Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Yesterday I showed some overall statistics for religions in the world, and more focussed numbers for Judaism to a class at the University of Guelph/Humber.  I made the usual cautions about the reliability of statistics and their use as only one tool in an historian's toolkit.  I then mentioned that stats are useful at least to give you broad indications of the place of religion in the world.  One statistic that stood out for me at the world wide level was for those with no affiliation - roughly 16% - which is about the same as appeared on Canada's 2001 census [the last reliable census data for religion in Canada BTW, perhaps forever....], and about the same proportion as social scientific data can winnow from surveys of Americans.  The statistic surprised me as I know from a recent article I read that there is a resurgence of religion in China, and other places where atheism had been imposed for some time.

I suppose it depends on  how one defines that difficult word, 'religion'.  Does it refer to the institutional aspect only?  Or does it refer primarily to that amorphous concept called faith?  Or both?  The study in Rethinking Secularism [edited by Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer and Jonathan VanAntwerpen] by Richard Madsen, Secularism, Religious Change, and Social Conflict in Asia reports that in Asia, religion was traditionally a matter of ritual that bound families and communities together and did not necessarily need belief in the western understanding of religion.  That is, an individual who willingly took part in religious rituals - Buddhist, Taoist, or even Christian, in China did not necessarily accept all or even any of the doctrinal bases of these faiths.  The individual had a cultural acceptance of the need for communal ritual to bind society, and usually, local society/community together.  There may well be a poignant faith in an unseen order, but there may also be only a residual belief in this, or even none whatsoever.

This is something I must think more about, as it might apply more to the western world than I would have thought - at least to the West before the Protestant Reformation.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Prince Charles, champion of the holistic approach to life

Seeing this, I began to realize that the great juggernaut of industrialization relies upon a somewhat aberrant kind of language–a man-made one–which articulates a world view that ignores Nature’s grammar. Much of the syntax of this synthetic language is out of synchrony with Nature’s patterns and proportions and this is why it so often jars with the language of Nature. This is why so many Modernist buildings don’t feel ‘right’ to so many people, even though they may find them clever; or perhaps why we feel uncomfortable with factory farming, even though it makes economic sense because it supplies such a lot of food at such low prices; or why we feel something is missing from a form of medicine that treats the body like a machine and does not accommodate the needs of the mind or the spirit.
I find, by contrast, that if people are encouraged to immerse themselves in Nature’s grammar and geometry–discovering how it works, how it controls life on Earth, and how humanity has expressed it in so many great works of art and architecture–they are often led to acquire some remarkably deep philosophical insights into the meaning and purpose of Nature and into what it means to be aware and alive in this extraordinary Universe. This is particularly so in young people and the results of such immersion are as heartening as they are surprising.
The Prince argues that the modern rejection of the spiritual dimension of the universe led directly to the confrontation of fundamentalist secularism (materialist, atheist) with fundamentalist forms of religion (puritanical, literal). “Science can tell us how things work, but it is not equipped to tell us what they mean. That is the domain of philosophy and religion and spirituality.” But the religion we need has to be authentic, not an ideological substitute for the real thing. We need to get beyond those forms of tradition that have become empty shells or been corrupted by “mechanistic thinking.”

Prince Charles, as quoted by Stratford Caldecott in Prince Charles: Imaginative Conservative

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Religion Statistics and the Canadian Census

IIn 2010, the federal government decided to remove a whole series of statistical data from the legally required collection of census data in Canada. Since the first national census in 1871, Canadians have been asked to state their religion on the national census.  This is an obviously useful tool for historians of religion as well as for a host of other scholars and others.  In recent years the census was divided into two forms: a short form asking basic demographic questions every five years and a long form census sent using random sampling techniques to roughly 19% of the population.  Random sampling - an effective technique used in a sophisticated fashion in the social sciences and Humanities - was abandoned in the 2011 census conducted in May of that year.  While the National Households Survey, the questionnaire designed to replace the mandatory long form census, was sent to a variety of households, it is entirely voluntary.  This renders it useless, albeit interesting, to scholars.

As the chief statistician of Canada Munir Sheikh, said briefly and to the point after his resignation in protest over the voluntary nature of the NHS in 2010:

 “I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion ... the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census ... It cannot.”