By: Leona Anderson, Bryan Hillis, Margaret Sanche
Religious and philosophical beliefs, affiliations and sensibilities of the people of Saskatchewan have intersected in important ways throughout their history, and in many respects are key components of their identity. The sacred ways of Aboriginal peoples prior to the colonial encounter most certainly had an impact on the way they envisioned the land and interacted with each other and with the land. Early settlers to the province brought with them a variety of their own religious beliefs and practices. The interaction between the belief systems of early European immigrants and First Nations peoples has played an important role in the development of Saskatchewan. More recently, new immigrants to Canada from Asia and the Middle East have altered the religious profile of the province. Immigration to Saskatchewan, in some respects similar to that of the rest of Canada, has influenced the multicultural make-up of the province and increased the effects of globalization. This essay seeks to trace in broad strokes some of the major events and issues in Saskatchewan’s religious history, and to capture some of the diversity of its religious profile.
Like so many other cultural forms, the pattern of religious growth in Saskatchewan is dominated by the immigration of diverse people. As indicated in Table 1 on the following page, based on Statistics Canada material, Protestant immigrants greatly outnumbered all others in the twenty years of exponential growth between 1901 and 1921—representing over 70% of the population, with Catholics making up another 20% of the total. Anglicans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Doukhobors, Mennonites and Hutterites added to the existing religious landscape as settlers from other parts of Canada and immigrants from the United States, Britain and Western, Central and Eastern Europe came to this country in search of land as well as political and religious freedom. By the time the flood of immigration had subsided in the late 1920s and 1930s, most of the religious diversity of Saskatchewan had been established, with the addition in the census of Ukrainian Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, Orthodox, Jewish and others, although “others” are reflected in the 1931 census only as Buddhist and “other non-Christian” adherents. The formation of the United Church of Canada in 1925, through the union of Congregationalist, Methodist and the majority of Presbyterian churches, changed the religious statistics reported in subsequent censuses; “unionist” congregations account for the United Church numbers before 1925.
From the 1940s to the 1970s, Saskatchewan’s religious diversity remained relatively stable. The larger denominations (Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran) experienced a slight decline as immigration from Europe to Canada decreased; only the percentage of Roman Catholics increased slightly. At the same time there was a noticeable influx of immigration from Asia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East as Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were first counted in 1981. While we know that there were many people of Aboriginal traditions living in Canada, they were not listed as a separate religious group until the 1981 census, probably in large part because their sacred ways were not acknowledged by census takers before that time.
By the time of the 2001 census, the most noticeable change in the religious landscape of the province was that one in six Saskatchewan residents reported no religious affiliation at all, an increase of 40% over the 1991 census. From 1991 to 2001, the number of Catholics (Roman and Ukrainian) had declined by almost 4%, and the Protestants had declined by over 12% over the same ten-year period. The Roman Catholic denomination remained the largest individual denomination, followed by the United, Lutheran, and Anglican Churches: these four denominations accounted for almost two thirds of Saskatchewan residents in 2001. Compared to the national averages, Saskatchewan, like the Atlantic provinces, had a higher number of Protestants (47%) compared with a national average of 29%.
Also reflecting the relatively small proportion of immigrants coming to this province, the proportion of non-Christians is smaller at 2%, compared to the national average of 6%. In part, this may be due to the fact that recent immigrants from various Asian countries are just as likely to report “no religion” as “non-Christian” in their census responses. Immigration patterns are reflected also in the location of the non-Christian population, with Regina and Saskatoon reporting a higher proportion of non-Christians than other parts of the province. While Statistics Canada did not report on the religious affiliation of the First Nations population, we do know that reserve residents who identify themselves as Christian are more likely to be Roman Catholic (39% vs. 32% for the province as a whole) or Anglican (27% vs. 7% for the province), and that the proportion of Protestants on reserves is lower than the provincial average (35% vs. 47%).
An important component of religious or spiritual life in the province is reflected in the philosophical beliefs and practices of First Nations peoples, who prefer not to describe their traditions as “religions” because this would encourage non-Aboriginal peoples to consider their sacred ways as being a separate aspect of their lives. While we cannot be sure of what the sacred ways of First Nations peoples were prior to the arrival of European and other immigrant groups, historians and indigenous studies scholars are striving to discover them by drawing upon the writings of missionaries and anthropologists, as well as upon the oral histories of First Nations Elders. Cree cosmology, Cree religious ethos, Dakota-Lakota spirituality, and Denesuline worldview are representative of some of the current First Nations’ sacred perspectives. In these worldviews, there is a sense of holism wherein establishing and maintaining a circle of right relationships between and among humans, as well as between the human and natural worlds, is absolutely critical. What Christian missionaries and others often dismissed as animism or polytheism was actually a way of seeing in the entire world a wondrous creation in which humanity has a special responsibility to uphold the circle. Christian missionaries often overlooked the sense of a single creating Spirit that permeates most First Nations’ sacred systems. Animals such as the buffalo, which played a central function in the survival of the northern plains peoples, assumed a key role in the Aboriginal spirit world. First Nations peoples prayed to the spirits of these animals for help, even as these animals were killed for human use. Their use was not simply for consumption: they were regarded as an integral part of the kinship of all creation. Prayers of intercession and supplication were not made for the sake of one person alone, but for the entire community. Ceremonies and religious rites like the Sun Dance, Vision Quest, Smudge and Pipe Ceremony reflected the communal nature of these sacred ways. Thus, the spirituality of the community was defined not only by humans, but also by the entire spectrum of nature and reality as it appeared to the indigenous peoples. Sacrifice was an important aspect of these worldviews; but it was sacrifice for the sake of the entire community, as demonstrated in the rigours of the Sun Dance and Vision Quest ceremonies. Through these sacrifices, the long-term well-being of the community was ensured among First Nations peoples of the Canadian plains.
There is no question that the spiritual life of First Nations peoples in the province was seriously undermined by the European settlers, and that many of their indigenous beliefs, customs and practices were lost while others were seriously jeopardized. Today, however, many of these traditional practices are being reclaimed. The impact of the Christian missionary period on the history of the area of Rupert’s Land which is now Saskatchewan is important to our understanding of the development of religion in the province. Recent scholarship, for example, has focused on the nature of the missionary impulse which inspired and motivated Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist and other missionaries to brave the difficulties of mission life in order to spread the Christian faith. In addition, historians are exploring attitudes of the missionaries towards the First Nations communities, and the reactions of the latter towards missionary teaching and catechesis. Also central was the role of the Hudson’s Bay Company in fostering and supporting, or in some cases discouraging, the work of the missionaries. Missionary strategies also changed from the early days when missionaries traveled with the migrating First Nations communities, to the later period when churches and schools were established and the missionaries worked to persuade First Nations peoples to give up their nomadic lifestyles and remain near the mission. Another significant aspect of the missionary period was the less than noble competition and rivalry between different church denominations, and the various strategies used by each to bring the First Nations peoples into their particular fold. It is important to note at this juncture that many First Nations Christians did not give up their sacred ways and were able to integrate both sets of beliefs. As James Treat (2004) notes: “Understanding the relationship between native people and Christianity is thus an important aspect of understanding the experience of native peoples. The many dimensions of this relationship are also among the most divisive issues within native communities today, a situation that calls for critical and engaged scholarship.”
Finally, it is important to place the missionary period within the context of the European cultural and social milieu from which the Christian missionaries came, and within the worldview or sense of providential mission they brought to their ministry. In the case of both Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries, the catechizing work led to the establishment of educational institutions. When the Canadian government proposed that industrial and residential schools be established and operated by the churches, this seemed like a good idea—from the church and public perspective of that time. It must be pointed out, however, that some of the First Nations leaders were also in favour of the establishment of schools for their children because of the importance they accorded to education. Much historical, not to mention legal, work continues to be carried out on the origins and history of the residential schools, the policies of the federal government, and the overall impact on First Nations’ communities—including the impact of separating children from their parents and extended families for long periods of time. Instances of sexual, physical and emotional abuse continue to be important subjects on the Saskatchewan agenda. The First Nations’ traditions of language use, of relationship to the land, of spiritual ceremony, and of family relationships evidence the importance of sacred ways and are fundamental to the preservation of their cultures.
In the case of the Christian churches which were involved in missions to First Nations peoples in the early years of this province, the revisiting and reexamination of the residential school experience by both First Nations peoples and the churches, and the long drawn-out period of negotiations for settlements and healing have had a profound impact on all those involved. An expression of the new understanding regarding the relationship of the Catholic missionaries with the First Nations peoples in the past can be found in the apology given by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to the First Nations peoples at Lac-Ste-Anne, Alberta in July 1991:
We apologize for the part we played in the cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious imperialism that was part of the mentality with which the peoples of Europe first met the Aboriginal peoples and which consistently has lurked behind the way the Native peoples of Canada have been treated by civil governments and by the churches. We were, naively, part of this mentality and were, in fact, often a key player in its implementation. We recognize that this mentality has, from the beginning, and ever since, continually threatened the cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions of the Native peoples.
Other church groups involved in operating residential schools have apologized to First Nations peoples as well and have endeavoured to make amends in various ways for instances of abuse or general cultural damage, and to assist with the healing process. The vilification of all the residential schools and their impact has been particularly painful for those men and women who as missionaries and teachers had dedicated their lives to a religious ideal which is now generally regarded as having been seriously flawed. This part of the story of the relationship of the Christian churches with First Nations peoples, many of whom are devout and active Christians themselves, will continue to unfold in the coming years. Certainly, much has been learned by everyone, and the approach of the Christian community in spreading its Gospel has changed, as respect for and solidarity with others of differing religious beliefs have become essential cornerstones of interfaith and intercultural relations.
When we turn to the composition of early immigration to the province, we note that its participants were diverse ethnically as well as in terms of the religions they practiced, although the majority was from the Christian tradition. In many cases during the settlement period, these immigrant groups for the first time encountered face-to-face peoples from other countries, who spoke different languages, followed different cultural practices, and lived their lives according to the principles of different religious traditions. In general, it would seem that every distinct group that migrated into Saskatchewan encountered a somewhat similar situation: they lived in close proximity to others who came from dissimilar religious backgrounds, yet they shared with these groups many of the same experiences, such as geographic and cultural isolation. Although responses to life in the province in the early settlement years varied, many similar trends can be identified. For example, language, culture and religion were closely intertwined in the identity of most of the non-English-speaking groups, and a fortress mentality often developed. Early settler communities tended to become “fragment cultures,” and their sense of national and religious identity became tied increasingly to their “frozen-in-time” memories of what life had been like in their country of origin at the time of their emigration. As Peter Van de Veer notes in Transnational Religion:
It is often argued and sometimes demonstrated that migrant communities tend to become conservative in religious and social matters. They would do so to retain an identity under the pressures of assimilation. Moreover, since they are often challenged in a multicultural environment to explain their beliefs and practices they tend to become more aware of them. This kind of conscious conservatism or reactionary traditionalism has been observed in a number of migrant groups.
Thus, in many cases, the beliefs and cultural practices of European settler communities in Saskatchewan became even stronger than they had been in their homeland.
As various ethnic communities became more established and more accustomed to life on the prairies, the ties of a common language, culture and religion in each respective group were loosened somewhat, and over time a tolerance of selected differences emerged. In many cases this occurred coincident with the advent of the first prairie-born generation. In some groups, threats from the outside become great enough that an element of the original triad (language, culture, religion) had to be abandoned or else taken underground. A case in point would be the German people, who were the focus of a great deal of animosity during and after World War I and World War II: they generally retained their religion, whether Catholic, Lutheran or Baptist, but were willing to forego their language in favour of facility in the English language and a degree of assimilation into the dominant culture, partially as a means of deflecting negative attention. In some ways, such forced adaptations had the effect of broadening opportunities. The German Catholic newspaper published by St. Peter’s Abbey, for example, was compelled to publish in English after World War I: for a time St. Peter’s Bote was published in both German and English (St. Peter’s Messenger), and then in English only. As The Prairie Messenger, it reached a much larger readership than would have been possible had it remained a German-language newspaper; it continues to be a lively Catholic weekly newspaper, with subscribers from all parts of Canada and beyond.
European religious life on the prairies was reshaped in important ways with the Social Gospel movement that brought together various Christian groups in the cause of political and social betterment. As Richard Allen notes in The Social Passion, the Social Gospel was not a uniquely Canadian movement but “was part of a widespread attempt in Europe and North America to revive and develop Christian social insights and to apply them to the emerging forms of a collective society… Put in more dramatic terms, it was a call for men (and women!) to find the meaning of their lives in seeking to realize the Kingdom of God in the very fabric of society.” The Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist denominations dominated the movement after 1890. As fighting social evil was more important than mere theological rhetoric, many of the devout from these denominations formed a wide array of social institutions in Canada to reform the existing order. The evils of liquor became one of the focal points of these social reformers, so that in 1907 the Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist Churches, together with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the Royal Templars of Temperance and the Trades and Labour Councils of Regina and Moose Jaw, met in Regina to form the Social and Moral Reform Council. Differences among the religious groups on the topic of liquor soon surfaced, however: Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists were total abolitionists, while Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics had serious reservations about total abolition. Social Gospel people were also concerned about assisting the newly arrived immigrants: Presbyterians organized welcome committees in most congregations, while Methodists also tried to “Canadianize” downtrodden peasants. More influenced by the Social Encyclicals of the Catholic Church and less by Social Gospel theology, the Roman Catholics were also interested in welcoming new immigrants, partly out of a spirit of Christian hospitality, but also perhaps to prevent the loss of Catholic faithful to the Protestant fold.
One of the most visible leaders and spokesmen for the Social Gospellers was J.S. Woodsworth, MP for Winnipeg North, whose criticisms of capitalism found many supporters in the League for Social Reconstruction, formed in 1930, which together with a number of other groups eventually became the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in 1933. As this occurred, many of the Protestant churches that had nurtured these ideas lost interest in social reform on the political level as they tried to keep themselves above the political fray. Still, there were many from the Social Gospel movement of the Protestant churches who distinguished themselves as leaders in the CCF, the best known of whom was T.C. Douglas, a Baptist minister from Weyburn.
Perhaps the most significant change in the religious life of Saskatchewan over the past forty years has been the new spirit of Christian ecumenism, which has impacted on every denomination to some extent. When we recall the general intolerance between various denominational families prior to Vatican II, and the climate of competition and antagonism which often characterized relations between leaders and members of different Christian churches, it is truly amazing to reflect on the changes which have occurred. The intolerance of one another’s beliefs and practices was evident in large and small ways among church leaders and the members of congregations alike in the early half of the last century. In addition, there were strong antagonisms between particular groups: the English Protestants and Irish Catholics, for example, and many others. In one particularly ignominious period in the late 1920s and early 1930s, intolerance turned into religious hatred when a branch of the Ku Klux Klan was established in Saskatchewan; the KKK recruited members, spearheaded attacks against Catholic and non-English immigrants (particularly the French), and are believed to have been involved in the adoption of anti-Catholic, anti-French policies by the provincial government. During the settlement years, when everyone was struggling to make a living, and later, during the World Wars and the Depression, religious intolerance was often inseparable from mutual ethnic hostility, mostly based on ignorance and fear. It would seem that religious divisions were very much a part of daily life in Saskatchewan, as elsewhere in Canada, for much of the first half of the 20th century.
There were signs of ecumenism, however, even in these early decades: some of the earliest forms of ecumenical co-operation had occurred at the grassroots level in various social reform movements spawned by the Social Gospel. Grassroots ecumenism was also an important factor in the years leading up to the formation of the United Church of Canada in 1925, when all the Methodist and Congregationalist groups as well as all but 22 of the 854 Presbyterian churches in the province joined the new denomination. Geography and climate made co-operation and this type of union an attractive option for struggling communities of faith, particularly in the rural areas. Ecumenism at other levels continued to thrive as formal discussions of the 1950s and 1960s involved Protestant theologians and church leaders who were concerned with difficult questions of authority and doctrine. As a result of some of these discussions, various Protestant denominational families dissolved their differences and formed larger denominations such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, while others formed councils and committees to continue their work together, as the Regina and Saskatoon Council of Churches would demonstrate.
With the Second Vatican Council of 1962–65 and its focus on ecumenism, there began a long process of change in the relationships among the Christian churches which is still unfolding on many levels and in many ways. In July 2001, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada signed the Waterloo Declaration establishing a relationship of full communion between them, so that it is not unusual for a Lutheran minister to be leading worship in an Anglican church on a Sunday morning or vice versa. In 2004, Lutherans and Catholics celebrated the fifth anniversary of the signing of their Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification—an event that had represented the culmination of thirty years of dialogue and marked a profound change in the relationship of these two churches. Grassroots ecumenism continues to thrive in its contemporary manifestations: in Saskatoon, for example, a United Church congregation and a Roman Catholic parish have entered into a covenant relationship with one another, agreeing to shared elements of prayer, worship, study, social justice/outreach projects, concerts and social events each year, and breaking down barriers to genuine Christian friendship. Members of the many Saskatchewan Eastern Christian groups (Catholic, Orthodox, and others) have also begun to come together in recent years to explore their common heritage in events such as the Windows to the East lectures held each year at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon. During the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, there are many interdenominational prayer gatherings, social activities and other ecumenical events throughout the province. In addition to the work of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism, interdenominational groups have been formed to work for common concerns: some of these are the Interchurch Uranium Committee, Friends of Sophia (an ecumenical group of Christian feminists), local branches of KAIROS (Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives), and interchurch groups in the Battlefords, Craik, Davidson, Melville, Prince Albert, and other communities as well as in Saskatoon and Regina. At the province’s two universities, campus ministers and chaplains work together to provide ecumenical experiences for students, and the denominational theological and liberal arts colleges collaborate with one another in their academic course offerings. Throughout the province, church organizations have collaborated in caring for the poor and establishing soup kitchens and food banks, seniors’ villages, and ministry for and with urban Aboriginal people, and for families and children in need—all in an effort to witness to the Gospel as Christians without borders.
There had been some early fears that to have unity, churches would have to become uniform in authority, doctrine and practice, thus losing their unique identity and expression of faith. Over the years, however, as people from different churches have begun to meet, as they have entered into one another’s worship space, have shared meals, prayer and Bible studies together, and have experienced an increasing number of inter-church marriages, they have found that what is different can still be “of the Spirit” and, indeed, a source of new life for their faith communities. Unity in diversity can be difficult, but it is not impossible. The lessons learned by the immigrant communities as they moved through the various stages from intolerance and fear of strangers to acceptance, mutual respect and friendship are now being put to good use by church communities.
In addition to religious traditions that reflect the belief systems of the majority of residents (Christianity and Aboriginal traditions), Saskatchewan is home to many smaller communities holding various religious beliefs. Jewish, Sikh, and Muslim communities, for example, though small in numbers, have long histories in the province. The earliest Jewish immigrants settled in Saskatchewan in the late 1800s; the population of this community waxed and waned through the 20th century, with migration patterns significantly influenced by global economic and political events and conditions. Synagogues in Saskatchewan, historically and at the present time, function as community centres and as houses of study and prayer for the Jewish people, as evidenced by the Beth Jacob Synagogue and the Temple Beth Tikvah in Regina, as well as the Agudas Israel Synagogue/Jewish Community Centre and the Shir Chadash Synagogue in Saskatoon. The Saskatoon Jewish Foundation, whose purpose is to maintain or enhance the religious, cultural, educational, welfare and other activities of the congregation, and Hadassah-Wizo, a worldwide, non-political women’s volunteer Zionist organization that supports education, career training, health care, as well as women, child and youth services, exemplify the commitment of the Jewish community to the maintenance of their religious beliefs and the betterment of life.
The first Sikhs arrived in the province in the late 1960s. Sikhism in Saskatchewan is represented by the Sikh Temple in Saskatoon, which opened in 1985, and by the Sikh Temple of Regina, which opened in 1988. The arrival of Muslims in Saskatchewan began with a small number of immigrants at the end of the 19th century. A wave of Muslim immigrants arrived in the 1960s, many of them seeking religious freedom and greater opportunities. Today, most Saskatchewan Muslims reside in Saskatoon and Regina, but they are a diverse community hailing from a variety of geographical locations including the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe. There are Islamic centres (mosques) in Regina, Saskatoon, and Swift Current.
Significant numbers of immigrants from Asia began arriving in Saskatchewan in the 1960s; these are represented by the Hindu and Buddhist communities in the province. Hindu communities in Saskatchewan have been a part of the province’s demography since the early 1960s. Most of the early Hindu immigrants practiced their faith through daily or weekly worship in their homes, or by regular reading of Hindu scripture. Hinduism is a diverse religious tradition, and although the majority of members of this community immigrated to Canada from India and Africa, they came from different regions and differed in the particulars of their practices. As their numbers grew, however, Hindus in Regina and Saskatoon began building temples. In Saskatoon, the Shri Lakshami Narayana Temple, one of the earliest temples on the prairies to be built in accordance with Hindu architectural style, was formally inaugurated in 1985. In Regina there are presently two Hindu Temples: the Sri Sri Rhadha Krishna Temple, which opened in 1978; and the Hindu Temple, which opened in 1990. In all of these temples, cultural and spiritual activities that meet the needs of the diverse Hindu community are conducted.
Buddhists in the province belong to a variety of different traditions and come from many countries. In Regina, this community is represented by the Hai Duc Buddhist Pagoda, a Mahayana Buddhist temple established in 1990 to serve the needs of the Vietnamese Buddhist community, and by the Wat Buddhadhamma, a Theravadin Buddhist temple founded in 1992 by immigrants from Laos and Thailand. There are Buddhist temples also in Saskatoon, for example the Avalokitesvara Buddhist Temple Society Inc., which was incorporated in 1997. In addition to these Buddhist communities, there are a number of organizations that draw heavily on Buddhist teachings and practices and have members from various backgrounds: for example Regina Insight Meditation Community, founded in 1993 to explore Buddhist teachings on dharma and practice Insight Meditation; among the many activities of this community are retreats, meditation classes, and discussion groups.
In addition to the religions described above, the Saskatchewan religious landscape includes a number of smaller and newer traditions. For example, the Unitarian Fellowship in Saskatchewan is represented by three Unitarian congregations in Regina, Saskatoon and Wynyard. An examination of the history of the Bahá’í Faith indicates that members of this community were already present in Saskatchewan in the early 20th century; today, the Baha’i community has centres in the province’s principal cities and towns. The Sri Sathya Sai Baba Organization in Saskatchewan reflects the religious commitment of the followers of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, a revered spiritual teacher who resides in India; the province has two Sai Baba Centres, in Regina and Saskatoon, both formed in the 1980s. (See also Table 2 for recent membership numbers for Regina and Saskatoon religious communities.)
This overview of the provincial religious landscape would not be complete without some reference to the proliferation of new religious movements that attract members from many different walks of life. Included here are proponents of various New Age religions including paganism or neo-paganism, as well as other emerging movements including Scientology, Raelians, UFO groups, and many others. In the last few decades, globalization has had serious consequences for Saskatchewan’s religious life: the impact of globalization is perhaps most visible in the manner in which new immigrants, for example Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs, negotiate their respective identities in the province. The religious identity of some of these immigrant communities has become increasingly tied to particular ethnicities: a study of immigrant religious congregations in Regina and Saskatoon shows that religious institutions often serve a dual purpose for immigrants—providing them with a place to practice their beliefs and also to receive ethnic, cultural, and linguistic reinforcement. Moreover, for some members of ethnic congregations, religious identity becomes a focal point: joining a mosque, temple or gurudwara, or “becoming religious” facilitates a sense of belonging within the Canadian multicultural society.
In the context of sustaining both a religious and an ethnic identity, tensions sometimes arise with regard to issues of authenticity (content of primary concepts, important historical and religious figures, etc.), of transmission of cultural identity to subsequent generations, of language fluency, and of inter-communal disagreements. There are important differences, however, between these new waves of migrant communities and earlier ones: religious identities, like ethnic identities, are becoming increasingly transnational, a term that refers to the sense of living between two or more kinds of national or ethnic identities which emerges when people travel between different countries. Today, immigrants are closer to those they left behind because of telephone, e-mail, air travel, and other contemporary means of communication and transportation. Many new immigrants retain citizenship with their home countries, and many operate businesses with close links to their countries of origin. The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, had a profound impact on some immigrant communities, the members of which were called upon to explain their religious, ethnic, and political identities. They also had a profound impact on the Christian community in Saskatchewan: although the initial response of the general public may have been to blame all Muslims for what had happened, not unlike the blame heaped on innocent German Canadians in another era, at the same time a significant component of this response was the realization of the importance of understanding the ways of other religious and ethnic communities.
Closely related to the development of Christian ecumenism in Saskatchewan and to the impact of September 11 and the following “war on terror” are endeavours to bring about understanding between and among Christians and other faith traditions. Both Regina and Saskatoon have active multi-faith organizations such as the Regina Multi-Faith Forum, Multi-Faith Saskatoon, the Saskatoon and Regina Council of Churches, the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, and the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism. Organizations like these sponsor events such as an annual Festival of Faith and World Environment Day; they also provide communication links between different faith groups, encourage inter-faith dialogues, and support multi-faith presentations and programming in their communities. In Unknown Gods, Reginald Bibby tells us that people of the prairies tend to be more active in their religious communities, in part because of the rural nature of the area. His more recent research, Restless Gods, also indicates that people of the prairies are 2% above the national average in terms of “experiencing God” and 3% above the national average in terms of engaging in private prayer frequently. Given these tendencies and Saskatchewan’s varied religious history, there is every reason to believe that the diversity which existed in this area from the beginning will continue to flourish with every new exploration that Saskatchewan residents make in their individual and corporate religious journeys.
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Leona Anderson, Bryan Hillis, Margaret Sanche