Interviews Offer Fodder on Faith Today

Winnipeg Free Press, March 12, 2016 | Go to article overview

Interviews Offer Fodder on Faith Today


Simply put, this is a collection of stories about going to church and not going to church, and about trying to explain why some do and increasingly more do not.

Joel Thiessen is an associate professor of sociology at Ambrose University, a private "Nazarene" (Evangelical) institution in Calgary. Among his areas of expertise is religion in Canada, and he deploys that here by interviewing no fewer than 90 subjects (all in Calgary, a city he thinks well represents the diversity of Canada) between 2008 to 2013.

He classifies these subjects in three categories: active religious affiliates, marginal religious affiliates, and what are called "religious nones" (a clumsy term if ever there were one). There were 30 interviewees in each group. To each he addressed just three questions, all essentially about trying to describe and explain the varying degrees of "religiosity" in 21st-century Canada and attempting to predict future trends in this area.

While this collection of anecdotes becomes quite breezy and even fun, it begins and ends unquestionably as a work of serious scholarship. Thiessen is fully up-to-speed on the sociology of religion, both in a historical and in a current sense. Statistics pepper the book throughout, and heavyweight theorists such as Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim and Peter L. Berger stalk it consistently. Thiessen has done his homework.

Thiessen is very careful to lay out from the outset the theoretical frameworks that underpin his work: secularization theory (that modernity has eased and even assisted a de-sacralizing of Western society) and rational choice theory (about the mechanics and details of "religious decision-making processes"). And he is similarly careful to document how his data-set of interviewees well covers gender, education levels, marital status, age and Christian denominations. Most grandly, he reveals that he plans a "longitudinal study," meaning that he intends to revisit as many of his subjects as he can over the coming decades.

Each of his three groups gets a chapter, which forms the heart of the book. This is prefaced by a lengthy and weighty overview of method and theory, and two final chapters attempting to round up the bevy of anecdotal information. …

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