Richard Wood’s Comments


Richard Wood asked for clarification on why I thought faith-based mediating institutions were necessary for successful immigrant assimilation. Can’t the French system, for example, guarantee upward immigrant mobility through other means? Isn’t the reason we have a strong state, Wood asked, because of the limits of a voluntaristic approach to social services, which would undoubtedly leave many gaps? To answer, I argue in Faith Makes Us Live that an empirical examination of Haitian immigrant assimilation in all three cases show that the state cannot do everything to achieve this assimilation. The downward assimilation of some Haitians and some members of other immigrant groups in each country I studied is a reality. As Steve Offutt in the audience noted, voluntary associations or associations of civil society exist to complement, not replace, the state social welfare system. No matter what country you are talking about, he said, there will be failures in the state and the market, and thus the voluntary sector will always have some role to play. In addition, I think that voluntary sector organizations have an important advocacy role in pointing out to the state and the market what their failures are. Thus, I argue that the successful assimilation of immigrants into new societies requires strong communities, and for many immigrants, these communities will be religious. These religious communities give a sense of meaning and hope to make sense of the difficulties in this assimilation–something the state does not do well. Furthermore, religious communities often help provide real material resources and political advocacy to forward assimilation goals. Comparative research needs to move beyond taking national discourses at face value and confront ideology and narrative with empirical cases, thus refining our theories, concepts and understandings. As Steve Warner said from the audience, the fact that I point out the consequences of these different national models of church-state relations for immigrant assimilation does not mean that it is simple to derive policy implications from my work. As Steve aptly put it, I am not trying to say that France or Quebec needs to turn its back on its own history and traditions, but I am pointing out some of the weaknesses of their approach that emerge in comparative perspective. For example, I argue that laicite and Republicanism lack legitimacy among many in the immigrant banlieue.

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