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Reviewed by:
  • For Canada's Sake: Public Religion, Centennial Celebrations, and the Re-making of Canada in the 1960s
  • David B. Marshall
Gary Miedema . For Canada's Sake: Public Religion, Centennial Celebrations, and the Re-making of Canada in the 1960s. McGill-Queen's University Press 2005. 340. $70.00

Before the 1970s, historians of Canadian religious history wrote about church–state relations. That approach has been rejected in favour of social and intellectual questions on the role of religion in Canadian life and more recently how religion has intersected with gender, race, and class. Questions of religion and national identity that engaged the 'national school' have faded. Church–state questions, however, are again attracting the attention of historians. But the focus is being redefined as religion and the public square. In this book, the author looks at 'how public expressions of religion (including Christian and non-Christian faiths) shed light on the subtle relationship between religious and national identities in Canada in the 1960s.' Miedema's book is a return to older questions about religion, the churches, and national identity, but the approach is highly innovative. He analyzes the public expression of religion during Canada's centennial celebrations in 1967 and at Expo 67 held in Montreal.

Miedema situates Canada's centennial in the midst of a convulsive period for religion and the churches in Canada. He follows the recent work of Robert Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion (1988) and Callum Brown, The Death of Christian Britain (2001), both of whom argue that the most profound changes in religion occurred in the era after the Second World War and especially the 1960s. Miedema also picks up from John Webster Grant in his classic 1972 book, The Church in the Canadian Era, where he characterized the 1960s in Canada's churches as a 'decade of ferment.' The secularization debate that has engaged and divided historians of Canada over the last two decades has come down to a question of timing. This new research about the 1960s is convincing, but it does not discount the historians arguing that a long process of secularization has been underway since the Victorian age. The dramatic restructuring of religious life that occurred in the 1960s, so skilfully outlined in this book, is part of an immensely complicated non-linear process, in which the 1960s is a crucial period but not the only one. [End Page 407]

Despite the difficulties faced by Canada's historic mainstream churches in the 1960s, Miedema is emphatic that religion has a definite and important public presence in Canadian society. He draws on a detailed analysis of the ceremonies during the centennial year, and especially the centennial hymns and prayers, in order to demonstrate this point. He not only analyzes the content of the hymns and prayers but also provides a fine description of the events in which these 'texts' of civil religion were proclaimed. Nevertheless, religion in Canada was no longer uncontested. The public square was becoming crowded with a growing and well-organized conservative evangelical movement and with an increasingly diverse number of non-Christian religions. Attempts to create an ecumenical movement around the planning of a singular religious pavilion at Expo 67 failed. In the end, there were three pavilions at Expo 67: the Christian Pavilion, Sermons from Science sponsored by the evangelical movement, and the Pavilion of Judaism, which reflected the more complicated and contested multi-faith landscape of modern Canada. Miedema's superb descriptions of each pavilion provides the reader with a detailed, 'you are there' feeling. Miedema 'walks' the reader through each pavilion from the outside surroundings through the doors and then past the displays and performances. This detailed descriptive analysis is a model of how historians should 'read' public celebrations and material culture.

No church or religious tradition was dominant by the 1960s. According to the census, the category 'no religion' was the nation's fastest growing religion. Canada could no longer be assumed to be a Christian country; it was entering the post-Christian age. The contested nature of religion in Canadian society was also experienced within the traditional or historic mainstream churches. Miedema's analysis suggests that the historic Canadian churches...


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pp. 407-408
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