Brock University

Sociology of Religion II: Difference, Diversity and Institutions

This session presents a series of case studies that examine how individual or religious difference and diversity are expressed within a variety of contemporary North American institutions. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches are used to illuminate such issues in settings such as universities, churches, and the mass media.

Session Organizer: Dana Sawchuk, Wilfrid Laurier University,


"Playing the Part" - Lived experiences of Female Pastors in the Christian Church

Kathleen Steeves, McMaster University,

The entrance of women into leadership and clergy positions within the evangelical Christian church may be one of the most salient transformations in religion in the 20th century.  A significant body of literature exists that focuses on understanding this inequality, its changing shape and its implications for the institution of religion today.  However, it is also becoming important to consider, at an interactional level, how women are experiencing, negotiating and transforming the pastoral role.  This paper presents a qualitative analysis of women’s experiences in positions of leadership within the Christian church in central Canada.  Goffman’s theory of dramaturgy is used to discuss women’s front and backstage negotiations as they balance the sometimes conflictual “three in one” role set of pastor, woman, and mother/care giver.


Representations of Children’s Mental Health Issues in the Roman Catholic Church

Dana Sawchuk, Wilfrid Laurier University, , Juanne Clarke, Wilfrid Laurier University,

Despite a dramatic increase in the number of children diagnosed with mental health issues in recent years, and the corresponding increase in attention paid to how such issues have been represented in mainstream culture, little research has been done on how these issues have been framed in specifically religious circles.  This paper thus first examines how children’s mental health issues, and specifically autism, are represented in the documents of the Catholic hierarchy. We then move to examine how the same issues are represented in the popular Catholic media (drawing from six high circulating North American Catholic magazines and newspapers).  The nature and implications of two competing themes that can be found in these literatures – autism as a tragedy and autism as hope (i.e., autism as potentially linked to deeper spiritual awareness or redemption) – are explored.



Subtle Sedimentations and Religious Diversity Debates: Sitcoms and the Sociology of Religion

David Feltmate, Auburn University at Montgomery,

Is entertainment television relevant to discussions of religious diversity in the modern world? In this paper I will use Berger and Luckmann’s sociology of knowledge to argue that the way that three American sitcoms—The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy—present religious diversity and evaluate different traditions is important to scholars who study religion in the modern world. I will demonstrate how each program frames moral issues, religious claims’ validity, and religion’s social merits and demonstrate how these presentations are entrenched in larger debates about religion’s place in the modern world. I will also demonstrate how this information is conveyed in ways that audiences can easily understand, even if they are not particularly subtle or nuanced. I conclude with a discussion of why sociologists should pay attention to fictional mass-mediated representations of religion and include this as part of mainstream sociology of religion alongside traditional qualitative and quantitative approaches.


How Unreligious are the Religious 'Nones'? Religious Dynamics of the Unaffiliated in Canada and the West.

Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme, University of Oxford,

Increasing rates of religious non-affiliation have been a fundamental mutation characterizing Canada's religious landscape since the 1970s. Such increases, present across the Western world, have received much attention from researchers, and sparked much debate. Two competing frameworks identify differing mechanisms behind the rise in individuals declaring having no religion. Secularization theories see this trend as a sign of a decline of all things religious. By contrast, individualization theories argue that it is only institutional indicators of religion that are on the decline, and that we are now entering an age dominated by individually constructed belief systems and personal spiritual practices. Yet, little systematic empirical testing has been done on this subject, especially in the Canadian context. How religious are the unaffiliated? Although not identifying with a religious institution, do these individuals still assign importance to beliefs and religious practices? Do more personal indicators of religiosity decline as non-affiliation grows? Using single- and multi-level regression techniques with recent data from the Canadian GSS and the ISSP, we address these questions regarding religiosity levels among the unaffilited by means of a novel comparison between Canadian provinces as well as between a number of Western nations.


Taking Education at Face Value: Examining Ontario University Policies on Issuing Student Identification Photos of Niqab-wearing Women

Samantha Feder, University of Ottawa,

Current debates about the presence of the niqab in Canada are often associated with the Quebec government’s proposed Charter of Values, which seeks to restrict ‘ostentatious religious signs’ in the public sector. However, it is also important to consider how other state and non-state actors have responded to full-face veils. This paper examines Ontario university policies on issuing student identification card photos of niqab-wearing women. Given that student cards are required to obtain access to a number of university services, they offer an interesting way to study how university administrators and niqab-wearing women negotiate full-face veils in public spaces. Working across theoretical frameworks of critical race feminism and political theory, this paper aims to broaden discussions about full-face veils and the visibility of the face in Canadian public institutions.


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