eurel     Sociological and legal data on religions in Europe and beyond
You are here : Home » Canada » Social and religious data » Other religious and non-religious groups

Other religious and non-religious groups

Nonreligion in Canada

While Canada is still a nation whose social fabric and institutions are influenced by Christianity, the number of people who identify as ‘nonreligious’ has increased significantly during the past (...)

While Canada is still a nation whose social fabric and institutions are influenced by Christianity, the number of people who identify as ‘nonreligious’ has increased significantly during the past few decades. For the purposes of this discussion ‘nonreligion’ includes a number of terms, including agnostic, atheist, spiritual but not religious, humanist, and indifferent. The diverse and broad nature of this category obviously poses challenges, but if we begin with the census figures we can say that just under 1 in 4 Canadians identified as unaffiliated on the last national survey. However, this figure should be seen as a rough measure of religious attachment, particularly when it comes to Christianity.

For instance, a survey published in Faith Today shows weekly church or synagogue attendance at 11% of those surveyed. This compares with post-World War II levels of 67% of Canadians attending church or synagogue weekly. Further, half of those surveyed were agnostic, atheist or nonreligious meaning that combined this group is now larger than those who identify as Christian (Hiemstra 2020). Only 11% of those surveyed attend church on a regular basis. Similarly, in their book Leaving Christianity, Brian Clarke and Stuart Macdonald note that affiliation does not equal involvement and that nearly half of Canadians are thus effectively ‘nones’.

It is important to note that there are regional variations. For example, as of the last census data from 2011 44% of the population of the province of British Columbia has no religious affiliation, compared to 24% of the total Canadian population (Statistics Canada 2011). In Quebec, a province that has traditionally had high Roman Catholic affiliation, only 10.1% of Catholics attend church “at least once a week” and 42.7% of Catholics “never attend” church. Yet identification with Roman Catholicism is still high (almost 85% of the population), something Clarke and Macdonald (2017) predict will fall given the large number of children now being raised with no institutional religious affiliation or education.

This discussion has focused on the intersection of nonreligion and Christianity because Canada has been a majority Christian nation. However, issues around religious and nonreligious identity are important in other areas as well. For example, strategies around immigrant integration often make assumptions about the religious lives of immigrants and refugees which emphasize observance rather than nonreligion. Empirical research has yet to be done on the impact of the religious imaginary on migrants who are nonreligious.

It remains to be seen what the social consequences of the turn to nonreligion are, both negative and positive. One immediate and obvious consequence is the transformation of churches into condominiums, community centres, housing for seniors, performances spaces and so on, or their outright demolition. Less clear are the effects, if any, on charitable giving and volunteering—some researchers and social activists have expressed concern that without churches there is diminished capacity to socialize people into giving. Moreover, some churches have had an active role in the provision of social services, including support for immigrants and refugees; food banks; and the running of homeless shelters. These services often rely on extensive volunteer networks whose numbers are declining along with church membership. In some cases these services have transformed to be less explicitly religiously based. Positive impacts of increased nonreligion may include increased social inclusion for previously marginalized groups, most especially sexual minorities, increased access to reproductive technologies and services such as birth control and abortion and more diverse public spaces.

Sources:
- 2011 National Household Survey;
- Leaving Christianity: Changing Allegiances in Canada. Clarke, Brian and Macdonald, Stuart. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press. 2017.

D 10 March 2021    ALori G. Beaman

Protestantism in Canada

Out of the 22 million or so Canadians who reported themselves as Christian (67.3% of the population) in two government studies conducted in 2011 (the Population Census and the Household Survey), (...)

Out of the 22 million or so Canadians who reported themselves as Christian (67.3% of the population) in two government studies conducted in 2011 (the Population Census and the Household Survey), 5 million self-identified as belonging to a branch of Protestantism (17% of the population). Protestantism is the second-most represented religious movement in Canada, after the Roman Catholic Church, which has more than 12 million followers (40% of the population). Orthodox Christians meanwhile represent 1.6% of the population.

This division between Catholics and Protestants has been part of the country’s history since its founding, and has long manifested in conflicts, varying in passion depending on the period. Such religious tensions have also arisen from the opposition between Francophones (Catholics who arrived from France) and Anglophones (Protestants of British origin) in the colony’s early days. For more details, see the Canadian Encyclopedia.

The Protestant currents with which the most worshippers identify in Canada are the Unitarian Church (2,007,610), the Anglican Church (1,631,845), the Baptist tradition (635,840), Pentecostalism (478,705), the Lutheran Church (478,184) and the Presbyterian Church (472,385). Furthermore, there is reason to believe that some of the 3,036,780 Canadians who do not identify with the denominations listed, and who have thus chose the label “Other Christian”, are associated with a tradition of Protestant inspiration.

Source: Gouvernement du Canada, Regard sur la démographie canadienne, 2e édition, Division de la démographie, 2016, p. 39.

D 19 March 2018    AMathilde Vanasse-Pelletier

Evangelicalism in Canada

Somewhere between six and ten percent of Canadians are Evangelical. Evangelicals, often called conservative Protestants, include at least 100 denominations in Canada, including Pentecostals, (...)

Somewhere between six and ten percent of Canadians are Evangelical. Evangelicals, often called conservative Protestants, include at least 100 denominations in Canada, including Pentecostals, Baptists, Holiness (e.g. Nazarenes and Wesleyans), Mennonites and a growing number of independent churches and networks. In addition, significant numbers of mainline Protestant affiliates (Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, United Church) are conservative as well, and could fit into the evangelical camp based on their beliefs (and some scholars would include ‘Catho-evangelicals’ as well). Besides denominations, another way Evangelicals are counted is based on British historian David Bebbington’s famous quadrilateral (Evangelicalism in Modern Britain. New York, NY: Routledge, 1989). This quadrilateral includes conversionism, the belief that people need to be ‘saved’ or converted; activism, the importance of living your faith by evangelising, reading the Bible, prayer and church attendance; biblicism, viewing the Bible as authoritative and inspired; and crucicentrism, the centrality of Christ’s death on the cross as the only means of salvation.

Besides doctrinal distinctives, evangelicals are also known for their resistance to liberalising trends in Canadian society, due to their commitment to the authority of the Bible. Behaviourally, survey research shows that they are more likely than most Canadians to regularly attend church, read the Bible and pray, evangelise, volunteer and give to charitable causes. This activism means that they are able to sustain a disproportionately high number of congregations in Canada, over 11,000, accounting for about one third of all the congregations in Canada. Morally, evangelicals tend to hold to traditional views of the family and the view that life is sacred, thereby rejecting sex outside of heterosexual marriage, abortion, MAID (medical assistance in dying), and pornography. Along with conservative Catholics, they are typically against same sex marriage, which was legalised in Canada in 2005 (although views are changing, particularly among younger evangelicals). Politically, evangelicals tend to vote conservative. However, their voting patterns are diverse, as their concern for issues like poverty and the environment can push them toward voting for left-leaning parties like the Liberals or New Democratic Party.

It is easy to lump Canadian Evangelicals in with Evangelicals in the U.S., who garner much more media attention. In many ways, this is fair, as they are very similar in their activism and moral/ethical views. Protection of life and the traditional family, and concern for the poor energise evangelicals on both sides of the border. They share nearly identical levels of commitment to biblical authority and their churches, which belong to many of the same denominations. However, evangelicals in Canada are probably more like British evangelicals than their American neighbours. Evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic cringe when they are characterised as xenophobic, nationalistic, or aggressive like their (Trump-supporting) co-religionists to the U.S. They work hard to present a more tolerant, irenic version of evangelicalism, without compromising their convictions.

Evangelicalism, like all religious groups in Canada, is changing. The decline of institutional forms of religion (e.g. declining church attendance) and immigration are particularly important. Regarding the former, evangelical churches continued to grow even while mainline Protestant churches declined after the 1960s. However, recent research shows that they are losing about one third of those raised evangelical by young adulthood, nearly all of whom become religious ‘nones’. Many other evangelicals are attending less often than they used to. Most evidence indicates that Canadian evangelicalism is no longer growing. However, it would be clearly declining if it were not for gains due to immigration. As for immigration, new Canadians from Asia, Africa, and South America (particularly Pentecostal/charismatic evangelicals) are changing the face of Canadian evangelicalism, starting new churches (and denominations) and energising old ones. Since immigrants often come to Canada with higher levels of religious commitment, the future of evangelicalism will likely reflect immigration trends.

D 4 May 2021    ASam Reimer

Islam in Canada

D 6 April 2021   

Islam in Canada through academic publications

An article by Jennifer A. Selby traces the history of Muslim life in Canada by presenting the work published to date, highlighting the growing academic interest in Muslims in Canada since the (...)

An article by Jennifer A. Selby traces the history of Muslim life in Canada by presenting the work published to date, highlighting the growing academic interest in Muslims in Canada since the 1990s.

D 6 April 2021    AJennifer A. Selby

Judaism in Canada

Jews have a long history as a minority group in Canada, with the first synagogue in Canada being established in Montreal in 1786. In the 2011 National Household Survey 329,500 individuals (...)

Jews have a long history as a minority group in Canada, with the first synagogue in Canada being established in Montreal in 1786. In the 2011 National Household Survey 329,500 individuals self-identified as Jewish, representing 1% of the total population of the country. Toronto is home to about half of the total Jewish population of Canada at 167,765. Other notable cities are Montreal (83,200) and Vancouver (18,730). Canadian Jews identify with Conservative (26%), Orthodox (17%) and Reform (16%) traditions, there are also those who don’t identify with one specific tradition (28%) and several smaller movements (2018 survey of Jews in Canada).
One of the most important Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms cases on the meaning of religion and religious freedom is the Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem in 2004 in which the right to build a sukkah (temporary walled structure used during a religious feast) on the balcony of a high-end condominium building in Montreal was upheld as an important expression of religious freedom. In that case the Supreme Court affirmed the “threshold of sincerity of belief” in cases involving claims of religious freedom. The Court emphasized that the individual interpretation of the religious observance should be the focus of the determination of constitutionality, not expert opinion about whether a practice is or is not part of the tradition.
Anti-Semitism has a long history in Canada, for example turning away a ship of Jewish refugees in 1939 (it had also sought entry in Cuba and the United States). The ship returned to Europe where passengers disembarked in the UK and Belgium. Almost all the 937 passengers were Jewish and most German. Two hundred and fifty four of them were murdered during the Holocaust. Canada has ongoing issues with anti-Semitic vandalism and hate speech. Hate crimes in Canada motivated by religion and race or ethnicity have been generally on the rise since 2014, with B’nai Brith similarly indicating an upward trend of incidents targeting the Jewish community specifically over the five-year span of 2015-2019. Canadian law has ruled on antisemitic hate speech in several important cases. The 1990 case R. v. Keegstra concerned a public school teacher who was charged with promoting hate in his classroom through his anti-Semitic statements. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that while the Criminal Code provisions limit freedom of expression, this kind of limitation is justified. The 1996 case Ross v. New Brunswick School District No. 15 also dealt with a teacher, who in that case did not express his anti-Semitic views in the classroom but in the wider public and in print. Ross was removed from the classroom, a move that the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately upheld.
In Quebec in particular the popular support for Bill 21 which limits visible religious expression of public servants suggests a growing sentiment that a strong religious identity cannot co-exist with representing the state, with a 2019 Angus Reid poll showing 64% support inside Quebec. There are ongoing issues in various metropolitan areas about rights to establish and maintain eruvs (material or symbolic enclosure destined to allow certain activities during shabbat). The challenges in Montreal in particular have illustrated how Jewish communities can be marginalized as ‘other’ by communities who treat orthodox community practices as incompatible with integration in Canadian society, despite their very long history in, and contribution to Canadian society.

Further information: Stoker, Valerie. Drawing the Line: Hasidic Jews. Eruvim, and the Public Space of Outremont, Quebec. History of Religions Vol 43, no. 1.

D 5 May 2020    AMathilde Vanasse-Pelletier ATed Malcolmson

New religious movements in Canada

New religious movements – also commonly referred to as new religions, emerging religions, or alternative religions – are religions that originated or were imported to North America in the (...)

New religious movements – also commonly referred to as new religions, emerging religions, or alternative religions – are religions that originated or were imported to North America in the relatively recent past, and thus are not part of established major religious traditions (including, in the North American context, Christianity). In Canada and the United States alike, while several new movements have existed since at least the 19th century, their numbers increased after the Second World War in a context of social restructuring and loss of influence by traditional religious authorities. Examples include the Church of Scientology, Hare Krishna, the Unification Church, Eckankar and Christian Science. Certain groups, such as the Army of Mary, a group excommunicated by the Catholic Church in 2007, embody a break with secular institutions, varying in degree by movement. Generally speaking, it is difficult to estimate the number of new active religious movements, as well as to determine the number, even approximate, of members of each of these movements, in particular because the spokespersons in these groups tend to paint an exaggerated picture of their communities’ demography, but also because several groups have simply not been recorded. The most significant groups in demographic terms are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church), with more than 193,000 members in Canada, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which have more than 113,000 Canadian members.

Some of these new religious movements are known on Canadian soil as a result of various public controversies. For example, the Raelian movement was made famous by its leader’s claims that he had had contacts with aliens, and because of the importance that its belief system places on human cloning. The Order of the Solar Temple also attracted attention when several of its members participated in a collective suicide in the 1990s. Lastly, in the municipality of Bountiful, British Columbia, a group of fundamentalist Mormons has been making headlines since the 1980s for illegally engaging in polygamy.

Relationships with society and tensions

Thus, tensions often build up between new religious movements and society as a result of beliefs and practices perceived by some as incompatible with the values shared across the population. Beliefs and practices pertaining to gender relations, family structure, marriage, child education and sexuality are frequently implicated in the controversies surrounding these alternative religions. In order to combat what they saw as a threat, both to the common good and members of these groups, a number of so-called “anti-sect” movements have formed in Canada (one of the most prominent is Info-sectes/Info-cult, founded in 1980).

The processes for gaining State approval for newly-created religious groups in Canada are minimal: they can include, for example, an application for recognition as a non-profit legal entity with religious purposes, or for ownership and use of a place of worship, a status which notably carries certain tax benefits. These processes do not interfere with the groups’ internal doctrines and practices, unless these contravene common laws.

See also the 2017 Current debate: "Nouveaux mouvements religieux : cas légaux contemporains et historiques".

D 20 June 2017    AMathilde Vanasse-Pelletier

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

Follow us:
© 2002-2021 eurel - Contact