Immigrants in Canada are turning to faith for settlement, support and sociability

Interesting research and findings on the generational shifts, with appropriate nuance on trends:

Upon arrival in Canada, newcomers often look to spiritual communities for support, whether for help learning a new language, locking down a job or simply to find a social circle as they make their way in a new country.

And, while some new immigrants find spiritual fulfilment in addition to material help from these communities, firmly held religious views — such as the role religion ought to play in public life — tend to sag over subsequent generations, says new research by the Angus Reid Institute, a non-profit opinion research organization, and Cardus, a non-partisan, faith-based think tank.

“I’m not sure Canadians appreciate the story of what faith communities do,” says Ray Pennings, Cardus’s executive vice-president. “They actually play a pretty significant role in our day-to-day life.”

The report says nearly one-half of those born outside of Canada received material support from a faith-based group, while 63 per cent relied on them to form a social network.

“They don’t know anyone, so they go to their church, synagogue, temple or whatever, and that’s where they find people,” says Angus Reid, chairman of the Angus Reid Institute. The survey, Reid says, didn’t differentiate between services from religiously based organizations and those provided directly from congregations.

“You’re going back to the history of settlement in Canada. Churches always, always played a big role,” says Fariborz Birjandian, who heads the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, which provides services ranging from child care and transitional shelter to employment services. He says many agencies, including his, started as specifically faith-based organizations and are now more religiously diverse, serving a wide array of religious and cultural backgrounds.

Ray Pennings is vice president of research for the Work Research Foundation, a think tank dedicated to the study of Canada’s social architecture.

“If you look at it deeply, the faith groups, part of the mandate is to help those (who are) vulnerable,” he says.

Birjandian, a Baha’i refugee from Iran, says he was helped by the Baha’i community when he arrived in Canada. “That’s was actually an amazing place for us to go, because we were accepted when we went to our faith group with no questions,” he says. “You want to be accepted … and definitely a faith group plays a big, big role.”

And, yes, 65 per cent of respondents — the sample included 1,509 adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum, a community of opinion-givers, and 494 members of Ethnic Corner, a research group focusing on ethnic groups and new Canadians — said they found a spiritual home among Canada’s religious communities. The polling includes both refugees and those who immigrated for different reasons.

But the data suggest there is a change in religiosity between generations of immigrants: 20 per cent of those newly arrived, for example, say religion should have a major influence on public life. But among second-generation immigrants, it drops to 14 per cent and, among those the survey calls “third generation+” (those who trace their roots to their grandparents at least – so, most of the rest of us) that percentage drops to just 10 per cent.

Reid says that while “the political implications of all this remain something you can only speculate on,” the belief in the importance of religion in the public sphere could pose a challenge on issues such as abortion or public funding of religious schools.

On other metrics, too, some views fade, such as the importance of a formal welcoming into religious life, such as baptism. 60 per cent of those born outside of Canada say this is very or somewhat important, dropping to 50 per cent for second-generation Canadians and 47 per cent for everyone else.

As for believing in God or a higher power, 65 per cent of immigrants believe this is very or somewhat important for their children, while 57 per cent of the second generation and 51 per cent of the third generation say that’s the case.

Among those surveyed born outside of Canada, 57 per cent said religion has more positive than negative effects on Canada; by the second generation, 54 per cent say it’s a mix of good and bad and just 33 per cent agree with their parents on its positive effects.

Peter Beyer, a University of Ottawa professor who’s researched religion and migration, says these trends aren’t surprising, although he says some research suggests, among certain demographics, trends of declining religiosity among each generation doesn’t always hold true.

Still, he says, “in the history of migration studies … this has been noted again and again: Immigrants do not stay the same.”

Source: Immigrants in Canada are turning to faith for settlement, support and sociability