Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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In theory, method, and often substance, Canadian sociology of religion is quite similar to that produced in other Western countries. Thus, for example, Weber and Durkheim have exerted a strong influence; the question of secularization has often dominated; quantitative and, to a lesser extent, qualitative empirical studies are the most common; and topics cover a wide range from institutional, denominational, and ethnic studies to investigations of the relation between religion and various social and personal variables.

The distinctive features of Canadian efforts, by contrast, owe much to peculiarities of the country. Here two factors stand out. The French-English divide in Canada has led, in effect, to the establishment of two separate academic enclaves, each with its own literature and, to some degree, characteristic questions. And the relatively recent but precipitous pan-Canadian decline in religious authority and practice has lent the much-attacked secularization thesis a certain self-evidence that few have questioned.

Among the seminal figures on the English-speaking side, none stands out more than Samuel D. Clark. In what amounts to a classic similar in influence to H. Richard Niebuhr's Social Sources of Denominationalism (Holt 1929) in the study of American religion, Clark's 1948 work, Church and Sect in Canada (University of Toronto Press) uses Niebuhr and Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis to show English Canadian religious history as a continuing saga of sectarian innovation followed by denominational routinization. Clark's effort yielded an important sequel in William F. Mann's similarly titled Sect, Cult and Church in Alberta (University of Toronto Press 1955) and established the respectability of historical sociology in Canadian circles. Reflecting a prewar focus, however, this work has yielded in recent decades to the dominance of perspectives charting and assuming secularization and to ethnic, regional, and denominational studies.

Of the latter, perhaps the best developed in the post-1960s period have been studies on religion and ethnicity, especially on Mennonites/Hutterites and Jews in Canada. Important authors are Leo Driedger and Karl Peter for the former and Evelyn Kallen and William Shaffir for the latter. The two largest Protestant denominations, the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada, have received the most attention, notably through works by Stewart Crysdale, W. S. F. Pickering, and Reginald Bibby.

What is largely missing in the Canadian literature is overarching studies of the role of religion in Canadian society. There are some partial exceptions: the edited volume by Stewart Crysdale and Les Wheatcroft, Religion in Canadian Society (Macmillan 1977), gives a sense of the range of work done in the Canadian field at that time, and Reginald Bibby's recent volumes provide the first quantitative survey overview and documentation of post-1960 secularization. Probably the most influential more general work in the postwar period, however, has been John Porter's The Vertical Mosaic (University of Toronto 1965), which, in a broader context, argues for the pivotal role played by above all the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches in historical Canadian power stratification.

If the historical denominationalism of English-speaking Canada is well reflected in Clark's work, the near-monopolistic stature of Roman Catholicism in pre-1960s French Canada received its early sociological expression in Horace Miner's St. Denis: A French-Canadian Parish (University of Chicago Press 1939) and Everett Hughes's French Canada in Transition (University of Chicago Press 1943). Even more than in the rest of Canada, however, most postwar French Canadian sociology of religion has been preoccupied with the sharp decline in the status of religion as part of what is generally known as Québec's "Quiet Revolution." Building on important earlier work by Jean-Charles Falardeau, Marcel Rioux, and Louis- Edmond Hamelin, numerous scholars have focused on, above all, the transformations in French Canadian Roman Catholic institutions and the question of a surviving explicit or implicit Catholicism often tied to contemporary, decidedly secular Québec nationalism. Important works include Colette Moreux's Fin d'une religion? (Université de Montréal 1969), Jacques Grand'-Maison's Nationalisme et religion (Beauchemin 1970), and, more recently, Raymond Lemieux and Micheline Milot's Les Croyances des Québéçois (Université Laval 1990). A particularly productive research center among Québéçois has been social scientists at Laval University, notably Jean-Paul Rouleau, Paul Stryckman, and Jacques Zylberberg. Overall, the work of these and many other French speakers in recent decades has been sufficiently rich that those without a reading knowledge of French will be unable to appreciate the full diversity of Canadian sociology of religion.

Peter Beyer


R. W. Bibby, Anglitrends (Toronto: Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 1986)

R. W. Bibby, Unitrends (Toronto: United Church, 1994)

S. Crysdale, The Changing Church in Canada (Toronto: United Church, 1965)

L. Driedger, Mennonite Identity in Conflict (Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen, 1988)

J. Falardeau, "The Role and Importance of the Church in French Canada," in French Canadian Society , ed. M. Rioux and Y.Martin (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1964):342-357

L. Hamelin and C. Hamelin, Queleues matériaux de sociologie religieuse canadienne (Montréal: Lévrier, 1956)

E. Kallen, Spanning the Generations (Toronto: Longmans, 1977)

K. A. Peter, The Dynamics of Hutterite Society (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1987)

W.S. F. Pickering and J. L. Blanchard, Taken for Granted (Toronto: Anglican Church, 1967)

J-P. Rouleau, Le prêtre, le frère et la religieuse vus par des étudiants des collèges (Québec: Université Laval, 1971)

W. Shaffir, Life in a Religious Community (Toronto: Holt, 1974)

P. Stryckman, Les prêtres du Québec d'aujourd'hui (Québec: Université Laval, 1970-1973 [2 vols])

J. Zylberberg and P. Côté, "Les balises étatiques de la religion au Canada," Social Compass 40(1993):529-553.

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