Strand 1 – Religious Identity

How are religious identities socially constructed?

Strand 1 focuses on the social and cultural context in which people, institutions, and narratives conceptualize and construct religious identities. It critically assesses how religion is understood, shaped, and deployed as a category of identity within various discursive contexts such as the media, education, scientific research environments, and religious groups themselves.

Please find below the list of Strand 1 team members. Click on the links in order to read their biographies and research statements. Click here to read about the projects carried out by the Strand 1 team members.


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Peter Beyer (Co-investigator)

University of Ottawa
Professor, Department of Classics and Religious Studies

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Solange Lefebvre (Co-investigator)

Université de Montréal
Full Professor, Faculté de théologie et de sciences des religions
Chair for the Management of Cultural and Religious Diversity

Peter Beyer is professor of religious studies at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada. He received his PhD in 1981 from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, and was a postdoctoral fellow in the Département des sciences religieuses at the Université du Québec à Montréal from 1981-1983. He held various positions in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto from 1983 to 1995, taking his current position in 1995. He served as chair of the Department of Classics & Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa from 1996-2004. He has served on the editorial board of various academic journals and is currently co-editing, with Lori Beaman, the International Studies in Religion and Society Series published by Brill. He has held numerous offices within a number of professional associations, including president of the Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion (2003-2006), the Canadian Society of the Study of Religion (2006-2008), the Association for the Sociology of Religion (2010-2011), and the International Society for the Sociology of Religion (2011-2015). Major publications include Religion and Globalization (Sage, 1994), Religion in the Process of Globalization (edited, Ergon, 2001), Religions in a Global Society (Routledge, 2006), Religion, Globalization and Culture, and Religious Diversity in Canada (both edited with Lori Beaman, Brill, 2007 & 2008), Religion in the Context of Globalization (Routledge, 2013), and Growing Up Canadian: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists (edited with Rubina Ramji, co-authored with Nancy Nason-Clark, Lori Beaman, and others, McGill-Queen’s, 2013).

Since 2001, Peter Beyer has been conducting a series of collaborative research projects on religious diversity in Canada, with special focus on the religion of post 1960s immigrants and their second generation. Between 2001 and 2004, he led a project that analyzed religious diversity in Canada on the basis of Canadian census data from 1971 to 2001. On the basis of questions raised by the results of this research, he then led a team of researchers (including Beaman, Nason-Clark, and Ramji from the Religion and Diversity Project team) from 20042008 on a project that explored the religious expression of second and 1.5 generation young Canadian adults from Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist backgrounds to see how they were or were not reconstructing the religions of their heritages in Canada. He then lead another team of researchers (this time including Beaman, Lefebvre, Nason-Clark, Ramji, and Wilkinson from the RDP team) on a similar project that explores the religious expression and attitudes to religious diversity and multiculturalism in Canada of young adults from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds in six Canadian cities from coast to coast, from Vancouver, BC to Sydney, NS. As his publications indicate, Peter Beyer has a longstanding research interest in questions concerning the relations between religion and globalization. His 1994, 2006, and 2013 volumes are contributions to the theoretical understanding of those relationships, as are numerous other publications over the past 20 years. The empirical research projects of the past 12 years are in part attempts to explore and test some of the theoretical questions that emerge from this work. For the immediate future, Beyer is extending the previous empirical and theoretical work in two directions. One project, in collaboration with researchers both within and beyond the Religious Diversity Project team, is undertaking longitudinal study of participants from the previous projects, and examining the larger question of religious identity formation in Canada while developing a web-based survey for measuring religious identity among a diversity of populations. The other is attempting to develop the theory of religion and globalization in the direction of understanding current global transformations of the structural forms that religion is taking as aspects of a post-Westphalian global circumstance.

Solange Lefebvre became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. She is a Professor in the Faculty of Théologie et de sciences des religions at the University of Montréal where she holds the Research Chair in Religion, Culture and Society. Her areas of interest include religion in the public sphere, religion and politics, and laïcité and secularisation. Lefebvre’s publications include Cultures et spiritualités des jeunes (Bellarmin, 2008); the following edited volumes: Religion in the Public Sphere: Canadian Case Studies (University of Toronto Press, 2014), Living with Diversity (International Journal of Theology. Concilium 2014/1), Le programme d’éthique et culture religieuse : De l’exigeante conciliation entre le soi, l’autre et le nous (Presses de l’Université Laval, 2012), Les religions sur la scène mondiale (Presses de l’Université Laval, 2010); nearly 50 book chapters and 60 journal articles.


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Paul W.R. Bowlby (Co-investigator)

Saint Mary’s University
Professor and Chairperson, Department of Religious Studies

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Paul Bramadat (Co-investigator)

University of Victoria
Director, Centre for Studies in Religion and Society
Associate Professor, Department of History and the Religious Studies Program

Dr. Bowlby was chair of the Religious Studies department for thirty-one years and has worked extensively to build both the department and his field of study. As might be expected in a small department he taught widely in the areas of the religious traditions of both India, China and Japan, Theory and Methods, and thematic courses, such as religion and violence, religion and story, religion and art in Asia. Prior to his election as President of the Canadian Society for the Study of Religion, he wrote Religious Studies in Atlantic Canada: A State-of-the-Art Review published in 2001. The book was one of five volumes, published by the Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion that surveyed the field nationally in Canada. Most recently he has encouraged the development of the study of religious diversity by writing a new chapter “Sikhism: Becoming a World Religion” in the Canadian edition of World Religions Today, Canadian Edition (Oxford University Press). With the affiliation of the Atlantic School of Theology with Saint Mary’s University in 2002 the Religious Studies Department now offers a joint M.A. in Theology and Religious Studies. Dr. Bowlby retired in 2013 after 40 years of university teaching and will be continuing his research on religious diversity issues both locally and nationally in his capacity as Professor Emeritus in Religious Studies at Saint Mary’s University.

Dr. Bowlby’s current research is on the new religious diversity primarily in Halifax and Atlantic Canada. In addition to a broad interest in the socio-political and cultural aspects of the new religious diversity, Dr. Bowlby is currently renewing a project begun with Dr. Nancie Erhard on the Religious Diversity in Halifax six years ago. This project is based upon a research project funded several years ago Canadian Heritage multiculturalism Canada to study the new religious diversity in Halifax Regional Municipality. The Halifax project has already developed historical profiles of the religious institutions founded in Halifax after 1960; developed resources for social studies and world religions courses in Nova Scotia schools and look in particular at the ways in which religious communities support new immigrants as they settle–and hopefully stay –in Nova Scotia. The new research will provide the historical context and framework for the new religious traditions in Halifax with a focus on the development of religious institutions and sacred spaces by immigrant groups dating from the city’s founding. Dr. Bowlby will continue his supervisory work with M.A. students in the Theology and Religious Studies programme offered by the Atlantic School of Theology and the Religious Studies Department of Saint Mary’s University.

Paul Bramadat received his BA in religious studies from the University of Winnipeg (1990), his MA in religion and culture from McGill University (1993) and his PhD in religious studies from McMaster University (1998). In addition to directing the CSRS since 2008, Paul holds teaching appointments in the Department of History and the Religious Studies Program at the University of Victoria. During 2011-2012 served as the director of the Religious Studies Program. He taught in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Winnipeg from 1998 until 2008. His first book, The Church on the World’s Turf (Oxford 2000), examined the ways religious sub-cultures can thrive in largely secular environments. His most recent book is Spirituality in Hospice Palliative Care (SUNY 2013), co-edited with Kelli Stajduhar and Harold Coward, before which he co-edited International Migration and the Governance of Religious Diversity (McGill-Queen’s University Press 2009) with German sociologist Matthias Koenig. He has published broadly on issues related to ethnic diversity in Canada, the two most relevant publications being Religion and Ethnicity in Canada (Pearson 2005; University of Toronto Press 2009), and Christianity and Ethnicity in Canada (University of Toronto 2008). His articles have appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Ethnicities, Canadian Ethnic Studies, Studies in Religion, Ethnologies, and the Journal of International Migration and Integration, as well as magazines such as Canadian Diversity, The Ecumenist and Canadian Issues. He has just completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded project on postcolonial religious narratives among Indo-Caribbean Canadian Christians. As well, he has been involved in collaborative policy relevant research and the management of major research projects. In particular, for over a decade he was an active member of the Metropolis Project, an international and national network for comparative public policy research on migration, diversity and immigrant integration in urban centres. He is often commissioned by federal government departments and agencies such as Citizenship and Immigration, Canadian Heritage, the Metropolis Project and Public Safety Canada to lecture and write about the implications of religious diversity for Canadian policy makers interested in immigration, inclusion and security. As well, he spoke recently about secularism and religion in the Breakfast on the Hill series on Parliament Hill and about religious minorities and social inclusion at the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.

I am interested in the intersections between secularism, religious radicalization, securitization, post-colonialism, and religious identity in contemporary Canada. A great many of my research interests revolve around emerging understandings of religious, political and ethnic identity in rapidly evolving liberal democratic societies. At present, I am involved in several research projects. The Role of Religiously Affiliated Settlement Agencies (RASA) in BC: Past, Present, and Future: This project, funded by Metropolis British Columbia, explores the contributions of RASA to Canadian society. Among other questions, I address: how much labour do such groups perform for the state?; how might these functions be influenced by (secularizing) changes both within settlement agencies and federal and provincial governments? This BC-based pilot project will serve as the basis for a much larger national and international comparative project which draws other locales as well as the recipients of RASA services into the analysis. An article based on the findings of this study will appear in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Religious Radicalization and Securitization in Canada and Beyond: This CSRS-based project is funded by Public Safety Canada and Defence Research and Development Canada; the principal investigators are Lorne Dawson and myself. Our team of scholars has addressed the relationship between the forces of radicalization (within particular minority religious groups in Canada) and securitization (by the state and society). The book will be published through the University of Toronto Press. The Engagement of Religious Diversity in India, China and Canada. This CSRS-based project is funded by SSHRC and is based on an international symposium on the way these three states and societies respond to the challenges and opportunities of religious diversity. The co-editor is Rinku Lamba, an Indian political scientist. I am also interested in the impact of secularization on religiously affiliated volunteer activities in Canada. I am the principal investigator of a national team interested in the social and economic value of the contributions religious groups make to Canadian society through the provision of local social services, the effects on such contributions of changes related to secularization and immigration, and the responses of these groups to such changes.

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Patrice Brodeur (Collaborator)

Université de Montréal
Professeur, Faculté de théologie et de sciences des religions
Titulaire de la Chaire du Canada Islam, pluralisme et globalisation

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Christopher Helland (Co-investigator)

Dalhousie University
Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology

Professeur agrégé à l’Université de Montréal, Patrice Brodeur enseigne des cours portant sur l’Islam et la modernité, la diversité religieuse, l’interreligieux et la gestion de conflits, les théories des identités et les théories des sciences des religions. Depuis l’été 2013, le professeur Brodeur est en congé sans traitement de l’Université de Montréal puisqu’il occupe le poste de directeur à la recherche au King Abdallah International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural dialogue (KAICIID), à Vienne en Autriche.

Expert en dialogue interreligieux et des religions monothéistes, il est régulièrement sollicité par les medias pour éclairer sur certains points d’actualités. De plus, le professeur Brodeur a participé à l’organisation d’activités de dialogues interreligieux dans plus de 50 pays à travers le monde. Il participe également à plusieurs conseils d’administration.

Champs d’expertise : sciences des religions, gestion et résolution de conflits. Dialogue interculturel, interreligieux et intervisionnel.

Thèmes : Théories et méthodes en sciences des religions; islam et judaïsme; pluralisme; mondialisation; dialogue inter-vision du monde; résolution de conflits, construction de la paix, identités et pouvoirs, relations internationales, anthropologie des sociétés modernes, anthropologie appliquée, enseignement civique et écologique.

Christopher Helland received his doctorate degree in sociology of religion from the University of Toronto in 2004. He was a SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Goresbrook Institute before taking a tenured stream position at Dalhousie University in 2005. He has a number of publications examining the relationship between the Internet and religious activity and is currently completing a book on this topic for Oxford University Press. Selected publications include: Online Religion/Religion Online and Virtual Communitas (2000); Surfing for Salvation (2002); Popular Religion and the World Wide Web: A Match Made in (Cyber)Heaven (2004); Online Religion as Lived Religion: Methodological Issues in the Study of Religious Participation on the Internet (2005); Diaspora on the Electronic Frontier: Developing Virtual Connections with Sacred Homelands (2007); Canadian Religious Diversity Online: A Network of Possibilities (2008); Online Religion in Canada: From Hype to Hyperlink (2011).

My current research activities explore the relationships that have developed, and are developing, between new media and religious beliefs and practices. My central questions focus upon the impact of the Internet and World Wide Web on issues of religious authority and control, religious information seeking behaviour, social shaping/spiritualizing of technology, ritual activity, pilgrimage, and popular religious expression.

Christopher Helland will be doing fieldwork in Leh, Lahdak, India in July. He will be working closely with The Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama as Tibetan Buddhists from around the world participate in a special three week Kalachakra Ritual. Helland is examining the transfer of sacred rituals as they are put online and is exploring how new media is used to communicate the “sacredness” of the event to the thousands of people that cannot make it to Northern India for the physical ritual but will be participating nevertheless through the Internet. Canada has one of the largest Tibetan Diaspora communities outside of Asia and for many of these people in Canada; online ritual activity has become an important supplement to their religious practice. While doing his field work, he is also going to be the official blogger for Tricycle Magazine on the event ( and will be writing an article for a special issue of the magazine examining “Digital Buddhism.”

Dr. Helland has been invited to participate in a three year project at the University of Colorado, Boulder Center for Media, Religion and Culture examining “public religion in the digital age.” The Project has gathered a Working Group of scholars from the fields of religious studies and media studies to develop theory, research, and knowledge-building about the way religion is evolving today in and through modern means of communication. The Project recognizes that today’s digital media environment, which can be described as creating a situation of “hypermediation” through its speed, ubiquity, and social-media circulations, changes not only religion, but also changes the conditions of scholarship about religion. The Henry Luce Foundation has funded the project and Dr. Helland is looking forward to the wonderful opportunity to collaborate with top scholars in the field at a dynamic research center.

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Susan Palmer (Collaborator)

Dawson College
Professor, Department of Religion

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Samuel Reimer (Collaborator)

Crandall University
Professor, Department of Sociology

Susan Palmer is a researcher and writer in the area of new religions (“cults”). She received her PhD from Concordia University where she is a part-time instructor and an Affiliate Professor. She is also an Affiliate Member of the Religious Studies Faculty at McGill University.

My research area has always been in the field of new religious movements. I like to visit groups, live with them, conduct interviews, and participate in rituals. I am an ethnographer who writes articles, chapters and books on specific new religions, among them the Raelians, the Rajneesh, the Twelve Tribes, The Family, and Scientology. Some of my books focus on themes in new religious studies, such as charisma, gender and children, millennialism, healing, the anticult movement. Most of my research has taken place in Quebec, the U.S., Germany and France.

The Social Control of New Religions

I was initially attracted to new religious studies as a weird, entertaining pastime. Then I became fascinated by the ritual and theological innovations I found in NRMs. However, it has become difficult ignore the fierce opposition to new religions. Thus I find my work tends to focus more and more on religious freedom issues, human rights, legal disputes involving religious minorities, antisectisme (in France) and anticultism (in the U.S.).

My most recent book, The New Heretics of France (Oxford, 2011), describes the rise of the government-sponsored antisecte movement in France, and the opposition and discrimination experienced by French citizens whose spiritual association was on the National Assembly’s list of 173 sects. My previous book, The Nuwaubian Nation: Black Spirituality and State Control (Ashgate, 2010), explores the opposition to a Black nationalist messianic movement whose leader tried to establish a “sovereign nation” in rural Georgia that was raided by the FBI.

Current Research

Our book, “Storming Zion: Government Raids on Religions” co-authored with Stuart A. Wright (editor of Armageddon in Waco) is coming out in October 2015, published by Oxford University Press. Much of the material for the book was gathered from the groups I visited in the U.S., France and Germany, of police raids, and this research that was funded by SSHRC. We, the authors, have an activist agenda, for our book documents the injustices and religious discrimination that fuels many of these raids on religious minorities and NRMs. We also find in our study an exponential increase in the number of raids, as well as a tendency towards militarization over the last twenty years.

Sam Reimer is Professor of Sociology at Crandall University in New Brunswick, Canada. His Ph.D. is from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He was visiting scholar at Baylor University (Texas) in 2005-6, and visiting fellow at the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria in 2013.

Sam is presently co-investigator on a SSHRC-funded study on the role of Christian churches in immigrant settlement and integration (Rich Janzen, PI). He is lead investigator of the Canadian Evangelical Churches Study, which included interviews of over 600 pastors in nearly 500 congregations in Canada. His book based on this study (co-authored by team member Michael Wilkinson), A Culture of Faith: Evangelical Congregations in Canada, was published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 2015. He also co-led a team of researchers in a funded three-year study of Ecumenism in Canada. His research has been funded by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Religious Research Association, the University of Notre Dame and Baylor University.

His previous book was Evangelicals and the Continental Divide (McGill Queen’s, 2003), and recent articles include “Christian Churches and Immigrant Support in Canada” (Review of Religious Research 2016), “How Academics view conservative Protestants” (Sociology of Religion 2015), Canadian Christian churches increase in part-time staff” (Studies in Religion 2015), “Orthodoxy Niches” (Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 2011), “Class and Congregations” (Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 2007), “Lay cooperation in Canada” (Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 2004), “Higher education and theological liberalism” (Sociology of Religion, 2010), and many other articles and book chapters.

Comparative study of religion in Canada and the U.S. My book, Evangelicalism and the Continental Divide (McGill-Queen’s, 2003), was the first academic sociological comparison between evangelicals in Canada and the U.S. I also published “A Look at Cultural Effects on Religiosity” in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (JSSR 1995; and republished in 2006), followed by “A More Irenic Evangelicalism?” (book chapter, Gaspereau Press, 2000), “A Generic Evangelicalism?” (book chapter, University of Toronto Press, 2000), “Evangelical Protestantism Meets the Continental Divide” (Political Research Quarterly, 2002). I co-led a team of researchers who examined the ecumenical impulse among Christians in both countries, resulting in a publication of a special edition of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, of which I was co-editor and wrote two articles.

Diversity in U.S. Protestantism. To promote new thinking about the theoretical class-denomination links that have been prominent in the literature since the work of Weber, Troeltsch, and Niebuhr, I have published “Revisiting the Social Sources of American Christianity 1972-1998” (JSSR, 2002), “Class and Congregations” (JSSR 2007), and “Sect Appeal” (book chapter, Brill 2009). When I was visiting scholar at Baylor University (Texas) in 2005-06, I collected interview data on the demographic diversity of nearly 100 U.S. Protestant congregations, from which I have published “Higher education and theological Liberalism” (Sociology of Religion, 2010) and “Orthodoxy Niches” (JSSR 2011).

Religious diversity in Canada. I have published “Civility without Compromise” (book chapter, UBC Press, 2011) and “Does Religion Matter?” (book chapter, Brill 2008), which focused on tolerance and religious diversity.

Congregations in Canada. Our forementioned study of evangelical churches, funded by The Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism, which has resulted in four articles in Church and Faith Trends (2010-2012), and A Culture of Faith, which is the first multi-denominational sociological study of evangelical congregations in Canada. Most recently, I have conducted research on the ways in which Christian congregations are welcoming and supporting immigrants in Canada.

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Michael Wilkinson (Co-investigator)

Trinity Western University
Professor, Department of Sociology
Director, Religion in Canada Institute

Michael Wilkinson is Professor of Sociology at Trinity Western University in British Columbia, Canada. He received his PhD from the University of Ottawa in 1999 where he focused on sociology of religion. His dissertation research examined the relationship between globalization and religion and the impact of Pentecostal migration from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Michael is currently working on an edited book about religion and the body to be published in the Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion series. He recently completed a study on Asian churches in Vancouver and another on the role of Canadian churches and immigrant settlement and integration. He has two other long-term projects in process: a cultural study of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and another on global Pentecostalism.

His publications include the books A Culture of Faith: Evangelical Congregations in Canada (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015 with Sam Reimer), Catch the Fire: Soaking Prayer and Charismatic Renewal (Northern Illinois University Press, 2014), Global Pentecostal Movements: Migration, Mission, and Public Religion (Brill, 2012), A Liberating Spirit: Pentecostals and Social Action in North America (Wipf & Stock, 2010), Winds from the North: Canadian Contributions to the Pentecostal Movement (Brill, 2010), Canadian Pentecostalism: Transition and Transformation (McGill-Queens, 2009), and The Spirit said Go: Pentecostal Immigrants in Canada (Peter Lang, 2006).

Global Pentecostalism – My research on Pentecostalism has focused on several aspects: the migration of Pentecostals from Africa, Asia, and Latin America to Canada, testing aspects of globalization theory, and Pentecostalism as a global movement.

Religious Diversity – I am involved in research that examines the role of churches and immigrant settlement and integration.

Cultural Analysis of Canadian Pentecostalism – An examination of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada since the 1970s.