Author Tags: Religion

Dan Overmyer is professor emeritus in Asian studies at the University of B.C. Together with Larry DeVries and Don Baker, he edited "Asian Religions in British Columbia," comprising 14 articles by local contributors.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Asian Religions in British Columbia

Asian Religions in British Columbia (UBC $32.95)

The spanish came first. then Brits took over. Chinese labourers built the first ship launched in B.C. waters by non-aboriginals in the late 1700s.

When rowdy American miners invaded during the Cariboo gold rush, Governor James Douglas encouraged black immigrants from California to bolster the ranks of those loyal to Queen Victoria.

The population of British Columbia has become increasingly mixed with each new decade. Doukhobors, Finns, Norwegians and Mennonites have arrived to build utopian communities. American draft evaders have greatly enhanced B.C.’s social fabric since the 1960s.

In the 1990s, Peter Newman remarked, “roast beef is now an ethnic dish.”
In the new millennium, if you drive along Richmond’s Number Five Road, aka the “highway to heaven,” one can’t fail to appreciate that British Columbia has undergone a multi-ethnic influx of Asians.

Along a stretch of Number Five Road
you’ll find a gudwara (for Sikhs), the Ram Krishna Mandir Vedic Cultural Society (Hindu), the Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre (Shia Muslim), the Ling Yen Mountain Temple (Chinese Buddhist) and the Richmond Chinese Evangelical Free Church. Nearby are the Jami’a Mosque (Sunni Muslim) and the Fujian Evangelical Church, with its predominantly Filipino-Chinese congregation.

B.C.’s population of just over four million in 2006 incorporated more than 400,000 Chinese, more than 10,000 Taiwanese and almost 300,000 South Asians, along with numerous Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Indonesians, Malaysians, Mongolians and Tibetans. Most live in the Lower Mainland.

Fourteen local religious scholars,
many with Asian ethnic backgrounds themselves, have therefore contributed essays to Asian Religions in British Columbia (UBC $32.95) edited by Larry DeVries, Don Baker and Dan Overmyer.

The range of topics is staggering. Zoroastrians. Thai and Lao Buddhism. Sri Lankan and Burma Buddhism. Vietnamese Buddhism. Korean Religiosity. Tibetan Religions. Christianity as a Chinese Belief.

“British Columbia and its Lower Mainland did not look like this forty or even thirty years ago,” write the editors. According to Asian Religions in British Columbia, Vancouver is almost 30 percent Chinese. Richmond is 43.6 percent Chinese, making it the most Chinese mid-sized city in North America. The majority of Richmond’s citizens have Asian heritage. Surrey is over 27 percent South Asian.

After immigration laws that favoured Europeans were modified in the 1960s, the official policy of multi-
culturalism adopted by the Trudeau Liberal government of 1971 provided stimulus for changing social attitudes. Brian Mulroney’s “Multiculturism Means Business” approach enhanced new business immigration policies.

Asian Religions in British Columbia sheds light on the history of Asian immigration to B.C. and untangles many of the complexities surrounding the religious practices of these immigrants. It also addresses the question as to how well multiculturalism has succeeded.

“African Americans have long pointed out that, in the United States, the most segregated hour of the week is 10 a.m. on Sunday morning,” write the editors, “when most churches have services. Is the same true of Canada?

“Do Asian religious organizations help people of Asian ethnicity, especially recent immigrants, feel a part of the Canadian national community…? Or do they reinforce a division of Canadian society into separate and distinct ethnic communities?

“If the latter is true, is it a problem that we should worry about, or is it a positive phenomenon that contributes to the multicultural mosaic that we Canadians like to brag about?”

[BCBW 2010]