Religion has been a major springboard for social change. People were enabled to shape their religion when the sacred texts were translated into day-to-day, non-scholarly language. Dispute between religious groups and cases of religious victimization have led to mass resettlement, war, and genocide. Canada is no stranger to religion as a means to social change. In spite of that, debate continues in sociology regarding the nature of religion and social change especially in three disciplines: secularization, religious diversity, new religious movements.
According to (as cited in ) Loek Halman and Erik van Ingen “for centuries, religion was regarded as a more or less obvious pillar of people’s moral views,” but since the 19th century it slowly lost its importance in society while the sources of people’s opinions and moral values became more diverse. Secularization refers to the decline of religiosity as a result of the modernization of society. More precisely, secularization “refers to the process by which religion and the sacred gradually have less validity, influence, and significance in society and the lives of individuals” through the impact of modern processes like rationalization, pluralism, and individualism (Dawson and Thiessen, 2014). For example, while in 1957 82% of Canadians were official members of church congregations, only 29% were in 1990 (Bibby, 1993).
According to Statistics Canada’s 2011 census, 7,850,605 Canadians had no religious affiliation, making them the second largest group after Catholics at 12,810,705. This is a large increase from the 202,025 Canadians who claimed no religious affiliation in the 1971 Statistics Canada census (Statistics Canada, 2015). Sociologists suggest that it is important to distinguish between three different types of secularization: societal secularization, organizational secularization, and individual secularization.
Karel Dobbelaere (2002) defines societal secularization as “the shrinking relevance of the values, institutionalized in church religion, for the integration and legitimation of everyday life in modern society.” In Quebec until the early 1960s for example, the Catholic Church was the dominant institution in the province, providing health care, education, welfare, municipal boundaries (parishes), records of births and deaths as well as religious services, but with the modernization programme of the LaSalle government during the “Quiet Revolution” the state took over most of these tasks. Organizational secularization refers to the “modernization of religion” from within, namely the efforts made by religious organizations themselves to update their beliefs and practices to reflect changes in contemporary life.
The move to ordinate female ministers to reflect the growing gender equality in society or the use of commercial marketing techniques to attract congregations are examples. Individual secularization is the decline in involvement in churches and denominations or the decline in belief and practice of individual members. Overall it can be said that understanding secularization and desecularization is an essential part of the sociological analysis of religion. Knowing the relationship between modernity and religion provides insight into the complex dynamics of the late modern world and allows sociologists to predict what is to come for religion in the future.Religious diversity can be defined as a condition in which a multiplicity of religions and faiths co-exit in a given society. Canada itself is an example of that, the practice of religion in Canada is ever changing and has recently become increasingly diverse.
As a consequence of religious diversity, Canada is becoming a Post-Christian society. Christianity in Canada has become one among multiple religious beliefs, including the beliefs of a large number of people who claim no religion. Canada appears to be moving towards a much more religiously plural society. In the past twenty years in Canada, religious diversity has accelerated because of globalization and immigration. Until 1951, Canada was immensely a Christian nation.
In the 1960s, the opening of immigration to non-Europeans changed the religious diversity of Canada. Religions in Canada have become progressively diverse in the 21st Century. In addition to the Protestant denominations, there are now 80+ different religious groups in Canada. Religious diversity does not only include the increased number of people who participate in non-Christian religions.
Instead, the group that identifies themselves as religious “nones”, which consists of atheists, agnostics, and people who simply say they subscribe to no religion in particular, has become increasingly significant in society. Canadians have varying responses to religious diversity: some are accept religious beliefs other than their own, others do not. Wuthnow (2005) describes three types of individual responses to religious diversity; 1) There are those who fully embrace the religious practices of others, to the point of creating hybrid beliefs and practices (e.g.
, Christian practicing Yoga/Eastern Meditation techniques). There are those who tolerate other religions or accept the value of other religious beliefs while maintaining religious distinctions intact. There are those who reject the value of other religious beliefs or feel that other religions are a threat to the integrity of “Christian” society (e.
g., This can manifest in the range of negative individual responses to Muslim women who wear a hijab or headscarf). On a societal level, there are also three types of social responses to religion; exclusion, assimilation and pluralism. Exclusion occurs when the majority population does not accept varying or non-traditional beliefs and therefore believe that other religions should be denied entry into their society. For example, the Canadian policies towards Jews which were exclusionary until recently. Assimilation occurs when people of all faiths are welcome into the majority culture, but on the condition that they leave their beliefs behind and adopt the majority’s faith as their own. An example of this is, the history of Aboriginal spiritual practices like the sun dance, spirit dance and sweat lodge ceremonies. Pluralism is the idea that every religious practice is welcome in society regardless of how different its beliefs or social norms are.
This is also the response to religious diversity in Canada. Religious freedom and diversity keeps the religious life of Canadians interesting. Studies show that Canadians are moving in the direction of full acceptance of religious differences. According to Dawson and Thiessen (2014), the evidence is that as people become more exposed to religious diversity and interact with people of other faiths, they become more accepting of beliefs and practices that are different from their own.Despite the assumptions of secularization theory and some of the early classical sociologists that religion is a static phenomenon associated with fixed or traditional beliefs and lifestyles, it is clear that the relationship of believers to their religions does change through time.