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  • This Spot of Ground: Spiritual Baptists in Toronto
  • Laurel Zwissler (bio)
Carol B. Duncan . This Spot of Ground: Spiritual Baptists in Toronto. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. xvi, 276. $85.00

This Spot of Ground investigates Spiritual Baptist religion in Toronto, locating the history of this emerging tradition within the context of contemporary practitioners' lives, with particular focus on women's experiences. A religion that originated in the Caribbean and that has received scholarly attention within that context, the Spiritual Baptist Church has nonetheless been active in Toronto since the 1970s. Duncan explores its development in this city, tracing transnational community networks maintained by members through travel, emigration, and immigration.

In doing so, Duncan integrates into the analysis social and economic realities facing members, including work experiences and incidents of discrimination based on race, gender, and class, in both Canada and their countries of origin. Duncan argues that these challenges are as crucial for understanding the Spiritual Baptist tradition in Toronto as the religion's world view is for a fuller understanding of practitioners' lives. The recurring phrase 'so spiritually, so carnally' expresses the Spiritual Baptist belief that material and spiritual realms continually [End Page 370] influence each other. Invoking Gloria Anzaldúa's 'mestiza consciousness,' Duncan presents the concept of the travessao, the traveller who moves between worlds, both geographical and spiritual, as central to her participants' everyday lives and their understanding of their religion.

Multiple sites of research help the author articulate the meaning of physical and spiritual travel within the tradition. The book's critical ethnography includes participant-observation of regular activities of two Toronto churches, including worship, social events, and pilgrimages, as well as in-depth interviews with leaders and lay members in Toronto and leaders in Trinidad. This approach highlights continuities and differences between the religion as practised in Canada and in the Caribbean. Duncan also incorporates her own experiences: of immigrating as a child, first to Britain and then to Canada; of growing up in Caribbean-Canadian communities in Toronto; and of correspondence with relatives, such as her grandmother, who continued to live in the Caribbean. These varied methods allow the author to convey Spiritual Baptists' life-worlds in detailed and textured ways.

Duncan compares the tension between the idea of Canada within African-American and African-Canadian cultures historically - that is, as Canaan, a place of freedom from slavery and a land of opportunity - with the lived realities of Caribbean Canadians and other immigrants. Duncan explicates ways in which racism and xenophobia coexist with official federal policies of multiculturalism. Many of her participants discuss ways that conceptions of Canadian citizenship continue to be embedded in white ethnicities, especially British and French, to their own exclusion.

In exploring different meanings and articulations of mothering within Spiritual Baptist communities, Duncan also demonstrates strong links between federal domestic worker schemes and stereotypes with which her participants continue to struggle. This program of immigration, through which many of Duncan's participants came to Canada in the 1970s, and which has recently shifted to include a majority of immigrant workers from the Philippines, brings female workers from abroad under temporary employment visas to perform child-care and other domestic services. Duncan makes a strong case that, despite the need for such labour, those who perform it continue to be devalued by broader Canadian society.

In contrast, Duncan investigates ways that Spiritual Baptist women turn to understandings of motherhood, including the physical, but especially the spiritual, as a basis for empowering personal identities within church communities. Exploring the important social and ritual roles of church mothers, the strong relationships between elders and their spiritual children, and the ways that members interpret Christian female symbols, such as Mary, mother of Jesus, and her own mother, St Ann, Duncan argues that Spiritual Baptist women continue a historical [End Page 371] tradition of valuing multiple types of mothering practices. This reclaiming of maternal identities broadly devalued within broader Canadian culture extends to rehabilitating the raced and gendered Mammy stereotype of Aunt Jemima. Duncan's thoughtful exploration of her own resistance to recognizing the importance of the figure within the spiritual lives of some of her participants is poignant and provocative. Aunty...


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pp. 370-372
Launched on MUSE
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