The Economist profiles Professor Robert Brym’s new research project

Robert BrymProfessor Robert Brym’s new research project conducting a large survey of Canada’s Jews was recently profiled in The Economist. Noting that Jewish leaders in Canada estimate the population of Jews in Canada as about 400,000, making it the fourth largest Jewish community in the world, the article also notes that the Canadian Census is poorly designed to capture accurately both the number of people who identify as Jewish, and the meaning that Jewishness holds for them. Brym and his co-investigators are in the early stages of the research.

Robert Brym is a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto with undergraduate teaching responsibilities at the St. George campus. His research expertise encompasses the sociology of intellectuals, social movements in Canada, Jews in Russia, and collective and state violence in Israel and Palestine.

We have pasted an excerpt of the article below. The full article is available on the Economist’s website here.

Maple leaves and mezuzahs: Understanding Canada’s Jews

In Canada, Jewish identity is hard to measure but still strong

Erasmus
May 14, 2018
by PF and ERASUMS
Vancouver

…many Canadians of Jewish origin sit somewhere on a spectrum between a full embrace of their forebears’ identity and faith, and assimilation into the country’s mainstream culture. On the west coast, in particular, this allows for mix-and-match experimentation that makes the size and profile of the Canadian Jewish community hard to assess.

The most recent Canadian census showed an astonishing decline in the number of self-identified Jews: from 309,650 in 2011 to 143,665 in 2016. That seems like an unbelievable development, but there is in fact, a simple explanation. In both surveys, Statistics Canada, a government agency, asked respondents to give their ethnic or cultural origin and offered a long list of possible answers. “Jewish” was among the suggested options in the first census, but not in the second one. So, presumably, many Jews simply identified themselves by the country where they or their forebears had lived most recently. A campaign has started for a Jewish option in the 2021 census.

Two social scientists, Robert Brym of the University of Toronto and Rhonda Lenton of York University, are now embarking on a wide-ranging study that they hope will provide a more accurate picture. It will ask up to 80 questions about matters such as child-rearing, attitudes to Israel and experience of anti-Semitism. In some ways it will be Canada’s answer to an influential study of American Jews from 2013 that found 22% of self-identified Jews (and 32% of those born after 1980) professed “no religion”.

As with the United States, Canada’s Jewish population began growing in the late 19th century because of pogroms and turmoil in eastern Europe. One stereotype holds that at least in the eastern provinces, Canada’s Jews stayed closer to their old-world roots than American ones. The survey will test that and also look at whether migration to the west is a path out of active Judaism. Mr Brym has said he is prepared to find some extremes of assimilation and religious devotion. Ms Lenton says they want to discover whether, for Jews in general, Canada lives up to its self-image as a mosaic (a land where different groups keep their identity) as opposed to the American “melting-pot” where there is pressure to assimilate.

The survey’s sponsors have also cited more specific concerns. Jewish leaders in Toronto want to know more about recent-ish arrivals from Russia, who were classified as Jewish under the Soviet system but may have little connection to faith; their counterparts in Montreal are concerned about the numbers migrating to the Pacific….

Read the full article.

Professor Robert Brym’s new research profiled in Canadian Jewish News

Sociology Professor Robert Brym’s new research project was recently profiled in the Canadian Jewish News. Together with the Environics Institute for Survey Research and Rhonda Lenton, a sociologist and the president and vice-chancellor of York University,  Professor Robert Brym is embarking on a new landmark study on Jewish populations in major Canadian cities.

The study will select samples of Jews living in four major Canadian cities (Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver) to answer an 80 question survey, which covers topics such as Jewish identity and practice,  experiences with anti-Semitism and discrimination, and demographic characteristics, in order to gauge a more accurate understanding of the Canadian Jewish community, which remains one of the most understudied populations in the world.

Professor Brym is a Full Professor of Sociology and the S.D. Clark Chair in Sociology. He has teaching responsibilities at the St. George Campus.

The following is an excerpt from the news story. The full article is available  here.

Researchers undertaking massive survey of Canadian Jewry

Ron Csillag, Staff Reporter
Jan 25, 2018

Beginning this month, researchers will embark on the first large-scale portrait of Canadian Jews that will look at metrics that have not been gauged by the federal census, which tallies Jews by religion, ethnicity, geography, age, gender, education and family arrangements.

However valuable, the census data does not provide a “substantive understanding about Jewish identity, priorities, attitudes and values,” according to a statement put out by the Environics Institute, which will be conducting the survey.

According to the project’s summary, this type of information “has never been collected among Canadian Jews on a national scale and is becoming increasingly important given the dynamic changes taking place in society generally, and in the Jewish world in particular. It is remarkable that the Canadian Jewish community is one of the least studied in the world, in sharp contrast to that of the U.S.A. and the U.K.”

The study is being carried out by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, in partnership with Prof. Robert Brym, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, and Rhonda Lenton, a sociologist and the president and vice-chancellor of York University.

Sponsoring organizations include the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, Federation CJA in Montreal, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto.

Respondents in four cities – Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver – will be asked around 80 questions, covering: Jewish identity; Jewish practice (self and family); childhood upbringing; experiences with anti-Semitism and discrimination; attitudes about Israel; connections to the local Jewish community; demographic characteristics, including ethnic and national background; and city-specific topics developed in collaboration with local sponsors.

More cities may be added, depending on future funding…

Continue with the full article here.

Flaws with the 2016 Census: Professor Robert Brym in Globe and Mail

Robert BrymSociology Professor Robert Brym recently authored an op-ed piece for the Globe and Mail Newspaper. His op-ed discusses flaws in the 2016 census methodology that resulted in the apparent decline of Canada’s Jewish population.  Professor Brym is the S.D. Clark Chair in Sociology and teaches at the St. George Campus. His current research interests include the democratization movement in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

We have posted an excerpt of the piece below.

Robert Brym
Nov. 2, 2017

…All was supposed to return to normal when the Trudeau government came to power. Just one day after taking office, it announced that the 2016 census would revert to its traditional, compulsory form, once again providing Canadians with reliable data about their economic, demographic, housing and ethnic status. But at least one category of the population – Canada’s Jews – may be miffed to learn that more than half their number went missing between 2011 and 2016. Statistics Canada reported this “fact” in a recent 2016 census release.

The 2011 NHS reported 309,650 Canadian Jews by ethnic ancestry, which is believable because it is in line with 2006 census data. In contrast, the 2016 census reports just 143,665 Jews by ethnic ancestry – a decline of nearly 54 per cent in five years. That number defies reason.

Read the full piece here.

BJS Prize for article on social media in the Egyptian Uprising

bjs-certificateCongratulations to Professor Robert Brym and graduate students Melissa Godbout, Andreas Hoffbauer, Gabe Menard and Tony Huiquan Zhang who recently received the British Journal of Sociology 2016 Prize for their co-authored article, Social Media in the 2011 Egyptian Uprising.

Established in 2009, the BJS award is presented bi-annually to the authors of an article published in the past 24 months that “in the opinion of the judges, makes an outstanding contribution to increasing sociological knowledge.” The article by Brym, Godbout, Hoffbauer, Menard and Zhang was published in May 2014. Professor Brym recently attended the BJS Annual Lecture at the London School of Economics and accepted the prize on behalf of the team. While there, he recorded a short podcast about the paper and the experience writing, publishing and receiving the honour. Congratulations to all five authors!

You can access the winning paper here. The following is the citation and abstract:

Brym, R., Godbout, M., Hoffbauer, A., Menard, G. and Zhang, T. H. (2014), Social media in the 2011 Egyptian uprising. The British Journal of Sociology, 65: 266–292. doi:10.1111/1468-4446.12080

This paper uses Gallup poll data to assess two narratives that have crystallized around the 2011 Egyptian uprising: (1) New electronic communications media constituted an important and independent cause of the protests in so far as they enhanced the capacity of demonstrators to extend protest networks, express outrage, organize events, and warn comrades of real-time threats. (2) Net of other factors, new electronic communications media played a relatively minor role in the uprising because they are low-cost, low-risk means of involvement that attract many sympathetic onlookers who are not prepared to engage in high-risk activism. Examining the independent effects of a host of factors associated with high-risk movement activism, the paper concludes that using some new electronic communications media was associated with being a demonstrator. However, grievances, structural availability, and network connections were more important than was the use of new electronic communications media in distinguishing demonstrators from sympathetic onlookers. Thus, although both narratives have some validity, they must both be qualified.

Happy Independence Day, Tunisia

March 20th is Independence Day in Tunisia, the only democracy that emerged from the Arab Spring and therefore a model for other countries in the region. It is also less than two weeks after an ISIS attack on Ben Gardane, a town on Tunisia’s border with Libya — the fourth such attack in the country in just over a year, bringing the cumulative death toll to 91, excluding the attackers. Tunisians form the largest national contingent of ISIS recruits. Coalescing on the Libyan side of the border, they represent a serious challenge to the fledgling democracy.

Yet little is known about Tunisians’ attitudes toward democracy. To shed light on this issue, University of Toronto sociologist Robert Brym and Western University sociologist Robert Andersen conducted a SSHRC-funded nationally representative poll of 1,580 Tunisian adults in late February and early March 2015. The results of the survey have just been published in International Sociology, the flagship journal of the International Sociological Association. Their main findings:

  • Most of the country’s citizens are ambivalent about the Arab Spring’s benefits or believe that it was harmful.
  • Support for democracy and freedom of speech has weakened since the Arab Spring.
  • Increased support for women’s rights is key to consolidating democracy in Tunisia. Most analysts agree that Tunisia is the most progressive Arab country when it comes to upholding women’s rights. However, popular support for women’s rights is weak in Tunisia compared to such support in Indonesia, a non-Arab, Muslim-majority country at a similar level of economic development.
  • In Tunisia, support for democracy is not associated with gender but it increases significantly with age and education and is stronger in small towns than in big cities.

Recent terrorist attacks in Tunisia have led to crackdowns on Islamist groups, new restrictions on various democratic freedoms, and growing skepticism among Tunisians about the benefits of democracy. Just how deep the reaction will be and how long it will persist is unclear. It is evident, however, that the reaction represents another hurdle that Tunisian democracy will struggle to overcome. The door on democracy remains ajar in Tunisia but it will take much effort over many years to push it wide open and keep it in that position.