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Les nouveaux mouvements religieux au Canada

New religious movements – also commonly referred to as new religions, emerging religions, or alternative religions – are religions that originated or were imported to North America in the relatively recent past, and thus are not part of established major religious traditions (including, in the North American context, Christianity). In Canada and the United States alike, while several new movements have existed since at least the 19th century, their numbers increased after the Second World War in a context of social restructuring and loss of influence by traditional religious authorities. Examples include the Church of Scientology, Hare Krishna, the Unification Church, Eckankar and Christian Science. Certain groups, such as the Army of Mary, a group excommunicated by the Catholic Church in 2007, embody a break with secular institutions, varying in degree by movement. Generally speaking, it is difficult to estimate the number of new active religious movements, as well as to determine the number, even approximate, of members of each of these movements, in particular because the spokespersons in these groups tend to paint an exaggerated picture of their communities’ demography, but also because several groups have simply not been recorded. The most significant groups in demographic terms are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church), with more than 193,000 members in Canada, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which have more than 113,000 Canadian members.

Some of these new religious movements are known on Canadian soil as a result of various public controversies. For example, the Raelian movement was made famous by its leader’s claims that he had had contacts with aliens, and because of the importance that its belief system places on human cloning. The Order of the Solar Temple also attracted attention when several of its members participated in a collective suicide in the 1990s. Lastly, in the municipality of Bountiful, British Columbia, a group of fundamentalist Mormons has been making headlines since the 1980s for illegally engaging in polygamy.

Relationships with society and tensions

Thus, tensions often build up between new religious movements and society as a result of beliefs and practices perceived by some as incompatible with the values shared across the population. Beliefs and practices pertaining to gender relations, family structure, marriage, child education and sexuality are frequently implicated in the controversies surrounding these alternative religions. In order to combat what they saw as a threat, both to the common good and members of these groups, a number of so-called “anti-sect” movements have formed in Canada (one of the most prominent is Info-sectes/Info-cult, founded in 1980).

The processes for gaining State approval for newly-created religious groups in Canada are minimal : they can include, for example, an application for recognition as a non-profit legal entity with religious purposes, or for ownership and use of a place of worship, a status which notably carries certain tax benefits. These processes do not interfere with the groups’ internal doctrines and practices, unless these contravene common laws.

See also the 2017 Current debate : "Nouveaux mouvements religieux : cas légaux contemporains et historiques".

D 20 juin 2017    AMathilde Vanasse-Pelletier

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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