by Margarita Mooney Suarez on November 23, 2010

Philippe Couton of the University Ottawa published a review of my book, Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving the Haitian Diaspora, in the fall edition of the Canadian Journal of Sociology. This is an open-access journal, so all should be able to access it by clicking here.

Professor Couton summarizes the main points of my book and states that “the result is an original, richly detailed study of one the world’s great diasporas, and one that makes a clear, well-supported argument about the role of ethnic and mainstream religious institutions in the lives and adaptation of immigrants in three very different social settings.”

After pointing out the book’s merits, he then critiques the book because it “often seems biased in favour of Catholic organizations and quick to dismiss or at least ignore their potential problems (of which the current spate of scandals is only one). It has been widely known that religion is a very common lifeline for immigrants (particularly refugees, illegals, and others who face difficult situations), but organized religion has almost as often been a crutch or worse.”

In response to Couton’s review, Brian McDonough, the director of the Social Action Office of the Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal wrote to me in an email, “I’m not sure that I agree with Couton’s assertion that organized religion has been ‘a crutch or worse’ for immigrants. On what grounds does he make this assertion? Also his reference to the ‘current spate of scandals’ is a cheap shot that is hardly relevant to the role the institutional Church play in welcoming and assisting in the integration of persons who have just arrived [in Canada].” As a lawyer and a member in good standing of the Québec Bar, a former board member of Montreal’s United Way (“Centraide du Grand Montréal) and the founding president of Community Chaplaincy of Montreal (a prison ministry program), McDonough’s reply provides an expert voice questioning Couton’s assertions.

In early November 2010, I presented the findings of my book to a group of scholars who participated in a seminar on Religion and Public Life in Canada organized by Solange Lefebvre from the University of Montreal. In that presentation, I stated that, as evidenced by Couton’s review, the dominant perception in Canada (and particularly in Quebec) is that organized religion is a crutch for weak members of society and that the personal failures of members of Catholic Church impede its institutional work for the poor. This popularly accepted narrative portrays religion as a problem in society rather than as part of the solution to society’s problems. In contrast, my book portrays the power of Haitians’ faith—lived through organized religious communities—to transform their lives. Furthermore, I show how Catholic social service institutions—another expression of organized religion—were once crucial to the successful integration of Haitians in Montreal. The soon-to-be-published scholarship from the November 2010 conference at the University of Montreal will provide further information on the long-overlooked contributions of religion to public life in Canada.