South and Southeast Asians of Canada - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. These groups all participate in their traditional religions described. Only beliefs and practices specific to Canada are noted here.

Among South Asians, the one-third who are Sikh have been highly committed to their faith. Since 1908 they have founded gurdwaras (temples) all across Canada. Each is Organizationally independent and dependent on local financial support. Where several exist, membership often reflects class, caste, source locale, political orientation, or degree of acculturation. Sikh religious practice and belief are not markedly different than in urban India, save for minor accommodations made to Canadian dress, work routines, and the like. As in India, there is no consensus as to what marks one as a "true Sikh," and this can be very contentious. Symbolic "retraditionalization" among Sikhs has occurred since 1984 in Response to perceived state oppression in Punjab, and more adult men now wear the five kakkas that mark their Khalsa commitment. Instruction of children in religion and in Gurmukhi script is increasing and intergenerational transmission of the religion is high.

About 25 percent are Hindus. Hinduism in India and the non-Western diaspora is highly variable and embedded in everyday family and community life. As such, it has faced challenges becoming established in Canada. Adults continue with their private devotions, and most maintain some dietary restrictions and participate in important calendrical celebrations. Commensal and associational rules limiting contact with others have largely disappeared. Multiuse Hindu Temples have been established in major cities and offer life-cycle and weekly services. It is unclear to what degree Hinduism is being transmitted to the Canadian-born.

Of the 25-30 percent who are Muslims, Ismailis have the most well-developed religious institutions. Composing a Shia sect following the spiritual leadership of the Aga Khan, they have organized jamat khana for worship everywhere there are practitioners. Otherwise highly acculturated, Ismailis effectively have transmitted their religious tradition to the second generation. Almost all other South Asian Muslims are Sunnis. Save for where particular ethnic or national groups are numerous, they use and support multiethnic/national mosques with Arabs and others. They also seem to be effective in teaching their religion to their children.

Roughly 10-15 percent are Christian from Kerala and Goa in India, Sri Lanka, Guyana, Trinidad, Fiji, Mauritius, and Pakistan. Christians tend to become members of established Canadian congregations, and to adjust their religious practice accordingly. About 2 percent are Sinhalese Theravada Buddhists.

Among the Southeast Asians, most Vietnamese and almost all Chinese are at least nominally committed to a mix of Confucianism, Taoism, and Mahayana Buddhism. Most Vietnamese participate in religiously linked celebrations such as the New Year and Veneration of the Dead, and Vietnamese Buddhist temples have been established in several places in Canada. Chinese typically use the religious institutions of extant Chinese communities. Many Vietnamese and Chinese continue to practice ancestor veneration in their homes. A significant minority of Vietnamese are Catholics, who largely have joined mainstream congregations. Lao and Khmer, and some Laotian and Cambodian Chinese are Theravada Buddhists. Few in number, they have not established many Permanent temples outside of Quebec. Lao and Khmer monks, however, circulate among communities.

Arts. South Asians have made a considerable commitment to the arts in Canada. Instruction in Indian classical and folk dance is widespread, and South Asian folk, religious, classical, and popular music groups have been established in many places. South Asian Canadian literature in English and in vernacular is well developed. Among Southeast Asians are many with literary and artistic skills, especially in poetry and singing. Instruction in the arts is, however, not yet extensive.

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