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.
On Sunday, November 8, 2009, I returned to Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic mission in Montreal, where I had done part of my fieldwork for Faith Makes Us Live several years earlier. I must admit that I was nervous when I returned to my fieldsite. Would people remember me? Would they appreciate what I have written? As soon as I walked through the door and saw old friends, all my fears went away. I showed many people the book, including where I had quoted them. I gave out flyers about the book with the link to the website. I saw many people who sang with me in the choir and who I interviewed for the book, including this family pictured here. At the end of Mass, I spoke to the congregation in Creole, telling them about the major argument of the book and thanking them for their hospitality and generosity while I was doing research in Montreal. Sitting in the front row of the church next to one of my friends from the community and singing in Creole reminded me of how much I loved doing the fieldwork for my book. Although I hardly get the opportunity to speak Haitian Creole or even French now, I was amazed at how fast these languages came back to me. In fact, walking around Montreal for 5 days speaking French and Haitian Creole almost feels like speaking in tongues–I am truly amazed that I can communicate in these languages that I practice so rarely!
In October 2009, Kevin Christiano of Notre Dame convened an author-meets-critics panel on my book, Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora, at the annual meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. The three panelists were Michael Emerson of Rice University, Melissa Wilde of the University of Pennsylvania, and Richard Wood of the University of New Mexico. All three panelists were extremely complementary about the ambitious three-country research design, the large amount of ethnographic work done, and the passionate writing. In blogs below, I address some of the questions raised by each of the panelists. I would like to thank Kevin Christiano for convening the panel and offering his insights on the Quebec case, with which he is very familiar. When we were talking about whether voluntary organizations, including faith-based ones, are necessary to complement state provided social services, Kevin described to the audience how for many Quebecois, the state is ipso facto better than the church at providing social services. Because the Catholic Church dominated social life for nearly 200 years while French Quebecois were under the rule of Anglophone Quebecois and Canadians, since the 1960s Quiet Revolution many Quebecois have held firmly to the opinion that they need to be liberated from traditional control of the church. Although I agree with this statement, in a discussion after the panel, I told Kevin that it seemed to me that Quebec was still strongly culturally Catholic, even nearly 50 years after the Quiet Revolution begun. In my work with Haitian immigrants, I found that Catholic leaders and organizations–both Haitians and Quebecois–were instrumental in assisting the settlement and adaptation of Haitians who arrived in Quebec from the 1960s-1990s. These Catholic leaders and associations had many connections to the Quebecois state that helped them in their work with Haitians. It was only when large numbers of non-Catholic immigrants began arriving in Quebec and their religious leaders sought to engage the public sphere that the people of Quebec began to really question cooperation between religious organizations and the state. Thus, although the Quiet Revolution clearly altered the social position of the Catholic Church in Quebec, this change occurred slowly and many connections still exist.
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.
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).
I explained my poster to new people as well as to many old friends from Princeton who came by to say hello, like Monica Espinoza-Higgins. My friend Cris Beauchemin from the French National Institute for Demography (INED) also came by, and I was very happy to speak about demography in French for a while.