Thursday, January 6, 2011

Polys in Court - week 4 - Professor Lori Beaman

from transcripts of Dec 13, 2010 - BC Supreme court

Professor Lori Beaman was called to the stand by the Amicus' team of lawyers. She is currently a professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Ottawa and holds a research chair there. Professor Beaman has a PhD in Sociology and a law degree from the University of New Brunswick. She practiced family law in Sussex, New Brunswick for five years. Professor Beaman also edits a series called the "Sociology of Religion" for Brill press and has done several research projects for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Most recently a 2.5 million dollar grant for a 7 year project which investigated religious identity and the limits on religious freedom, more or less in the realms of law and policy. She currently teaches in the area of religious freedom, identity construction (how the members of a religious group view themselves and how others view them)and qualitative research practice. Prof Beaman has also studied, taught, and written a book on the subject of violence against women in the religious context. Her dissertation looked at women's own experiences in a church setting while the book focused more on evangelical family life and looked at how conservative Christians understand things like the doctrine of head ship and submission. She also interviewed Transition House workers and was active in the Transition House movement in New Brunswick while researching how religious groups respond to violence against women. She has done no field research on polygamy for this report but a great deal of literature research.

Professor Beaman’s discussed the following points:
Re: Harms of polygamy
- in defining the harms of a religious practice to the individual or society the practice that is flagged as harmful is usually that of a minority religion. She noted the Niqab (Muslim dress for women) or the Sikh kerban (ceremonial dagger) as examples. The practices of majority religions are not under the same scrutiny.
- a broader historical and social context would be best in reviewing potentially harmful practices.
- sited three different researchers that have done qualitative research from several perspectives on polygamy and noted that all three had concluded that "while there are some unique or unusual problems that can arise within the context of polygamous relationships some people live quite contentedly within the context of polygyny".
- a researcher must be careful of the weight given to anecdotal information (ie if she used the stories from interviews in transition houses in her research she might have concluded that these horror stories were reflective of monogamous relationships. We can't extrapolate generalities about relationships from such data.
- sited studies where question was raised about the impact on anecdotal data by the concept of disaffiliation. This is found in people who have left religious groups or in people going through divorce. The feelings of fear and anger can come to overlay their understanding of the entire experience of their relationship. While there are abusive relationships and horrible experiences, we need to be careful not to generalize the group as a whole.
Re: polygamous societies in other areas of the world
- these pieces of research can raise important questions but that we should not import them directly into what in many cases is a completely different socio cultural historical context.
- studies of polygamy outside of North America have produced mixed results and where some attribute harms to polygamy , others are positive about the benefits or show that the harms can be overcome.
- historical context of the evolution of polygyny laws in the US and Canada coming out of a Christian moral panic in reaction to the growth of the Mormon community in North America.
Re: women brainwashed to consent
- noted several studies of women in conservative religious groups specifically evangelical Christian groups, Latter Day Saints, Orthodox Jewish women, and Amish women regarding their gender roles and the idea that they may be duped into submission and that this is not an accurate stereo type
- In her own research of evangelical women – they were aware of the criticism and insisted that they do participate in decision making processes and she found that there was a great deal of mutuality
- Studies found these women engaged in the daily process of making financial, child rearing and daily life decisions often instead of the male head of the household.
- Women in majority religions tend to be more insulated from this criticism
- Roman Catholic Nuns choose celibacy accept that they have less authority than priests and don’t participate in the authority structure as men do – they are socialized to accept the Roman Catholic way and yet we don’t hear people talking about wanting to rescue Nuns.
- Orthodox Jewish women have a similar situation
- Important not to assume that because it is a minority religion the women are therefore duped or brainwashed simply because the choice they make isn’t one we’d make.

Cross-examination by the BC AG, AG of Canada and the Canadian Coalition of Rights of
Children and the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights shot some holes in the depth of her research but she held up well. The BC AG questioned her on the raid of Warren Jeff’s group in 2008. He took exception to her comment in her affidavit that the charges were “largely unfounded”. BC AG said that there were 91 charges laid where she had noted only 23 in her media search with 12 convictions. I suspect she was seeing data on primary charges where he was noting correlated charges (other adults who knew about abuse but didn’t prevent or report)but still Prof Beaman said that she’d have to review better documentation to revise her opinion especially since 91 charges with only 12 convictions is still largely unfounded and she found that peculiar.

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