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John G. Stackhouse, Jr

The Renaissance of Religion in Canada

They're not dropping out. They're dropping in.

They aren't dropping out. They're dropping in."

No, not Marshall McLuhan, though it mimics one of his gnomic sayings. This is another Canadian, sociologist and pollster Reginald Bibby, neatly summing up the powerful challenge his work poses to at least two important theories of contemporary religion in North America. This challenge, drawing on more than two decades of research, is the central thrust of Bibby's new book, Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada.

The "Bibby thesis" joins the sociological throng now dispensing with the idea that secularization necessarily accompanies modernity, sweeping away all traditional religion. (Even Peter Berger, among the foremost of his generation's prophets of secularization, has tendered a well-publicized recantation.) But Bibby also challenges Rodney Stark's influential account of religious adherence and identity in North America, which portrays a wide-open "marketplace" of religious options competing for the allegiance of individuals disembedded from traditional loyalties.

Since the mid-1970s, Bibby has conducted polls of increasing size and complexity across Canada from his base at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. The data show, he avers, that the Canadian religious marketplace is not nearly as open as Stark perceives it to be. Despite the much-publicized growth of New Religious Movements and the oft-remarked decline of mainline Christianity, Bibby finds simply this: Most Canadians believe in God in some distinctly Christian sense; most Canadians still call themselves Christians; and most Canadians continue to identify themselves with the particular Christian denomination of their parents.

Yes, church attendance in Canada has declined precipitously in just a generation or two. In the years following World War II, far more Canadians per capita (more than 60 percent) told pollsters that they were attending church weekly than did Americans (about 40 percent). Nowadays, the Canadian number has dropped to about ...

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