Posted by: gcarkner | October 19, 2012

George Egerton, Professor Emeritus, History UBC



1945-1982 George Egerton, UBC History, December 2009

This is an article I wrote for an encyclopaedia.   It studies the history of public religion in Canada from the period of the Second World War to the patriation of the Canadian Constitution of 1982 with its Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Through these years, Canada would be transformed from a self-proclaimed ‘Christian democracy’ of denominational pluralism, through an interval of religious pluralism, to a secularist pluralism, based on how courts and politicians have applied the Charter. Although attention will be given to the spectrum of world religions represented in Canada, the analysis focuses primarily on the predominant Christian churches to which most Canadians, including aboriginal peoples, belonged. Until the 1970s, Christianity, in its national denominations, presented the only religion with public functions beyond the private realm – in culture, social institutions, law and politics.[1]

While surveying the life of the major Canadian churches, therefore, the study focuses on the public functions of religion, most specifically on the dialectic of religion and politics in both formal and informal constitutional discourse, as Canadians attempted to identify and legislate the fundamental principles, values, rights, institutions, and procedures by which they wished to be governed. It is argued that the records generated by constitutional debates and decisions, and especially the centrally important quest to define and constitutionally entrench human rights, illuminate most clearly the historic shifting in the relations of religion and politics, church and state in Canada’s political culture, where the former public functions of the churches were challenged and displaced with a secularist liberal ideology and jurisprudence. While the analysis centres on the role of Canadian political, legal and religious elites and lobbies, churches and para-church coalitions, the story is narrated in the larger context of Canadian cultural and social history and the broader Western cultural history in which Canada participates.

Given the controversies and divisions amongst sociologists of religion, the following analysis is discrete in deploying secularization theory to explain the transformation of Canadian religion and its public functions. Key elements of classic secularization theory are used for at least descriptive purposes, including ‘differentiation’ of religious from political and legal institutions and functions, and ‘privatization’ of religion within individuals, families and religious communities in civil society – without adopting the secularization metanarrative that modernization invariably generates non-religious, scientific/rationalist mentalities destructive of religious belief. Indeed, the later sections of the chapter indicate how religious groups struggled and reconfigured to regain public functions in face of the hegemony of secularist liberal ideology, in tandem with the return of public religions globally by the 1980s.[2]

[1]See José Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), Ch. 2, for definitions of public and private religions.

[2]Casanova, 3-10 and Ch. 1, for critical uses of secularization theory.

Symbol of the major religions of the world: Ju...

Symbol of the major religions of the world: Judaism, Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: