To see pictures from my book launch/birthday party on August 25, 2009, please see my book’s website. About 50 people came, including friends, colleagues from Department of Sociology and the Carolina Population Center, and some of my undergraduate students. I autographed about 20 books. The raspberry white chocolate cake from Fresh Market was a big hit! Howard Aldrich, the chair of the Sociology Department, is shown here introducing the book. I also told the audience a bit more about the research for the book and displayed the artwork I collected in Haiti, all the while with Haitian compas music playing in the background.
Like the other two panelists, Solange Lefebvre complimented my research design. She noted that Quebec has been a real laboratory of secularism, even more so than my other cases. She thinks my book provides concrete material to reflect on religion in public life, as debates on the topic often lack concrete case studies of what occurs when the state interacts with religious institutions. She was particularly intrigued by my conclusion that the church will only matter for the long-term wellbeing of Haitians in Miami, and that Haitians in Miami enjoy greataer wellbeing than in Montreal or Paris. In expanding upon this point, I commented that for Haitians in Miami, their religiosity is not something they have to hide in their pocket when they step into the public arena. Being religious in the U.S. is a kind of currency, something that allows you to enter into society, whereas in France and Canada being religious is a barrier to integrate. So immigrants who are religious, like Haitians, perceive greater inclusion in the U.S. than in Canada or France. This greater sense of inclusion then translates into more efforts for socio-economic mobility. Lefebvre questioned my interpretation of church-state relations in Quebec as one of conflict. She commented that the Quebec state is very interested in equality of all religions. I responded that too often I found that a discourse of equality led to a practice of exclusion of religious groups from public debates and public functions. Lefebvre also raised some very important points that I do not address in the book. If the state is to give some support to faith-based social services, by what criteria should this be done? With greater religious diversity, she commented that it becomes harder and harder for the state to evaluate all new religious groups entering society. Although I do not have a specific answer to her question for Quebec, in general, the principle of religious freedom should be used to guide the state’s interaction with religious organizations. The principle of religious freedom means that the state has the responsibility to ensure that religious groups can function in society, whereas too often a principle of state neutrality towards religion means excluding or suppressing public religious expressions and public functions of religious institutions, such as in social services and education. When speaking to Europeans and Canadians, I also want to re-iterate that the American state does not fund any kind of proselytization or evangelization, but for many decades, the state has cooperated with and funded faith-based social service agencies, such as Catholic Charities or Lutheran Brotherhood.
Omar McRoberts also complimented my three-country research design. I have to give the credit to my dissertation advisor, Alejandro Portes, for encouraging me to compare the same group of immigrants in three countries. Michele Lamont, who was also on my dissertation committee, gave me crucial contacts that helped me expand my research into France and Quebec and she guided me in my analysis of those two cases. And Robert Wuthnow, my third committee member, provided expertise in the area of sociology of religion. McRoberts commented that in the book, I seemed surprised at times to see how religious the Haitians were. When I started my fieldwork, I chose to study religious congregations because I wanted a way to gain trust in the community. I was not well-versed in sociology of religion when I began my fieldwork, so indeed, I learned a lot about how religion matters in people’s everyday lives through my fieldwork, observations, and interviews. McRoberts called my work a “painstakingly, passionately executed ethnography.” He remarked that although academics are more comfortable with analyzing the institutional actions of religious groups on behalf of immigrants or the poor, he liked how I asserted the importance of moral fortification to understand religious-based social action. For example, many people I interviewed relied on their faith quite simply to survive, a necessary first step before they were able to organize as a group and challenge any structural barriers to their mobility and successful integration. McRoberts raised two important questions. Could I go more deeply into what exactly is cultural in my term “cultural mediation?” How is it different than a cultural toolkit? Is cultural mediation always narrative? Or can it be interactional? To reply to the first question, I think my term cultural mediation is similar to other concepts from cultural sociology. But I use the term mediation to refer to the ability of religious beliefs to bring together two things that seem extremely different or even irreconcilable. McRoberts also wondered if I could have said more about the urban context in each of my three cases. It seemed clear that Miami’s urban context, and the high concentration of Haitians in a few neighborhoods there, facilitated the work of the Catholic Church. I noted that Notre Dame d’Haiti was built when Little Haiti was just emerging, and that the church was a big draw for more Haitians to settle nearby. In France and Canada, Haitians had less flexibility in which neighborhood to settle in and even in which church to gather, thus largely limiting any urban concentration, and hence weakening the mediating capacity of their community associations.
Nancy Ammerman was impressed with the research design of my book that allows us to see the effects of macro-level structures of law, policy and culture on how immigrants form religious communities and how those communities support their adaptation. She complimented me for both sorting out cross-national patterns in Haitians’ adaptation and for writing about individual people’s stories with a compassionate heart. Although much has been written comparing “religious” America” and “secular” Europe, Ammerman liked how my book makes a more sophisticated argument about church-state relations in Europe, Canada and the U.S. I argue that these relationships are constantly being re-negotiated, and how states respond to immigrants’ religious identities and institutions is one of the current battlegrounds for understanding and redefining secularization. One of Ammerman’s main questions was: what are the trade-offs of the different national models for incorporating immigrants? Are Haitians in Miami “ghettoized” into a Haitian neighborhood and Haitian church, as some of my informants in Canada and France remarked? Does the stronger state in France and Canada simply mean that immigrants there don’t need as many mediating structures? My brief response to that is that the U.S. has a bottom-up approach to immigrant adaptation. That is, immigrants are left largely free to form their own ethnic, religious, and entrepreneurial associations. The French and Canadian government take a more active role in “integrating” immigrants. At times, the top-down approach in France and Canada means that certain kinds of immigrant associations, notably religious ones, can get excluded from the process. I argue that this is detrimental to immigrants’ social mobility and feelings of inclusion in their new homes.
Phillip Connor of Princeton University introduces the panelists for the author-meets-critics session about my book at the Association for the Sociology of Religion meetings on Monday, August 10th, 2009. The panelists were (from left to right): Solange Lefebvre (University of Montreal), Nancy Ammerman (Boston University), and Omar McRoberts (University of Chicago).
Ruben Rumbaut and I chatted in front of the University of California Book Exhibit at the American Sociological Association that featured my book. This picture was taken on Monday, August 10th.