RCI Members

RCI Members: Michael Wilkinson, Robert Burkinshaw, John Dyck, Janet Epp Buckingham, Bruce Guenther, Robynne Healey, Joanne Pepper, Sheryl Reimer-Kirkham, Paul Rowe, Jens Zimmermann

Monday, January 30, 2017

Religious Decline and Polarization

Public Event
Religion in Canada Institute
Trinity Western University
March 23-24, 2017
Speaker: Sam Reimer is Professor of Sociology at Crandall University, Moncton, NB. He has published extensively on evangelicalism in Canada including the books Evangelicals and the Continental Divide: The Conservative Protestant Subculture in Canada and the United States (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003) and with Michael Wilkinson, Professor of Sociology at Trinity Western University, A Culture of Faith: Evangelical Congregations in Canada (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015). 
Thursday March 23, 7-9PM 
"Why Canadians aren’t Going to Church and What that Means for Evangelical Churches in Canada."
Weekly church attendance in Canada has dropped from roughly 50% in 1960 to about 10% now. What social changes help explain this drastic decline in institutional religiosity? Has this decline affected evangelical churches too? We know that evangelical churches have shown greater vitality than mainline Protestant and Catholic churches, but there are many reasons to be concerned about the future of evangelicalism, and a few reasons for hope. I will also explain what I consider the most important religious change in the last fifty years, which partially accounts for declining institutional religiosity.
Friday March 24, Noon "bag lunch" discussion 
Location: ACTS Seminaries/Fosmark Centre, Room 130, TWU (Please bring your lunch).
"Is Canada Becoming More Religiously Polarized?”
Leading sociologist of religion Reginald Bibby has argued in his most recent book that Canada is becoming increasingly polarized religiously. There is a growing number of Canadians who reject religion, even while there is a fairly stable number of religiously committed Canadians. The gap between them seems to be growing. However, I will argue that the available evidence is more consistent with continued religious decline than with polarization.
All Welcome

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

David Feltmate - The Future of Evangelical Congregations: A Review of "A Culture of Faith"

Sam Reimer and Michael Wilkinson’s A Culture of Faith: Evangelical Congregations in Canada is an excellent book that should be read by sociologists of religion, divinity school teachers, pastors, and lay people who are interested in Canada’s religious landscape and its future. Reimer and Wilkinson start with the observation that despite declining church memberships and Christian affiliation across Canada, evangelical denominations have managed to keep their “share” of the national population. The question is how did they do this and will they continue to do so? Through looking at local congregations via national surveys and extensive interviews with pastors, Reimer and Wilkinson demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of evangelical congregations and provide readers with a detailed, data rich understanding of the challenges evangelical congregations will face in the future. Their research focuses on congregations in five major denominations: The Baptist conventions (e.g., Atlantic Baptists, Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec), Christian and Missionary Alliance, Christian Reformed Church, Mennonite Brethren, and Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, and excludes independent evangelical churches. This focus is still sufficient to give us a detailed picture of evangelical life in Canada and each of the book’s 10 chapters covers a range of topics from a cross-cultural evangelical subculture (which is shared across Canada’s geographic regions and with evangelicals in the United States) to investigations into topics that are relevant to local congregations including demographics, local priorities, leadership and pastoral well-being, children and youth, and financing congregations.

At A Culture of Faith’s heart is the question of what local congregations can do to meet their members’ needs and prepare for the challenges ahead—although Reimer and Wilkinson do not offer any specific strategies for the latter point. For example, the demographic picture in Canada shows a declining population with more new Canadians coming from immigration rather than birth. Yet, readers will not find any active strategies in this book for reaching these new Canadians. Reimer and Wilkinson leave it to the local congregations to determine their futures. Discerning readers with an interest in bolstering congregations will find a great deal to think about in the chapters on leadership and pastoral well-being, children and youth, and financing congregations. Specifically, pastors are aging, their jobs are more precarious with an increase in part-time positions, and their replacements are not forthcoming. Children’s programs are successful at keeping children present in churches (although parental religiosity is the major factor in passing religiosity on to children), but there are some concerns about keeping young adults in the pews. Finally, Canadian congregations are facing an uncertain financial future—especially if their youth do not stay in the churches and give generously. Reimer and Wilkinson do an excellent job of even-handedly outlining the data for these concerns and anybody serving in a leadership capacity (lay or pastoral) in an evangelical congregation should read from chapter three to book’s conclusion to get a detailed sense of what is in store for them. Sociologists of religion should take a long look at the data in A Culture of Faith and ask themselves if they think evangelical congregations will be able to endure the cultural shifts happening around them and what will be the social outcomes if the churches cannot survive in a more secular climate.

Clearly, I think this book is worth reading and recommending. The detailed charts and clear writing make it accessible and the topic is timely. Yet, there are some criticisms to be made. First, Reimer and Wilkinson could have used more comparative data with Mainline and Catholic denominations in Canada and all denominations in the United States. There are a few chapters that use this comparative data, most noticeably the chapters on youth and financing congregations, which were co-authored by James Penner and Rick Heimstra, respectively, and use data that the co-authors had gathered for other projects. This contextualizing information is few and far between, however, and novice readers in Canadian sociology of religion will have to go to other sources to get the larger demographic picture of Canadian religiosity within which to contextualize A Culture of Faith’s findings. This is a book about evangelical congregations, however, and this lack of additional data is a minor issue compared to the benefits to be gained from the new findings presented within.

Another line of inquiry to be raised with A Culture of Faith is the question of what role Canadian churches play in keeping the country’s social fabric together. Reimer and Wilkinson hint at the importance that religious institutions play in terms of cultivating volunteers and charitable givers, but they do not spell out the importance that congregations—evangelical, mainline, and Catholic alike—play in keeping the charitable fabric of Canada intact. The roles evangelical Christians play in Canadian civic life and their larger importance is underdeveloped, which is a shame because a quantitative analysis of congregational charitable contributions would help policy makers understand and appreciate the role that religious institutions play in their communities. Shining a light on charitable giving within the larger discussion of the challenges facing Canadian churches could help far-sighted community leaders to anticipate the changing landscape of social service providers in the coming decades.

A Culture of Faith is a welcome addition to the sociology of religion in Canada and congregational studies canons. Reimer and Wilkinson’s work should be read broadly and discussed in classrooms in universities, seminaries, and church meetings. While this book is descriptive, rather than prescriptive, it offers a wide variety of useful data points that will enable critical thinkers to understand how evangelical churches operate, the challenges facing them, and the contributions they make to their communities. These questions are worth asking and A Culture of Faith is an excellent place to start such inquiry.

David Feltmate, Ph.D.
Sociology Department
College of Public Policy and Justice
Auburn University at Montgomery

Sam Reimer and Michael Wilkinson. A Culture of Faith: Evangelical Congregations in Canada. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015. 296pp. ISBN: 9780773545045. Cloth: $110.00, Paperback: $32.95.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Church for a New Generation? Canadian Large Churches Report

On any given weekend, an estimated 300,000 people across Canada participate in the kind of church that draws 1,000 or more in weekly attendance. That’s about 1 of 8 people who went to a Protestant church. Even in cities where sizable portions of the population check “no religion” on their household surveys, these predominantly evangelical congregations are growing, reaching out, and focused on serving children and youth.
These breakthrough discoveries come from a first-ever effort to conduct a national study of the country’s largest-attendance churches, an initiative sponsored by a large coalition of Canadian scholars and evangelical ministries, along with the U.S.-based Leadership Network, which does similar research in its country.
The 12-page, illustrated executive summary is available to download free at leadnet.org/Canada courtesy of two sponsors, D.L. Deeks Insurance Services, Inc. (deeksinsurance.ca) and Pushpay (pushpay.com).
Major findings include:
• Canada’s largest Protestant churches range from 1,000 to almost 10,000 in weekly worship attendance.
• The vast majority (79%) report that they have grown over the last 5 years.
• Church leaders say that almost a third (29%) of the growth comes either as new to the Christian faith (16%) or renewed in faith (13%) as they have returned to Christian belief/involvement after dropping away from a childhood or earlier-in-life participation in Christianity.
• Just over half (55%) have birthed or planted another separate congregation in the last 10 years, and another 16% are considering it.
• Four out of 10 (40%) respondents describe their church as multisite, meaning that they are one church but in two or more different geographic locations.
• These congregations are also racially diverse. In terms of ethnicity, if multiethnic is defined as a church with no more than 80% of one race, then 62% of large Canadian churches are multiethnic.
• When asked what they see as the primary advantage of large churches, survey participants selected most the “ability to provide an enhanced quality of ministry.” This choice was followed by “opportunity to minister to a diverse range of people” and “ability to offer diverse forms of ministry.”
• When asked what has led to such growth in these large churches, many (55%) include “children’s and/or youth ministry” as a factor in growth, with just over half (51%) affirming “a strong vision and mission” often personified by “the passion and personality of our senior leader/pastor” (43%). Another commonly noted factor (35%) is an “emphasis on worship/music.”
• A large percent (83%) say they are “somewhat” or “very” effective in carrying out evangelism, as people invite others to consider faith in Jesus Christ.
• The top-named strategies for evangelism begin with “children’s/family/youth ministries that positively impact the parents.” This is followed by “Alpha Course,” a discussion-based approach to core questions about practical topics like faith, the after-life, suffering, and the Holy Spirit.
“The team of co-researchers acted as a true partnership,” says Dr. Warren Bird, lead researcher. “Each person suggested churches we might contact, contributed survey questions and critiqued drafts of the survey and report. Many will be writing follow-up specific-topic reports based on further analysis of the findings.”

Free webinar (space limited) with live Q&A available on October 21, 2015, with recorded version available after that date. See leadnet.org/canada for details.

To dialogue with the research team, contact any of the people involved: Warren Bird, Ph.D., Leadership Network, warren.bird@leadnet.org, 845-368-4379 (Lead Researcher); also Reginald W. Bibby, Ph.D., University of Lethbridge, bibby@uleth.ca, 403-329-2558;  Peter Beyer, Ph.D., University of Ottawa, pbeyer@uottawa.ca, 613-562-5800 (1178); Mark Chapman, Ph.D., Tyndale University College & Seminary, mchapman@tyndale.ca, 416-226-6620 ext. 2208; Rick Hiemstra, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, hiemstrar@efc-canada.com, 613-233-9868 x332; Lorne Hunter, Outreach Canada Ministries, lhunter@outreach.ca, 604-952-0050 ext. 300; Stephen McMullin, Ph.D., Acadia University, stephen.mcmullin@acadiau.ca, 902-585-2210; Sam Reimer, Ph.D., Crandall University, Sam.Reimer@crandallu.ca, 506-858-8970 ext: 139; Joel Thiessen, Ph.D., Ambrose University, jathiessen@ambrose.edu, 403-410-2000 ext.2979; Peter Schuurman, Ph.D. candidate, University of Waterloo, pschuurm@icloud.com, 519-822-7177; Shaila Visser, Alpha Ministries Canada, shailavisser@alphacanada.org, 604 304 2082 ext. 123; and Michael Wilkinson, Ph.D., Trinity Western University, michael.wilkinson@twu.ca, 604-888-7511 ext 3832.
About Leadership Network: Based in Dallas, Texas, Leadership Network is a nonprofit public charity that fosters innovation movements that activate the church to greater impact through a variety of programs and resources. For more on Leadership Network, see www.leadnet.org.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age

Public Lecture with Joel Thiessen

Trinity Western University, Fosmark Building (Graduate Student's Lounge)
October 29, 2015


Fewer Canadians identify with a religion, believe in a god, or attend weekly religious services than in past decades. What explains higher and lower levels of religiosity? Is secularization a myth or reality? What impact does religiosity or secularity have on a society’s social and civil fabric? Drawing on material from my forthcoming book (November 2015), I turn to interview data with those who attend religious services weekly, those who attend services mainly for religious holidays and rites of passage, and those who do not identify with any religious group and never attend religious services. My central argument is that the “demand” for religion is waning regardless of what religious groups do to their “supply” of religion, and that secularization theory remains a useful way to describe and explain the current and future state of religion in Canada.


Joel Thiessen is Associate Professor of Sociology at Ambrose University in Calgary, Alberta. The focus of his research is religion and culture in Canada, including secularization, religious nones, nominal and regular church attenders, religious and secular socialization, and congregations. He is author of two books, The Sociology of Religion: A Canadian Perspective (co-author with Lorne L. Dawson, Oxford University Press) and The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age (McGill-Queen’s University Press), along with a range of articles. For more information see www.joelthiessen.ca.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Review of Religion in the Public Sphere: Canadian Case Studies

Book Review:  Religion in the Public Sphere:  Canadian Case Studies.  Edited by Solange Lefebvre & Lori G. Beaman.  University of Toronto Press, 2015.  ISBN 978-1-4426-2630-0

Reviewed by Sheryl Reimer-Kirkham, PhD RN, School of Nursing, Religion in Canada Institute, Trinity Western University.

This collection of case studies on the expression of religion in the public sphere, insightfully bookended by introduction and conclusion chapters by Lefebvre and Beaman, bring a uniquely Canadian angle to what is a relevant social concern in many countries.  The collection evidences the complex relations of the public and private nature of religion in Canada.  One of the many contributions of this volume is the editors’ problematization of the binaries such as public/private and sacred/secular that have been constructed around religion. The book also challenges any conventional image of a singular Canada, and gives a sense of the “range of issues and geographies that intersect with the theme of religion and the public sphere” (p.9). Essays from researchers across Canada, from research-intensive and small universities, and from established and emerging scholars (e.g., University of Ottawa (Beyer), Université de Montréal (Cohen), University of New Brunswick (Nason-Clark), Kwantlen Polytechnic University (Nayar)) address a variety of public stages on which religion plays out.  Reflecting the diversity of Canada, religion and immigration are the foci of chapters on Haitian migrants (Mooney), Maghrebi Jewish migrations (Cohen and Scioldo-Zűrcher), Islamic identity (Ramji), and Sikh youth (Nayar).

My review focuses on these three points:  the book’s problematization of dualisms; its distinctly Canadian take; and its analysis of religion alongside other intersecting social realities.  I also take up application of its insights into two fields of immediate relevance to my scholarship:  healthcare and higher education.

Of Binaries and Dialectics.  A binary can be employed as a useful device in making an argument or in analyzing a complex situation.  However, too often the contrasts created are not absolute, but are better understood as dialectics that operate in tension, as both/and rather than either/or.  In the cases expounded in this collection, the dualisms that are explored most closely are those of public/private and sacred/secular, and “how and under what circumstances the boundaries between them are constructed” (p. 11).  The editors effectively leverage the public/private dialectic to organize the four parts of the book, although some might find the categorization of chapters somewhat forced, especially since feminists debunked the public/personal dichotomy decades ago.  For those of us who approach this book as source of new insights, we do well to employ the dialectic method of reflexive philosophical thinking from our specific historical situatedness. To practice dialectic well, one has to be open to contradiction and emergence, dialogue and hopefulness (Kovel, 1998).  I return to this idea in my applications below.

Distinctly Canadian, definitively Global.  While reviewing the book, I was in England, at a conference on religion hosted by the British Study Group on the Sociology of Religion (SOCREL
Conference Foundations and Futures, July 7 – 9th, High Leigh Conference Centre, Hoddesdon, UK), which offered a unique opportunity to think about what are shared global concerns, and what are national specifics.  Two strong themes in the UK context were those of the forms secularism is taking in that society, and the integration of Muslim communities generally, and in the academy more specifically.  These themes also take form in Canada, but in uniquely Canadian ways.  Canada is different than the UK and EU in not having the influence of the state church.  Our heritage of Indigenous, Anglican, and Catholic presences has meant shared religious space from the beginning, without one hegemonic state church to be overthrown to rid society of institutional control.  The Canadian exception is that of Quebec, where the Catholic church has until recent years had a strong institutionalized role.  The Canadian story is also different from our American neighbours, in that religion has not been as politicized.  Bowlby, in the chapter entitled “Canadian social imaginaries: Re-examining religion and secularization”, explores how a Victorian Christian imaginary has given way to a secular imaginary in Canada, and how both of these imaginaries are challenged by ethnic and religious diversity, particularly as brought about by migration.  Beaman, in her chapter, “Between the public and the private:  Governing religious expression”, also examines an “imagined” secular Canada by considering contests over religion in the public sphere that evidence a postsecular multiplicity of religious voices in the public sphere, with a concurrent retrenchment that suggests that not all religious voices may be welcome.  Beaman’s and other contributors’ willingness to explore social relations of power vis-à-vis religion makes this a welcome collection.

Intersectionality:  More than religion.  Canada has long been a nation of newcomers and has been described as one of the few nations where multiculturalism as public policy has had sustained success (although not without its critics).  This history of negotiating diversity is important in giving us a certain collective repertoire as we now navigate diversity that falls along various social lines:  religion takes different forms as it is crossed with ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, and so forth.  Social difference can bring richness and texture to our shared existence; it can also be contested when it becomes a source of inequity or marginalization, or when it becomes fodder for a politics of resistance (see Nayar re: Sikh youth in B.C.).  An intersectional lens is also evident in Nason-Clark’s analysis of how religious faith and domestic violence are co-mingled.  As Lefebvre and Beaman conclude, “Women’s bodies have been disproportionately targeted for regulation by a patriarchy (often religiously-informed patriarchy) that operates to shape the nature of the public sphere” (p.313).   Taken as a whole, the collection illustrates how religion can become an axis for or site of marginalization and exclusion, often in tandem with other social realities, and why critical intersectional analyses that consider the myriad of social dynamics at play are vital to understanding the expression of religion in the public sphere.

My entrée to the collection was twofold:  as a researcher studying diversity and religion’s presence in Canadian healthcare services, and as a professor at a university at the centre of much public debate on the role of religion in higher education.  The book left me wishing for robust discussion of these two case studies.  Religious diversity in the day-to-day delivery and organization of healthcare services plays out in various ways, but has not been well studied, in part because of a presumed secularity of healthcare.  Our recently funded research on the expression of prayer in healthcare is evidencing just how delicate and contested the field can be (Sharma, Reimer-Kirkham & Cochrane, 2013).  Likewise, creating a hospitable environment for same sex attracted youth at our faith-based, creedal university requires a less polarized and more dialectic consideration marked by dialogue and hopefulness.  While these topics are not directly addressed by the writers in this collection, their approach—of problematizing binaries and leveraging intersectional analyses to illuminate complex relations between public and private spheres, and striving to look beyond any conventional image of a singular Canada—can be applied widely.

At the end of the day, any good book review entails description and evaluation.  I hope this review has provided sufficient detail to commend the book to you, and enough evaluative comments to stimulate deeper dialogue and analysis.

References cited:
Kovel J. (1998). Dialectic as praxis. Science & Society, 62(3), 474-482.

Sharma, S., Reimer-Kirkham, S. & Cochrane, M.  (2013).  Prayer as transgression:  Stories from healthcare.  In G.Giordan & L.Woodhead (eds.) Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion (pp.189-204).  Oxford:  Brill.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

RCI Member Paul Rowe Takes Part in Summer Seminar in India

Just over a year ago, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected to govern India with a majority government.  Founded over thirty years ago, the BJP brought together conservative nationalists opposed to the big tent nationalism represented by the Indian National Congress.  BJP ideology was built on the foundation of Hindutva, which called for the embrace of a Hindu identity as a unifying principle in India.  Hindutva nationalists sought a Hindu rashtra (state) which would not bow to minority demands but instead privilege the majority religious impulses of Hinduism.  Building on the erosion of support for the Congress Party, the BJP has gradually taken centre stage as a dominant political movement.  In 1998 it formed a coalition government, which was later defeated by Congress and its allies in 2004.  Last year, the BJP won an outright majority in the Indian federal elections, the first party other than Congress to do so.

The BJP won the 2014 election in an atmosphere in which people were demanding far-reaching change in Indian politics.  The party’s charismatic leader, Narendra Modi, was carried along by a wave of demands for an end to official corruption, an embrace of neoliberal reforms, and a vision for the future of the country.  Voters supported the BJP as the agent of change even though Mr. Modi has been publicly criticized for his weak leadership (at best) or complicity (at worst) during deadly riots against Muslims in 2002 in his home state of Gujarat.  The ambiguity surrounding his role at the time and his vaunted success in running the state of Gujarat propelled Mr. Modi and the BJP to power.

Voters wanted good government, better economic management, and a vision for the Indian future.  “Development” was the mantra of the party campaign.  While the BJP may well deliver on some of these promises, religious minorities are concerned that the government’s outright majority has emboldened the more radical of its supporters in the family of Hindu nationalist movements known as the sangh parivar.  In recent years, radicals associated with the movement have engaged in vigilante-style attacks on religious minorities and organized campaigns to confront “proselytization”.  Representatives of minority Muslim and Christian communities complain that the existence of a BJP government gives these radicals a feeling of impunity.  Weak policing in response to the bullying of religious minorities only strengthens the hands of the attackers.  A spate of fires at churches in the area of Delhi in December and January led to public criticisms that the BJP was not taking seriously the spike in such incidents.

Speaking on India’s Republic Day, visiting President Barack Obama pointedly observed that “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith -- so long as it's not splintered along any lines -- and is unified as one nation.”

During the last two weeks of June, I was privileged to be a part of a group of professors from various institutions across North America who studied economic and social development in India from the perspective of the Christian minority, organized by the Nagel Institute for Global Christianity at Calvin College (https://www.calvin.edu/nagel/india/).  Seminar leaders included Timothy and Rebecca Samuel Shah (Georgetown University), Vinay Samuel (Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life), and Robert Woodberry (National University of Singapore), as well as the Nagel Institute Director Joel Carpenter.

In Bengaluru (Bangalore), we got to meet the recipients of micro-credit initiatives spearheaded by faith-based organizations.  In Chennai, we spoke to the leaders of a major international development organization.  In Delhi, we visited the headquarters of the governing BJP.  Along the way, we heard from prominent academics about the influence of faith in empowering the poor, in fostering liberal democratic principles, and in establishing cutting-edge educational institutions.

We saw much that provided hope for India’s future among its entrepreneurs, its leaders, and its faith traditions.  But there were also alarming reports of religious intolerance.  Visits to vibrant non-governmental organizations involved in empowering the poor were punctuated by tales of persecution and a trip to a burned-out church, one the many attacked in Delhi a few months previously.

The positive impact of religious institutions on public life in India is mirrored elsewhere, but perhaps it is most notable in this land of contrasts.  India’s official secularism, much like the disestablishment clause in the United States, has combined with a neutral attitude toward religion that has allowed religion to thrive.  The increasingly intolerant tone set by anti-conversion laws and religious bigotry will serve only to undermine these crucial pillars of India’s success.  The air of change that BJP rule has brought to India is thrilling.  But if it continues to conceal intolerant efforts to limit religious freedom, the benefits of political reform will be eclipsed by rising injustice.

India’s Christian community “punches above its weight” by shaping the social and educational sectors in Indian society.  There are many lessons that Canadians can learn from the challenges and opportunities that Indian Christians face today, from dealing with changing attitudes toward the nature of public secularism to the need to recommit to public service that benefits the whole of society.  It is my hope that this seminar is just the first step in building greater awareness on both sides of the world.

Paul Rowe

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Reports from Immigrant Integration and Settlement Project

The "Role of Churches in Immigrant Integration and Settlement" project has now come to completion. There are a number of reports that are now available and can be found here.



Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Maritimes

National Denominational Survey

Guide to Action

National Key Informant Report

Literature Review

Annotated Bibliography