Quebec Studies

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

Quebec Studies (2011), 52, (1), 33–54.


33 Disestablishment of the Church and Voluntary Culture: The Case of Francophone Roman Catholics in Canada Solange Lefebvre Université de Montréal This article reflects on the relationship between religions and civil society in Canada, paying special attention to francophone Roman Catholics. Its pri­ mary 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 Québec. 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 de­ cline of religion, and how Western countries have coped with diverse forms of disestablishment. In this consideration, the work of two authors is par­ ticularly helpful: that of the sociologist José Casanova and that of the the­ ologian 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 Casa­ nova; he elaborates a combined theological and sociological approach, tak­ ing 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 Québec, even if the state-reli­ gion 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 demon­ strates how theorists and theologians are struggling with the challenge of secularization in some countries. Social scientists would benefit from read­ ing public theology because it provides a subtle yet greatly enriching insti­ tutional 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 Ingleharf 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 Québec Studies, Volume 52, Fall 201 I/Winter 2012

Access Token
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

Lefebvre, Solange