Households of Faith: Family, Gender, and Community in Canada, 1760-1969. (Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus)

Article excerpt

Nancy Christie, ed. Households of Faith: Family, Gender, and Community in Canada, 1760-1969. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002, 381 pp.

This collection of essays addresses the changing relationships among family, community, and church (Protestant and Roman Catholic) over the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. The editor, in her substantial introduction and conclusion, sees the volume as part of on-going historical scholarship that corrects an emphasis in women's history on the development of separate spheres in the nineteenth century, with men disassociated from the domestic sphere. Rather, she notes, families in this period must be seen as characterized by patriarchal domesticity, with the patriarch providing a central role in the family, as "the principal conduit between family, church, and community." (p. 10) Both church and state saw the male family head as essential to development of an ordered and Christian society until well into the twentieth century.

There are eleven essays included in the collection, dealing with a variety of settings and ethnic groups. Under the section "The Age of Patriarchy," Ollivier Hubert describes the importance of mass as a communal and family activity in rural Quebec well into the nineteenth century, despite theological changes that emphasized the individual's private relationship to faith. J.I. Little outlines the views on marriage and parenthood of the Reverend James Reid, a Quebec Anglican cleric of the early 1800s, who saw the father's active moral authority in the family as essential to producing properly socialized children.

The second section is "Popular Religion and Family Strategies." Hannah Lane looks at Protestant Church memberships in nineteenth century St Stephen, New Brunswick. She finds that memberships changed frequently and that these changes usually represented family based strategies. Christine Hudon traces the histories of groups of French-Canadian Protestants in Quebec between 1850 and 1901. Clusters of Francophone Protestants tended to be interrelated families, illustrating the importance of the family in the process of conversion. But during the same period, chains of related families followed each other into the Eastern Townships, regardless of Protestant or Catholic status, indicating that conversion to Protestantism did not sever ties to kin who remained Catholic. The third essay, by Susan Neylan, examines the conflicting missionary and Tsimshian interpretations of family norms and of what conversion to Christianity really meant, in the 1857-1896 period. The Tsimshian were not simply colonized by Christianisat ion, but rather incorporated and interpreted Christianity within their own cultural perspective.

"Gender, Social Change, and the Language of Domesticity," which includes four essays, more directly addresses the issues described in the editor's introduction. The essays all illustrate the widespread importance of religious affiliation in eras often characterized by historians as increasingly secularised. They also show women's participation in the public sphere through church organizations. Enrico Cumbo shows that the meaning of religiosity among male and female southern Italian immigrants of 1900-1940 was quite different. …