In recent years, debates around accommodation, inclusion, and human rights have highlighted both challenges and the contributions presented by religious communities in Canadian society. Addressing such challenges and contributions, this panel will discuss what is at stake in questions of justice and religious freedom for faith traditions in Canada. How do Judaism, Christianity, and Islam consider questions of rights and equity in a society that is religiously plural and in a civic space that is largely secular? What are religious communities doing to negotiate the perils and promises of being Canadian while remaining faithful?
One of the primary tensions raised in the short presentations by Rabbi Stroh, Rev. Lois Wilson, and Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina (speaking on behalf of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam respectively) was that of discerning how modern secular human rights notions can be squared with religious traditions. This was highlighted as a particular challenge in the case of Islam and Judaism, which conceived the faithfulness of their religious identities to be deeply intertwined with their concomitant legal systems.
Rabbi Stroh spoke about how the enlightenment idea of human rights inalienably inhering in the individual presents a critical challenge to the traditional Jewish conception of how people within the community were to live together as a collective with a shared sense of autonomy. He spoke about the difficulty of squaring the modern democratic vision with the core belief within religions like Judaism and Islam that legislation ultimately flows not from the will of the people, but from God (even though it is interpreted by people). He emphasized that the only way to live together, is to critically incorporate enlightenment ideals into our religious understanding and allow what is powerful about these modern ideas to engage and illumine our traditions.
Rev. Wilson’s presentation affirmed the notion that religions are essentially not private practices, even though they are personal practices. That is to say their ideas have important public implications especially as a source of comprehensive visions for how people and societies can be transformed. Broadly describing the role of the Christian community in shaping public life in Canada, she spoke of both its positive contributions (e.g., its role in creating universities) and its historic omissions or acts of negligence, afforded by its status as the dominant religion. She said the contemporary discourse on human rights and social justice could profit from the resources available in the theological concepts of true personhood as what can only be made possible through compassionate, reciprocal, and just relationships, of salvation as a freeing up of one’s horizons, and ecumenism as a holistic orientation to a shared responsibility for the whole, alongside others. Speaking of religion’s place in the world as the force that aims to bring proposed worlds into our presumed worlds, she said it nevertheless faces daunting challenges in Canada, in working through the aboriginal legacy, stewardship of the environment, and building comprehensive community between faith traditions.
Dr. Sachedina stressed similar tensions within Islam to the ones that Rabbi Stroh had indicated about Judaism. He specifically pointed to the areas of family values and gender as an arena of felt conflict for Muslims in Canada as they negotiate the absolute laws of Islam on one hand and the modern secular notions of human rights on the other. He said a key challenge within Islam in the West has been to figure out how liberal and orthodox traditions can talk meaningfully to each other. He stressed that triumphalist theology ought to be challenged on its own terms, in its own categories, if genuine progress is to be made. The ensuing discussion between participants and panelists also broached the vexatious question of how truth is to be understood in a multi-religious society and how traditions might be able to work with others whose views they thought to be false and potentially dangerous.
The four videos below represent the individual panelist's addresses and the question-and-answer session that followed.