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The Canadian Religious Landscape

The Canadian Religious Landscape

Canada is often described as somewhere between the US and Europe when it comes to its religious landscape. Religiosity and spirituality indicators (such as service attendance and beliefs in the transcendent) are not as high among the Canadian population as in the rest of North America, but have also not shown the same intensity of decline as in many European nations. This being said, over the last few decades the country has been characterised by many of the same religious trends as seen in most other Western societies.

Pluralisation

First, there has been a diversification of the Canadian religious landscape, both within Christianity and with many growing non-Christian faiths. Although still characterised by an estimated 53% Christian majority, affiliates of non-Judeo-Christian religions now represent 12% of the total population (2021 Census) — compared with 3% in 1971. Actively practising a religion is also becoming more of an immigrant phenomenon: in 2020, an estimated 46% of monthly or more frequent religious service attenders were originally born outside of Canada, compared with 30% of the general population being born outside of the country (General Social Survey 2020).

Decline in practice and belonging

Parallel to this religious pluralisation, there has also been a significant decline in the overall practice of and identification with organized religion. Individuals attending religious services at least once a month (either online or in person) reached an estimated low of 19% of the total population in 2020 (GSS 2020). Although those who say they have no religion still form a minority at an estimated 35% (2021 Census), their share of the population has grown from 4% since the 1971 Census. This religious “none” phenomenon is especially present among younger generations: among those aged 15-34 in 2020 for example, 51% said they had no religion (GSS 2020). Although also seeing some decline, there still remains a relatively large proportion of Canadians who believe in God or a higher power: an estimated 59% of adult Canadians say they believe in God (World Values Survey 2020).

Regional diversity

What distinguishes Canada most from other countries when it comes to religion and spirituality is perhaps its strong regional variations from east to west to north. Specific historical experiences and distinct regional cultures have combined to endow Canada not with one religious landscape as such, but with many. No real surprise in a country over 40 times the landmass of the UK, but with only 57% of her population size. To give one example among many, the Catholic-majority province of Quebec (54% Catholic affiliation, 2021 Census), characterised by extremely low rates of regular church practice (11% monthly or more frequent attendance, GSS 2020), contrasts with the more polarised British Columbian landscape marked by a very high rate of religious nones (52%, 2021 Census), but also relatively high rates of regular practice among its remaining religious (31% of monthly or more frequent attendance among affiliates, GSS 2020).

All graphics and tables by Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme

Figure 1: Religious affiliation in Canada (including territories), 2021

Source: 2021 Census, Statistics Canada.

Figure 2: Individual religiosity/spirituality indicators in Canada (excluding territories), 2020.

Source: 2020 General Social Survey, Statistics Canada.

Figure 3: Rates of monthly or more frequent religious service attendance and rates of no religious affiliation, Canada (excluding territories), 1985-2020.

Source: 1985-2020 General Social Surveys, Statistics Canada.

Table 1: Religious affiliation, by Canadian regions (%), 2021

Atlantic Quebec Ontario Prairies BC Northern territories Canada overail
No religion 29.9 27.3 31.6 38.9 52.1 41.9 34.6
Catholic 32.2 53.8 26.0 20.9 12.0 23.0 29.9
United Church 7.7 0.2 4.1 4.7 2.6 1.7 3.3
Anglican 9.4 0.7 3.7 2.7 2.8 16.8 3.1
Lutheran 0.3 0.1 0.8 2.3 0.9 0.5 0.9
Presbyterian 1.3 0.1 1.4 0.5 0.6 0.2 0.8
Baptist 4.6 0.4 1.2 1.1 1.2 1.2 1.2
Pentecostal 2.2 0.5 1.2 1.4 0.8 2.1 1.1
Orthodox Christian 0.3 1.8 2.4 1.4 0.9 0.3 1.7
Other christian 9.0 7.3 11.2 15.7 12.5 8.3 11.2
Muslim 1.3 5.1 6.7 3.9 2.6 0.9 4.9
Jewish 0.2 1.0 1.4 0.4 0.5 0.1 0.9
Hindu 0.6 0.6 4.1 1.7 1.7 0.4 2.3
Sikh 0.4 0.3 2.1 2.2 5.9 0.4 2.1
Bouddhist 0.2 0.6 1.2 0.8 1.7 0.5 1.0
Indigenous spiritualities 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.7 0.2 0.7 0.2
Other non-Christian religions 0.52 0.3 0.6 0.7 1.0 0.9 0.6
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100 100

Source: Census 2021, Statistique Canada.

Table 2: Frequency of religious service attendance, by Canadian region (%), 2020

Atlantic Quebec Ontario Prairies BC Canada overail
At least once a week 13 6 15 15 11 12
At least once a month 6 5 7 7 6 6
At least once a year 22 20 23 22 17 22
Not at all 59 69 55 56 66 60
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100

Source: 2020 General Social Survey, Statistics Canada.

Sources:
- World Values Survey, 2020, 7th wave.
- General Social Survey (GSS), 1985-2020 [Canada]: Cycles 1-35, public-use microdata files (PUMF); Statistics Canada.
- Census of the population, 1971 and 2021 [Canada]: Statistics Canada.

D 17 January 2023    ASarah Wilkins-Laflamme

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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