By: Amarnath Amarasingam
Author Note: The research for this article was done in early 2008, and obviously does not include interview data collected from 2009-2010. It was submitted for publication in June 2008, and finally published it in August 2010.
The Sri Lankan Tamil population in Canada has been increasing in size since the first refugees arrived in the early 1980s.
However, studies of the Sri Lankan Tamil community in Canada have thus far been limited to exploring the community’s relationship to the ethno-political conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government (Bell 2005; Wayland 2004), its mental health needs in Toronto (Kendall 1989; Beiser et al. 2003), parent-teen relations (Tyyska 2005), very general surveys of the community in Toronto (Kandasamy 1995), and ethnographic treatments of single immigrant families (Ramachandran 1995).
Although there are academic treatments of Tamil diasporic communities around the world (Engebrigtsen 2007; Wise and Velayutham 2008), they tend to be restricted to the study of transnational networks. This paper will explore the experience and expression of religion, the importance of religion, as well as the importance of the Tamil language for the religious and ethnic identity of Sri Lankan Tamil youth in Ontario.
This study adds to the scholarly literature on South Asian youth in Canada (Rajiva 2005, 2006; Tirone and Pedlar 2005; Aujla 2000; Pearson 1999) by examining the religion and ethnicity among immigrant youth (Eid 2003; Bankston and Zhou 1995). Studies of ethnicity in Canada often neglect to incorporate religious identity (Beyer 2005, 179).
More specifically, when academic treatments of the South Asian or Tamil community in Canada do mention religion, they often do not go beyond simply noting that many of them are Hindu and pointing out which religious texts they read and holidays they observe (and how these are observed differently in Canada).
Statistics Canada (2005) projects that by 2017 South Asians may number 1.8 million people, equaling or surpassing the Chinese population in Canada. Even with such a significant presence, not much is known about them and their religious beliefs. This paper, then, serves as a more in-depth foray into this under-studied area, focusing on Sri Lankan Tamil youth in Canada, specifically on their beliefs in relation to religion and ethnicity and the manner in which they practice and experience both.
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Amarnath Amarasingam is a doctoral candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University, and is currently writing his dissertation entitled: Pain, Pride, and Politics: Tamil Nationalism in Canada. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org