Quebec Studies

Immigrant Aid in Québec 1867-1939: Gender, Religion, and Ethnicity

Quebec Studies (2011), 52, (1), 5–32.

Abstract

5 Immigrant Aid in Québec 1867-1939: Gender, Religion, and Ethnicity1 Yolande Cohen Université du Québec à Montréal Referring to the elusive relations between religion and politics, Cohen and Lefebvre (2006) observed in the Québec journal Sociologie et sociétés that the secularization process usually associated with modernity has taken dif­ ferent forms and shapes in different periods and countries. They also ar­ gued that the process of secularization does not mean that religions are receding, but that their relations to public institutions such as the state were taking a different stance, one that should be thoroughly analyzed. More­ over, as Hans Joas (2006) has shown, intense and widespread religious prac­ tice can certainly coexist with modernity as exemplified today in the United States, Canada, and other countries. The question of religious pluralism appears, then, to be crucial to maintaining the essential traits of liberal modernity — that is, freedom of choice and strict separation of church and state, which is different from laicity (laïcité) or secularism. Joas envisions religious pluralism as an essential step to seculariza­ tion, which even permits a reinforcement of individual faith (rather than the contrary, as Peter L. Berger would have contended).2 The institutionalization of religious pluralism is for him a guarantee against the dominance of one religion, and prefigures a just relation between religion and politics that includes the separation of churches from the state, without being re­ stricted to it. But in many parts of the globe, religious pluralism has been opposed or rendered ineffective by the dominance of one exclusive faith which had been eager to impose its sets of beliefs and values on the polity. Thus was Québec society characterized as a clerical nationalist traditional polity until the Quiet Revolution overthrew the dominance of the Catholic Church in all public matters in the 1950s and 60s. In the wake of the many historians (e.g., Dickinson and Young 1994; Linteau 1989) who have challenged this view, we want to show in this arti­ cle that major changes happened before this period, and that the seculari­ zation process was well underway in this period, roughly from the years immediately after Confederation through the 1940s. By focusing on the in­ terplay of faith-based grassroots associations on specific issues, we hope to demonstrate the importance of these achievements and their impact on our understanding of policymaking during this period. Did Québec society, where the Catholic Church was dominant, bene­ fit from and nurture religious pluralism? How did it work out the complex relations between religious minorities, which for the Protestant denomina­ tions were the majority in the rest of Canada, and in a position of economic and political power in Québec? How did religious pluralism conquer pub­ lic space, when most of the institutions were impregnated with an over­ whelming Catholic presence in all the realms of the polity? Québec Studies, Volume 52, Fall 2011/Winter 2012

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Cohen, Yolande