Iranian Christians in Canada: A Double Migration

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.