed by their neighbors as painful reminders of conflict and violence. In this concise volume, renowned historian Yvonne Haddad argues that American Muslim identity is as uniquely American it is for as any other race, nationality, or religion.

Becoming American? first traces the history of Arab and Muslim immigration into Western society during the 19th and 20th centuries, revealing a two-fold disconnect between the cultures—America’s unwillingness to accept these new communities at home and the activities of radical Islam abroad. Urging America to reconsider its tenets of religious pluralism, Haddad reveals that the public square has more than enough room to accommodate those values and ideals inherent in the moderate Islam flourishing throughout the country. In all, in remarkable, succinct fashion, Haddad prods readers to ask what it means to be truly American and paves the way forward for not only increased understanding but for forming a Muslim message that is capable of uplifting American society.

—DRS, CLR Fellow

Swiss Strife

This is a fascinating story detailing the recent history of conflict in Switzerland between various Muslim and state/non-Muslim interests.  The newest controversy is the result of Muslim agitation to remove the white cross from the Swiss flag, ostensibly in order both to reflect the “separation of church and state” and Switzerland’s increasing “cultural diversity.”  The group prefers a flag with colors and patterns resembling the flags of Bolivia and Ghana.

Switzerland has been the site of increasing strife stimulated by the dramatic increase in its Muslim immigrant population, which the story reports has quintupled since 1980.  Among the many interesting conflicts reported in the story (including the minaret controversy) is the successful lawsuit by Muslim parents demanding the right to dress their children in full-body bathing suits (“burkinis”) during co-ed swimming lessons.  — MOD

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