Writing the History of Canadian Christianity: A Retrospect and Prospect of the Anglophone Scene

By Clarke, Brian | Historical Studies, Annual 1997 | Go to article overview

Writing the History of Canadian Christianity: A Retrospect and Prospect of the Anglophone Scene


Clarke, Brian, Historical Studies


In order to understand where we are collectively as a discipline, we must first look at where we have been. Only after we have figured where we have been and how we got from there to where we are now will we be in position to appreciate what our discipline is currently up to. Over the past generation, the history of Canadian Christianity in anglophone circles has gone through a number of significant phases, which taken together form the trajectory that has led us to where we are as field today. I would like to trace this trajectory by examining the four major works of synthesis that have appeared during the past thirty years, beginning with the trilogy, A History of the Christian Church in Canada by H.H. Walsh, John Moir, and John Webster Grant that appeared between 1966 and 1972, followed by Robert T. Handy's A History of the Churches in the United States and Canada, published in 1977, and wrapping up with the 1990 survey edited by the late George Rawlyk, The Canadian Protestant Experience, and Mark Noll's A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, which came out in 1992. (1)

One way to identify historians' basic assumptions is to closely examine what topics they choose to concentrate on, along with the reasons they offer in favour of that choice. In the case of Walsh/Moir/Grant trilogy two topics stand out. The first of these topics is announced in three key words in the trilogy's general title, The Christian Church. (2) The authors' chosen subject was the Church, with a capital "C," not as some historians would have it churches, denominations, or Christianity per se. In many respects, using the term "Church" as a central organizing concept marked a distinct advance: it was inclusive in scope and ecumenical in spirit. Moreover, the term served to capture a salient characteristic of Canadian church history. As Walsh argued, the Canadian churches, unlike their American counterparts, looked "beyond denominationalism as the final destiny of the church" to that of ecumenism. (3) From this perspective, then, the primary feature of denominationalism is that it foments division and conflict both religious and social.

This brings me to the second central topic in the Walsh/Moir/Grant trilogy: the churches' place in and their contribution to the country's national development. (4) Three questions loomed especially large in this regard: what was distinctively Canadian about Christianity in this country? how did the churches' campaigns to Christianize Canadian society contribute to the country's cultural dualism? and, how can the study of the churches' role in Canadian society unlock that enigma known as the Canadian identity?

There is no question that A History of the Christian Church in Canada represents historical scholarship at its best. Supplementing the rather limited secondary literature that was then available, the authors extensively mined archival resources to produce the most comprehensive historical survey of Christianity in Canada to date, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future. Yet despite its high standard of scholarship, the Walsh/Moir/Grant trilogy made little impression upon the Canadian historical profession as a whole. By and large, the profession ignored religion at the time and has continued to do so. Nor has the trilogy's perspective had as much influence as one would expect upon the many specialized studies that have appeared since its release in 1972, the volumes in the McGill-Queen's Studies in the History of Religion being a case in point. The authors of these studies have no doubt frequently consulted the volumes by Walsh, Moir, and Grant, but it is nevertheless the case that, for reasons that I will explore later on in this essay, the vast majority of these studies are concerned with very different themes and issues.

The Walsh/Moir/Grant trilogy has not received the critical acclaim it deserves in this country. But, in a curious twist of fortune, American historians of Christianity have given it a warm reception.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Writing the History of Canadian Christianity: A Retrospect and Prospect of the Anglophone Scene
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.