Furrows of the Field: Methodology in Writing The Religious History of the Canadian Prairies
Thompson, Connor John
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The primary concern of this thesis is explanation of the drastic decline in church attendance that has characterized Prairie religious history, and Canadian history more broadly, over the course of the twentieth and early twenty first centuries. In the case of the Canadian Prairies as a region, this transformation has also been tied up with the change from a heavily social gospel influenced society based on the highly valued ethic of co-operation to a society that is increasingly non-church going and which more highly values the ethic of individualism. While more recent Prairie history has seen the region incorporated into North American consumer culture, I argue for the continued utility of regional analysis based on the mythology, symbols, and rituals that reinforce the sense of a distinct Prairie identity, and argue that analysis of these things is deeply tied into the transformation of Prairie religious history. Perhaps the most important element of Prairie social mythology is the farmer-as-symbol, which was once imagined as living by Christian ethics, but is increasingly imagined today as an entrepreneurial lone figure, whose values are concomitant with the individualist ethic promoted by emerging forms of religiosity. I demonstrate this by looking at how consumer culture molds the Prairie social mythology, and particularly, through a case study of the region’s most prominent annual celebration – the Calgary Stampede – show the ways in which this mythology has been understood in recent years. The thesis concludes with consideration of new forms of religiosity that have emerged with this change in Prairie culture, and in particular, Spiritual But Not Religious behaviors. By paying special attention to how the term religion is used to categorize elements of life by both historians and historical actors, I treat religion primarily as an emic category, arguing that understanding contemporary Prairie religious history involves an understanding of how “religion” is treated within the popular consciousness of the region.