Everyday Sacred

Religion in Contemporary Quebec

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Hillary Kaell
Advancing Studies in Religion Series
  • Montreal, Quebec: 
    McGill-Queen's University Press
    , November
     368 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The experience of religion in the Canadian province of Quebec offers a distinct model of religious diversity in contemporary North American society. Its minority French and Roman Catholic heritage occupies a unique position that is unlike churches in Europe and unlike denominations in the United States (9). Yet today’s Quebec religious landscape is far different than it was in pre-Vatican II Catholicism. Everyday Sacredis the product of an ongoing study of the religious ferment that has marked Quebec society in the last fifty years, aimed at English-speaking audiences who are not acquainted with it. The authors seek to anchor this study in the broader North American religious context.

Everyday Sacred’s nine chapters are subdivided into three sections. The first section discusses four examples of religious pluralism around the concepts of religious worship and practice. In the 1960s, Quebec saw the disestablishment of much of Roman Catholic Christianity’s hold on culture. Anti-clerical and anti-institutional sentiments produced a secular context that encouraged the rise of a multicultural religious landscape. The influx of various groups of immigrants also led to an explosion of diverse religious expressions. In the first chapter, Géraldine Mossière gives an anthropological perspective on the modes of minority assimilation of French (Congolese) African Pentecostal congregations in Montreal and how their religious expression helps young immigrants assimilate in Quebec’s neoliberal capitalist market (31-53). Although the study focuses on African Pentecostal immigrants and their assimilation within a white population of Catholic heritage, the findings of this study have obvious similarities to what other immigrant groups from Haiti or the Caribbean have experienced. Next Frédéric Parent and Hélène Charron provide a sociological perspective on the participation of laypeople in Roman Catholic rural parishes where the shortage of male priests is affecting the survival of many small parishes (54-74). The participation of lay leaders in these parishes has allowed a more flexible female-run system in a Church that has been traditionally male-dominated. In chapter 3, Laurent Jérôme’s study immerses the reader into the world of young First Nation Atikamekw drummers and the transmission of cultural values through traditional music (75-98). The same basic questions of cultural identity and transmission of traditional religious values are addressed in the fourth chapter where Norma Baumel Joseph offers an intriguing study of the role of traditional food in the life and survival of Montreal’s Iraqi Jewish community (99-126). These two chapters demonstrate that non-discursive sensory forms of social interaction produce a sense of identity that interweaves religion, culture, and community, and provides for the survival of cultural communities (19).

The second section of the book addresses questions related to how visual places and practices intersect with public life. Hillary Kaell (the editor of the volume) presents a study of the material landscape of many rural communities and the role of wayside crosses in Catholic devotional life (129-55). Any visitors to Quebec’s rural villages will have noticed these wayside crosses. What is less known is the visual role they still play in transmitting and cultivating Catholic faith in these communities. In chapter 6, Emma Anderson explores the dynamics of the practice of contemporary pilgrimage and gives a brief survey of the most important and sacred places of Catholic pilgrimage and their social location in what remains of Quebec’s Catholic culture (156-85). In chapter 7, Meena Sharify-Funk and Elysia Guzik take us into the controversial topic of Muslim symbols of faith and the recent attempts by the Quebec government to curtail Muslim veiling in public places (186-211). This chapter more than the others explores the question of identity contestations in a setting where minority and majority populations experience identity insecurity—a subject that has relevance in all Western communities (22).

The third section of this study explores questions of new religious movements in the Quebec religious landscape. Deirdre Meintel discusses how the individualization of religion has encouraged the appearance of numerous new spiritual religions within a new context of socially invisible religion and the privatization of spirituality (215-33). Perhaps more than any other religious phenomena in Quebec, new religious movements have exploited a current of synthesis of apparently disparate religious and spiritual elements, which in the end have produced a hybridization of spirituality and religious expressions that have now inspired large segments of the population, even those in mainstream churches (233). It is not unusual to find faithful Catholic or mainline Protestant churchgoers who also believe in or practice some forms of Hindu, Buddhist, or theosophical spirituality. In the last chapter, Cory Andrew Labrecque offers a study of the impact of transhumanist ideas and practices on the Quebec population as they champion the use of science and technology to rise above the physical limitations of human existence. Although agnostic and not a spiritual enterprise, transhumanism contributes also to the eclecticism of Quebec’s religious landscape (234-53).

In a brief afterword, Randall Balmer succinctly captures the contribution this volume makes in the study of North American religious experiences. As the title of the book intimates, in a subtle echo to Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy, spirituality in Quebec has become an immanent experience in people’s daily life: everyday becomes the context in which to experience the sacred in its multifaceted expressions. The study of religion in Quebec has been neglected by most English-speaking students of social religion and this volume offers a fascinating and eclectic glimpse into a religious life rich in comparative possibilities for further study (257). With Pamela Klaussen, I agree that this book gathers together a remarkable range of studies and certainly offers an intriguing portrait of contemporary religious diversity in Quebec, just as the book’s publishers claim on the back cover.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Denis Fortin is Professor of Historical Theology at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Date of Review: 
May 31, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Hillary Kaell is associate professor of religion at Concordia University and co-editor, with Brian Lewis, of The Moral Mapping of Victorian and Edwardian London: Charles Booth, Christian Charity, and the Poor-but-Respectable.


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