Last Friday, I had the privilege of attending a sold out debate between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and renowned New Atheist Christopher Hitchens at Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall. One of several such debates organised across North America in the last few weeks by Blair’s Faith Foundation – his post-retirement project – the evening promised to be a rollicking good time and a chance to observe how we can think about religion outside the university. So after fighting my way through a few dozen protesters with their chants of ‘Tony Blair, war criminal’ and passing the metal detection test – security was steeper than I had expected! – I settled in to my seat.
For those of you who might be following us from outside Canada, let me begin by pointing out that Monday is Thanksgiving (or, as you might prefer to call it, ‘Canadian Thanksgiving’). This means that I will be spending the weekend back in Montreal – I’m writing this from the train, homeward bound – hanging with family, cooking, and watching the Habs open their new season. So you’ll forgive me if the mood of this post is a bit lighter than usual. I’m far too content right now to play the serious academic.
On the Importance of Civic Space in Islam: The Aga Khan and the Prince of Persia – Suhayla (Leah) Wotherspoon
Last week, on May 28th, the spiritual leader of the world’s Shi’a Ismaili Muslims, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, visited Toronto with members of his family for the foundation ceremony of a new Ismaili Centre (a high profile prayer hall) and the first Aga Khan Museum for Islamic Art and Culture. The plan for the construction of this site in Don Mills, which includes what promises to be an exceptionally beautiful park, has been in the works for a number of years now, and is estimated to be completed in 2013. The Ismaili Imam’s visit to Canada was a doubly special occasion for the nation’s Ismaili Muslims, as the Imam was given by the Government of Canada honourary Canadian Citizenship, in recognition of a lifetime of work as the spiritual leader of the world’s Ismailis that has been in keeping with what were described by Stephen Harper as the very Canadian ideals of “pluralism, peace, and development“.
A new debate is emerging concerning the relation between religion and politics in Canada, brought on in part by NDP MP Pat Martin’s comments that Opus Dei gives him ‘the creeps’, and closely related to Marci MacDonald’s recent book about the Christian Right’s influence in Parliament.
Voting for Jesus: Marci McDonald’s ‘The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada’ – Nick Dion
If we are to believe Tuesday’s Toronto Star, the release of Marci McDonald’s The Armageddon Factor this past week was a much-anticipated event. Building on an article that she wrote a few years back for The Walrus magazine, McDonald’s book charts the rise of Christian nationalism in Canada and demonstrates the extent of its political influence over the current federal government. In this respect, I was expecting something similar to Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy, which dealt with the influence of the religious right in US politics from Reagan onwards.My curiosity was sufficiently peaked to pick up a copy of the book on its release date. I was not expecting an academic text; McDonald made no pretensions of presenting one.