Race, Religion, and the Social Integration of New Immigrant Minorities in Canada

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Link: http://www.utoronto.ca/ethnicstudies/RaceReligion.pdf
By: Jeffrey G. Reitz, Rupa Banerjee, Mai Phan, Jordan Thompson
Org: University of Toronto
Date: 2008

This study explores the extent to which the social integration of recent immigrants to Canada and Quebec is affected by their religious diversity, as opposed to traditional questions of racial difference.


Because race and religion overlap, the importance of one factor may be difficult to assess if it is not separated empirically from the impact of the other. The present analysis seeks to separate the impact of religion and race, using evidence from Statistics Canada’s Ethnic Diversity Survey, based on interviews with a stratified sample of over 40,000 Canadians both immigrant and native-born.

Since the primary focus of existing research on the integration of visible minorities in Canada has been on racial issues, there is little systematic information on whether or how their religious commitments may matter. Yet in many immigrant receiving countries particularly in Europe, it has been the religious character of minority groups rather than their racial origins which has been considered most problematic for social integration. Increasingly in Canada as well, the question of minority religions has begun to play a larger role in public discussion of immigrant groups and multiculturalism.

Do religious beliefs and belief systems prevalent in some of the new ‘visible minority’ groups, which include many Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, matter in affecting their social integration? Or is their social integration affected mainly by racial differences, and the disadvantages that new religious minority groups experience based on the fact that they are mostly Asian and other ‘visible minorities’ in Canada? How well are religious groups such as Muslims, Sikhs and others being integrated into Canadian society? Are their differences among groups related to religion, or is religion relatively unimportant as a factor compared to race?


The social integration of Canada’s new religious minorities is determined more by their racial minority status than by their religious affiliation or degree of religiosity, according to results from Statistics Canada’s 2002 Ethnic Diversity Survey. Interview questions tap life satisfaction, affective ties to Canada, and participation in the wider community. Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Hindus are slower to integrate socially, mainly because they are mostly racial minorities. Degree of religiosity affects social integration in the same ways as ethnic community attachments in general, positively for some dimensions, negatively for others, and similarly for different religious groups. Patterns are similar in Quebec and the rest of Canada; results carry implications for the debate over ‘reasonable accommodation’ of religious minorities in Quebec, and parallel debates in other provinces and countries.

The researchers' analysis suggests that the racial status of recent immigrant groups has a much greater impact on their social integration than does their religion, and that the degree of their commitment to religious beliefs has significance mainly because of its relation to ethnic community ties, and in a similar way for most religious groups.

In Canada, the Ethnic Diversity Survey data clearly show that the new religious minorities - mainly of non-European origins - are slower to integrate into Canadian society compared to immigrants of European primarily because of their racial minority status. Moreover, the strength of religious commitments appear to have little impact on the indicators of integration examined here, for any of the religious groups examined. The specific religious beliefs, such as among Muslims for example, themselves appear to be relatively unimportant in determining social relations.

Public sensitivities, the ‘war on terror,’ the increase in the security state, and debates such as those on ‘reasonable accommodation’ have affected the social integration of Muslims in particular, but any such effects probably are not reflected in this study conducted in 2002, and not at all in Wuthnow and Hackett’s 2000 US survey. What the studies do show is that in the absence of the war on terror and related controversies, Muslims look much like other religious minorities in terms of social relations. This raises the question of whether a similar study repeated now would show similar results. The researchers suspect that differences would appear, and would relate to the greater feelings of vulnerability and inequity that Muslims, and in some places, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus, have experienced since the time of this study.

Of greater importance for the integration of immigrants are visible minority status and inequality and the role of ethnic communities generally for both visible minorities and whites. Their religious involvement affects social integration mainly because it reflects ethnic attachment, and the effects are more or less the same for all ethnic and religious groups. In short, the integration of these groups is determined by ethno-racial characteristics, not specifically religious characteristics.