- God’s Plenty: Religious Diversity in Kingston by William Closson James
Reviewing the scholarly work of others is often a task to be dreaded, but in my case, it is an opportunity to broaden horizons. William Closson James has had a long and distinguished career in Religious Studies, while I am an historian of religions. He presents here a snapshot of religion in Kingston, Ontario in the first decade of the 21st century, with minimal historical context. God’s Plenty: Religious Diversity in Kingston, comes at the end of Dr. James’s professional academic life, but is not, I hope, the last we shall hear from him.
To one trained as an historian, this book seems methodologically odd. The primary tool used was interviews with clergy and other representatives of religions in Kingston, following the format of the Pluralism Project begun by Harvard University professor Diana L. Eck. The model used was intended to draw on anthropological technique but seems rather to be more sociological in its use of questionnaires, rather than utilizing participant observation, which lies at the heart of anthropological methodology. Bolstering the interviews is an eclectic mix of rigorously analyzed census data, popular newspaper journalism, non-scholarly web sites, references to religion in literature, and a scattering of sociological and historical scholarship. For example, on page 140, after a good analysis of census data, evidence from the Canadian Press and the Toronto Star is presented without analysis of the sources used. While no doubt good journalists are employed in both places, and no doubt the web sites also referenced throughout the text may have a degree of scholarly rigor, a utility similar to census data cannot be accorded to these type of sources. Prof. James’s lack of familiarity with the historical literature led him also to ascribe the so-called evangelical quadrilateral to Sam Reimer, who wrote Evangelicals and the Continental Divide: The Conservative Protestant Subculture in Canada and the United States (2003), rather than to David Bebbington, the British historian of evangelicalism who introduced this definition in his 1989 book Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (150). Sociological analysis and theory [End Page 153] is mostly drawn from the work of the University of Ottawa sociologist of religion Peter Beyer and from the thirty-year-old, but still useful studies of Hans Mol at McMaster University. The overall impression of the methodology is one of a degree of muddiness. The extensive bibliography is a good mirror to this criticism as scholarly and non-scholarly secondary sources are mingled with primary data. Separation of the different resources would have improved the book.
As an aid to delving deeper into ethnicity in Canada, God’s Plenty’s usefulness is mostly, though not entirely, implicit rather than explicit. One chapter (6: Ethnic Christianity: Protestant, Eastern Christian, Roman Catholic) deals specifically with ethnicity and one (7: Diversity of Religions: Islam, Bahà’i, Hindu, Sai Baba, Sikh) contains useful thoughts on ethnicity and religion in relation to hegemonic culture. What these chapters reveal, however, despite Prof. James’s best efforts, is that Kingston is less diverse ethnically than many and perhaps most English Canadian cities of comparable size. The author does admit that larger cities are more diverse. In the Christian context, ethnic diversity is represented by second-generation Dutch Reformed who have largely blended into local society and, more obviously, by Chinese Christians who do retain a degree of ethnic separateness. He does not address the possible issue of race here, which seems a major lacuna in this instance. Chapter 7 delves deeply into non-Christian religions—principally Islam—but the demographic elephant in this Kingston room is that even there, numbers relative to the larger population range from very small down to miniscule. He does note that some non-Christian religions in Kingston—for example, Buddhism—are practised mostly by people of European descent. In Chapter 9, an interesting analysis of First Nations faiths is presented in the context of...