Academic journal article Quebec Studies

Disestablishment of the Church and Voluntary Culture: The Case of Francophone Roman Catholics in Canada

Academic journal article Quebec Studies

Disestablishment of the Church and Voluntary Culture: The Case of Francophone Roman Catholics in Canada

Article excerpt

This article reflects on the relationship between religions and civil society in Canada, paying special attention to francophone Roman Catholics. Its primary purpose is to reflect on the process of disestablishment of the Catholic Church. The article draws upon several reports from Statistics Canada and from qualitative studies to describe some aspects of the Canadian religious landscape. After an overview, it focuses on francophone Roman Catholics in Canada and specifically in Quebec. The exploration encourages a more detailed analysis of Canadian religious and social structures in relation to the secularization discussion, both in sociology and theology.

Theoretically, the contribution of this article is to consider sociological as well as Christian theological reflections that address the institutional decline of religion, and how Western countries have coped with diverse forms of disestablishment. In this consideration, the work of two authors is particularly helpful: that of the sociologist Jose Casanova and that of the theologian David Fergusson. (1) Fergusson is one representative of the field called "public theology." He reflects on the relation between church, state, and civil society, and inevitably addresses issues of disestablishment. Even if he does not admit it explicitly, Fergusson is obviously influenced by Casanova; he elaborates a combined theological and sociological approach, taking into account differentiation among diverse social spheres and paying particular attention to civil society. His project, contextualized in England and Scotland, is quite similar to my project in Quebec, even if the state-religion relationship is quite different. At the end of his book, he argues in favor of disestablishment in the two countries. Casanova also contributes to an understanding of the conditions of a "relevant" disestablishment.

The main contribution of this synthesis is to bring together social theory and public theology as a frame for empirical research. It demonstrates how theorists and theologians are struggling with the challenge of secularization in some countries. Social scientists would benefit from reading public theology because it provides a subtle yet greatly enriching institutional analysis of the diverse forms of secularization. Our contribution also examines "voluntary culture," one of the key elements of Casanova's thesis, which is not sufficiently highlighted by commentators on it. Viewing data on francophone Roman Catholics in this theoretical framework, I came to the conviction that a strong voluntary culture is a key factor in religious dynamism. Norris and Inglehart's work is certainly not alien to this, and it will be brought up for discussion at the end of the analysis. (2)

The second section provides a social and historical overview of the development of diverse francophone Roman Catholic minorities across Canada. It offers original, in-depth analysis of the available Canadian statistics, and takes into consideration as well the distinction between mother tongue and official language as the "visible minority" factor. It illuminates the large contribution of immigrants speaking French in this context. The third part concentrates on Quebec as a case study, seeking to understand the secularization and disestablishment processes. In the third section, some other important theories are mentioned to illustrate the complexity of the current discussion on secularization.

Empirically, most of the data in this study are drawn from secondary sources, since statistics and qualitative data available in Canada are limited. Though the paper reports few important research results, it does offer an original picture of the religious landscape in Canada, and more specifically in Quebec. In this regard, its contribution is twofold: it traces a picture of the French Roman Catholics in Quebec and makes a few comparisons with the Francophones outside Quebec, and it then situates these data within the framework of theories of public religion and theology. …

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