Iranians and the Iranian Presence in Canada

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals

Chair

Roxanne D. Marcotte

Presentations

by Linda Darwish / St. Francis Xavier University

The worldwide Iranian diaspora, arising primarily after the revolution of 1978-79, has generated a relatively recent subfield of research within Iranian Studies. Since the 1990s, stories of Iranian diaspora, including religious life, have been documented in the form of memoirs, academic articles, monographs, poetry, fiction, and film. What has received little if any attention in academic circles is the phenomenon of Iranian Christianity in diaspora. Along with ethnic Armenian and Assyrian Christians is a significant number of very active new Christians from Muslim background, the majority of which self-identify as Protestant Evangelicals. In Canada, the number of Christian Iranians parallels the demographic distribution of the general Iranian population with major concentrations settled in the Greater Toronto area, Vancouver, Montreal, and other major Canadian cities. However, I am aware of no published study of this population. This paper seeks to address this lacuna in research. It employs a phenomenological-hermeneutical methodology in which the researcher and the research subject together explore and seek to make meaning of the mutuality of religion, migration, ethnicity, and culture amongst Iranian Protestant congregations in the eastern half of Canada. The paper addresses such theoretical issues as the complex relationship between migration and religious experience, between Christianity and cultural identity, and the spirituality and psychology of religious conversion. I am particularly interested in examining how the experience of migration pushes for answers to the existential dilemmas migration brings to light. Why do some choose to resolve the dilemma with radical religious change? How does religion and especially religious conversion during the transition period aid the process of making sense of the social and psychological disruption brought about by migration? How is the relationship of Iranian Christians with the wider Christian community, with the Canadian cultural context, and with other Iranians in Canada negotiated? I suggest that contrary to the theory that a strong reliance on the religious identity associated with one’s homeland provides stability in the midst of change, contextual and subjective factors associated with the reasons for migration may make religious conversion a more attractive option for some. Further, the very experience of physical migration may open the way for inward forms of migration that might not otherwise have been contemplated. The paper draws attention to a neglected aspect of the Iranian diasporic community, while making a modest attempt to contribute to the growing field of religion, migration, and multiculturalism in Canada.

by Rastin Mehri / Douglas College, New Westminster

The province of British Columbia, Canada, is home to hundreds of sacred sites belonging to various religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.
This study focuses upon a unique diasporic group in the Greater Vancouver, whose members themselves are part of a two separate and distinct diasporas. The overwhelming majority of the members hail from Zoroastrian communities in India and in Iran. This essay will explore the ways in which this relatively new diaspora constructs notions of ethnic identity and belonging that are shaped by religious affinity and kinship, experience of exclusion, visibility and very small numbers.
This study will provide an overview examination of the Parsis’ and especially Iranian Zoroastrians’ migration processes from India and Iran, respectively, with a special focus upon intersecting themes of nationality, class, caste, racialization and settlement within the Greater Vancouver. It will be shown that despite their individual national origins, many adopt a new identity as “Zoroastrians” and actively engage in re-defining and re-articulating their place-based religious identity.

by Solmaz Shakerifard / McGill University

For decades Iranian traditional musicians have been disputing about how their music should be performed and taught, some believing in preserving the tradition, while others argue that this tradition needs to adapt to ’global’ norms and become ‘modernized’. In recent years musicians and musicologists both inside and outside of Iran have felt the need for developing an analysis model based on the Iranian musical system itself (instead of using the existing Western models) that can in turn help develop a more efficient and successful teaching methodology for this musical tradition. Iranian communities in Canada are growing at a fast pace due to a variety of socio-political and economic challenges in Iran and the prospects of a better life in Canada. Therefore, the main focus of this research is on the ways in which globalization and immigration has been impacting the practitioners of Iranian Traditional music in this multicultural society, and how such transformations could potentially have a larger impact on this musical tradition as a whole.
Through employing a qualitative methodology including ethnographic fieldwork and semi-structured interviews, this research examines how Iranian musicians living in Canada are adapting their performing and teaching practices to their new environment. After studying a range of contextual information (i.e., immigration and cultural policy for both Canada and Iran, history of music education in both countries, etc.), 10-15 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with active performer and teachers of Iranian traditional music in Montreal and Toronto has been conducted. The interviews have focused on the musicians’ perceptions of and attitudes towards life in a multicultural society such as Canada; how they have continued performing and teaching music; the perceived advantages and disadvantages of this environment; and their adaptation/reception into society. Although analysis of the interviews is ongoing, preliminary results indicate that Iranian musicians in both locations have been facing serious challenges in trying to establish themselves as professionals in Canada. In spite of the growing presence of the Iranian population in Canadian urban centers, the visibility of the Iranian culture is still an issue and Iranian traditional music is struggling in finding its place on the musical map of the world. This research also argues that a better understanding of the cultural activities and practices of this population, and the ways they are adapting to their new environment could help Canadian society in understanding part of its transforming demographic and therefore assist Canadian policy makers.

by Nima Naghibi / Ryerson University

Yonge street in Toronto, Canada is the longest street in the world. A section of it in the northern part of the city from Sheppard to Elgin Mills has seen such a concentration of diasporic Iranian settlement in the last 30 years that it has been affectionately renamed “Tehranto.” What once a predominantly Anglo-Saxon lower-middle class area has been remapped into one of North America’s most vibrant and highest density Iranian community. Taking a cue from Pierre Nora’s understanding of cultural monuments as sites of memory, this paper considers how the diasporic Iranian community has reshaped the suburban landscape of Toronto to evoke a romanticized and often nostalgic pre-revolutionary Iran. With restaurants organized and decorated to produce an experience of dining, for example, in a village in Gilan or among the ruins of Takht-e Jamsheed, these sites offer a nostalgic revisitation for older generations, and a mediated memory experience for the post-revolutionary generation in the diaspora.