Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies


Celia Rothenberg




In 2003 Ontario, Canada became the focus of heated national and international debate when it engaged citizens in a debate over the use of religious, and specifically Islamic, law in private arbitration disputes. A government commission which canvassed Ontarians for their perspective on the issue lies at the center of the debate. Marion Boyd's 2004 report, "Dispute Resolution in Family Law: Protecting Choice, Promoting Inclusion" describes and analyzes the results. A government document aimed at presenting the findings and recommendations of the commission to a wider public, this report encapsulates many ofthe ideas and attitudes prevalent among Ontarians on the issue of religious, and specifically Muslim, arbitration practices.

The Boyd report is a valuable indication of some of the most fundamental and uncritically considered assumptions about Islam at work in government policy and public opinion. In this thesis I uncover two primary models of Islam that Boyd's report constructs, and relate these constructions to their larger contexts. The first treats religion as a static entity distinct from culture, while the second expands religious identity to the point that it becomes a culture itself. After outlining each, I suggest that these definitions are the product of the two overlapping contexts in which the report is embedded. The first is a Canadian public space defining Islam in terms of popular notions of multiculturalism, and the second a transnational and globalizing space constructing Islam as a neoethnicity. The definitions of Islam contained in the report draw on these two frameworks and maintain familiar conceptual categories which render Islam and Muslim identity more easily understood and accepted by the public.

McMaster University Library

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