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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Citizenship in the Global City: Catholic Social Teaching and Community Organizing in East London

Event Recap

The dynamic multicultural diversity in global cities like New York, Paris or London creates a new and complicated context for citizenship, said Vincent Rougeau, dean of the BC Law School, at a March 20 lunch colloquium. Traditional norms of citizenship are changing in order to accommodate the increasing movement of individuals from the colonial periphery to the center—South Asians to London, for example, or North Africans to Paris. Immigrants to these cities frequently turn to local faith communities to help them make sense of their new identity and make their way in the local economy. As a result, faith communities provide the gateway for broad-based community organizing efforts among immigrants from diverse backgrounds.

Rougeau described his recent work with community organizers in East London who draw upon Catholic social thought in their work with immigrants of all faith traditions. Despite deep differences, the religiously diverse community can still rally around core concepts of Catholic social thought: respect for human dignity, recognition of a common good, solidarity with the underclasses, and the pursuit of social justice through (among other things) the payment of living wages to all workers.

During the ensuing conversation with the audience, Rougeau cited a number of factors that largely preclude the possibility of similar forms of community organizing taking root in the United States. Europeans embrace the concept of cosmopolitan citizenship much more widely than Americans, and the existence of historic church-state relationships in Europe (like England’s established church) makes faith-based organizing more politically and logistically feasible there than in the United States. And in this era of increased anti-immigrant sentiment in both places, the persistence of negative stereotypes continues to hinder efforts to work for social justice across religious and cultural boundaries.