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Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada

by Reginald W. Bibby

University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby has been surveying Canadian religious habits and attitudes since 1975, earning him the nickname “Bad News Bibby” in some religious circles for his dire predictions about the future of organized religion. Bibby’s research revealed a populace weary of old fashioned orthodoxy, eager to embrace atheism, new age spirituality, or “lite” versions of their childhood faiths. “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” became the trendy, tedious social gambit.

Times are changing again, though. These Sundays I’m lucky if I can get a seat at morning Mass. Bibby’s latest research, gathered in Restless Gods, seems to reveal that more formal versions of religious belief are experiencing a revival in Canada.

One of Bibby’s many strengths is his keen eye for other people’s pithy quotes. Early in the book he cites his American counterpart, Harvey Cox (The Secular City), who recently acknowledged ruefully: “Before academic forecasters could even begin to draw their pensions, a religious renaissance of sorts is under way all over the globe.” Bibby puts it a tad more prosaically: “It’s time we said it: when it came to predicting the future of religion generally and Christianity specifically, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Sigmund Freud were wrong.”

Bibby’s fine mind and breezy writing style make the often dry discipline of sociology – with its ubiquitous charts and graphs – about as appealing as it can ever hope to get. In Restless Gods, he predicts which new religious movements will survive into the next century, points enthusiastically to the growing number of teens interested in spirituality, and speculates on the impact of Sept. 11 on personal faith.

While I don’t quite share his newfound optimism (anymore than I’ve ever shared his previous pessimism), Bibby’s books are always fascinating and thought-provoking – as hard to put down as a bowl of potato chips, but a lot better for you.