“Cultivating Citizenship in an Age of Uncertainty: Belief, Belonging, and Community Cohesion”

Writing about the special place granted to culture in the nation state’s evolution and self-understanding, Edward Said defines culture as “a sort of theatre where various political and ideological causes engage one another.”[1] A nation’s culture emerges through the stories that its subjects produce and share – by way of political discourse and dissent, social statistics and satire, economic initiative and innovation, and legal process and passion. Indeed, Said says, “Nations themselves are narrations.”[2] If this is so, then it appears as though, in an age of uncertainty and complexity, the age-old, deeply rooted stories that states have come to tell about themselves are now being unpacked and contested. Legal education and advocacy organizations, religious institutions, and ethno-linguistic groups are increasingly questioning the place of religious and ethnic minorities in these states in current times.

Situating itself within this theatre of culture, this panel, titled “Belief and Belonging: How to Cultivate Citizenship in an Age of Uncertainty”, brings together individuals from various political and ideological perspectives to discuss the place of minorities in western liberal democracies. Specifically, this panel aims to move beyond questions of legal rights and immigration statistics to contemplate what it means to cultivate a nation state where individuals of diverse backgrounds and perspectives simultaneously feel as though they belong, and as though they have a valued stake in crafting the next set of stories that will emerge out of these un-dreamy times, about their homelands. These conversations of legal belonging and banishment, multicultural and hybrid states, and the permissibility of a citizen’s affiliation with more than one sovereign authority, apply in Canada and the Netherlands as much as they do in Pakistan and Russia.

That being said, Canada itself is at a particularly interesting cultural crossroads. With an upcoming election, growing disenchantment on the part of religious minorities and indigenous populations with their present government, and new citizenship legislation that sets Canada up as the first nation to put a hierarchy in place that differentiates between the status and security of its citizens, this is a compelling time to discuss issues of faith and state here at home.

Below are some basic statistics on the state of citizenship, immigration, and religious engagement in Canada to set the stage for further discussion on these inescapably intertwined worlds of the personal and the political.

  • The first Canadian citizenship ceremony was held on January 3, 1947 at the Supreme Court in Ottawa. By taking this oath, Prime Minister Mackenzie King became the first full Canadian citizen. Until then, Canadians were British subjects living overseas.
  • The Canadian Citizenship Act became law on January 1, 1947.
  • Most new Canadians hail from South Asia, East Asia, and the Middle East, with China, India, and Pakistan being the birth countries of the majority of immigrants.
  • Section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says: “This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the multicultural heritage of Canadians.”
  • By 2001, nearly 1 in 5 Canadian couples were in interreligious unions[3]
  • Canada had a foreign-born population of approximately 6,775,800 people, representing 20.6% of the total population—the highest proportion among G8 countries.[4]

[1] Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Knopf, 1993.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Statistics Canada. Interreligious Unions in Canada. By Warren Clark. Ottawa: n.p., 2011.

[4] Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Annual Report on the Operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act 2012-2013. Ottawa: n.p., 2014.


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