Reginald W. BIBBY, The Resilience & Restructuring of Religion in Canada available as a free eBook. Reviewed by Richard RYMARZ, St Joseph's College, University of Alberta, Edmonton Alberta, T6G 2J5. Available at:
Bibby is well known as one of the leading Canadian sociologists of religion. This current book is the latest in a long series that have traced the contours of religious life in Canada. In some of his recent work he has elaborated on the importance of affiliates in understanding the current religious dynamic in Canada. Affiliates are those who have some connection with a religious community but who are not actively engaged in it. Bibby develops this argument in this book and proposes that reaching out to those on the margins of religious communities will continue to be a key concern of Canadian churches and other religious organizations. He argues that some communities understand this situation better than others and realize that they must develop new strategies which reflect the highly competitive market in which they operate. Religious communities need to be able to restructure themselves to accommodate consumers who do not defer to authority or give them any particular leeway. Bibby proposes that the best way to conceptualize the place of religion is to use a market model as this best reflects the fluid, and choice dominant, nature of contemporary culture.
At the same time the proportion of Canadians “nones”, those who do not identity with any religious group has grown steadily over the last twenty five years. For instance, in 2008, 47% of Canadian teenagers reported that they never attend any religious service. The comparative figure for 1984 was 28%, (25% of all Canadians in 2009 reported having no religion). Bibby argues against a conventional secularization process at play here by noting that the size of core groups attached to religious communities have remained relatively constant in recent decades. In addition, some religious groups are growing in size and influence. What has occurred, and this is perhaps the central thesis of this book, is that polarization now marks much of the religious landscape in Canada. Between the two established poles of strongly committed and those with no affiliation lie the group who Bibby has previously identified as the key in understanding the future of religion in Canada. These are the affiliates who are open to more involvement. In dealing with this new and emerging landscape Bibby proposes a new theoretical template for religious groups to consider. This replaces the church/unchurched dichotomy with a concentric model. Here “actives” are at the centre. Moving out from here are marginals, followed by inactives and then the disaffiliated.
Complicating the picture is the significant impact that immigration has had on the vitality of religious communities in Canada. Bibby notes that recent immigrants are far more likely to be actively involved in religious communities and this inflow of new members has greatly boosted affiliation figures for many religious communities. This is most evident with the Roman Catholic Church which in large centres across Canada has maintained relatively constant levels of involvement only because of large numbers of immigrants involving themselves in Church life. Whether these new immigrants sustain this elevated level of religious salience is an open question. For Bibby, and in keeping with his general argument, religious groups must be prepared to find innovative and responsive ways to keep immigrants involved. For over time they too will benefit form the myriad of options that Canadian life provides. Only resilient groups will be able to reconfigure themselves to meet these challenges.
Bibby sees the future of religion in Canada as very much open. He comments (p.11); “It is not written in the stars that Canada will become an increasingly secularized country, where religion is relegated to the past. Conversely, there is no guarantee that the pro-religious segment of the population will remain numerically stable, let alone grow.”
For those who have followed Bibby’s work over many years this book is another interesting chapter in an on going project.