2022–2023 BMO Postdoctoral Fellow
Cambridge University | sav33 [at] cam.ac.uk (Email)
Born in the United States, Sam Victor came to Montréal in 2008, a city which he now calls home. He holds a bachelor’s degree in French Studies (Concordia University, 2013), a master’s degree in Anthropology (Université de Montréal, 2018) and will soon receive his doctorate in Social Anthropology (Cambridge University). Sam is passionate about the ethico-moral and political dimensions of intercultural encounters. His research focuses on the reflexive and deliberative aspects of social relationships, especially the evaluative processes through which people determine what matters in their lives, as well as the suasive strategies they develop to communicate their values to others.
His doctoral research is based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork amongst an evangelical Protestant congregation in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee (1,800 members, upper middle class, predominantly white). For at least a generation, this community has rejected the so-called literalist reading of the Bible and has attempted to develop alternative ways of acquiring religious knowledge. Sam studied the effects of this epistemological shift on the ethical imagination of the church’s members in terms of reconciling theological and political differences within the congregation, but also in terms of evangelization, namely the way in which they conceive the ethical aspects of the spread of Christianity in the world.
Sam Victor’s 2022–2023 CIRM-BMO postdoctoral research project will be supervised by Professor Hillary Kaell and is tentatively called “Religion in Public, Material Heritage and the Social Value of Sacred Spaces in Montréal.” This project will focus on the material, spatial and aesthetic dimensions of the public expression of religion. Sam will examine the status of sacred spaces in Montréal’s public sphere and the adaptation of church members to the secular norms of municipal institutions regarding religious heritage properties.
Across Canada, heritage churches are being transformed into secular spaces such as residential real estate, fitness centres, and even nightclubs. Several are at risk for demolition. In the context of the repurposing of former sacred places, Sam’s research project will focus on an evangelical Anglican congregation located in downtown Montréal. The congregation’s leadership mobilizes a transnational network of financial and spiritual support with important nodes in the United States and United Kingdom to purchase a heritage church building that it has converted into a space that is ostensibly neither exclusively Christian nor religious. While church members do meet there for worship and other Christian activities, the building also houses a Jewish congregation, non-faith-based community organizations (e.g., services for refugees and youths), and even a circus group that uses the nave as a rehearsal and performance stage.
This orientation might seem counterintuitive since evangelicals tend to be religiously and socially conservative and are known for confronting pluralistic tendencies rather than participate in them. However, this congregation’s posture reveals significant changes in the spiritual and relational logic of religious propagation among evangelicals in contemporary urban settings. Instead of relying on proselytization, these evangelicals seek to demonstrate Christian virtue in other ways, and in this case by presenting the very space itself of the church as a common good. According to their leaders, the consecration of spaces ought to happen in collaboration with the non-Christian surroundings of the church in order to pursue a social mission shared by the entire local community, regardless of citizens’ religious identities. Sam’s research will therefore examine how members of the church under study attempt to persuade others of the social and public value of sacred spaces, as well as the resulting frictions and misunderstandings that might occur in the process.