Many academics and organizations have lamented the Harper government’s elimination of mandatory long-form census forms.
The most recent statistics from the National Household Survey of 2011 show that 68.6 per cent of the people in Newfoundland returned the long forms.
Recently published census data are, therefore, somewhat less reliable than in previous surveys.
Taken with some caution, the available returns nevertheless offer a useful snapshot of our province’s religious profile.
A first look indicates that 93 per cent (472,720 of 507,270) of people in this province declare themselves as belonging to a Christian denomination or church as compared to 67 per cent nationwide.
While these figures say nothing about whether such cultural self-identification indicates any genuine commitment, at the least they indicate a social or cultural preference.
With 181,590 identifying themselves as Roman Catholics, this church remains the largest religious group in our province.
The new figures, however, indicate a drop of 1.1 per cent from the 2001 census, when 36.9 per cent of the population were Roman Catholics as compared to 35.8 per cent in 2011.
Anglican is the protestant religious affiliation most frequently claimed by respondents — 25.1 per cent (127,255) in 2011 as opposed to 26.1 per cent in the previous census, revealing a drop similar to that among Roman Catholics by a full percentage point.
United Church membership has also continued to decline during the first decade of the new millennium.
The church that once was known for its religious vitality has lost yet another 1.5 per cent provincewide, numbering in 2011 78,380 (15.5 per cent) as compared to 86,420 (17 per cent) in 2001.
Pentecostals have held their own, falling only ever so slightly since the previous census. They are now 6.5 per cent (33,195) of the population, while in 2001 they had
6.7 per cent (33,840).
Inexplicably, the Salvation Army is no longer separately listed in the 2011 census, although it may represent the largest contingent among “Other Christians,” a composite figure that reaches 48,630 or 9.6 per cent in Newfoundland.
Non-christian groups grew significantly Canada-wide, but their overall presence in the province is still exceedingly small.
Among non-Christian religions, Muslims are the largest group, with 1,200 self-declared believers according to the census.
While this nearly doubles the 630 declared Muslims of 2001, the figure represents only 0.2 per cent of the province’s population as compared to 3.2 per cent Muslims Canada-wide.
In 2001, 4.9 per cent of Canadians belonged to major non-Christian faiths; one decade later it is 7.2 per cent.
Statistics Canada considers changing immigration patterns responsible for this increase. “Of the immigrants who came prior to 1971,” the statisticians report, “2.9 per cent were affiliated with Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist religions, whereas 33 per cent of immigrants who came between 2001 and 2011 reported affiliation with one of these religions.”
In our province, the total figure of all major non-Christian faiths (Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist) plus Aboriginal spirituality and a not-further-identified grouping called “other religions” amounts to only 3,225 or 0.6 per cent of the population.
No religious affiliation
The real story of change in the Newfoundland census concerns the significant increase among those who hold “no religious affiliation.” In 2001, 12,455 people or 2.5 per cent in our province declared themselves to have “no religion.”
This number has grown over the past decade to 31,330 or 6.2 per cent. In 1991 it was only 1.6 per cent.
Newfoundland has still considerably fewer people in the “no religion” category than the national average of 23.9 per cent, but the nearly four per cent increase in people without religious affiliation in our province between 2001 and 2011 is stunning when compared to much slower growth in the previous decade.
Canada-wide, the increase in the number of people rejecting any institutional religious affiliation was even more pronounced — 7.4 per cent more than in the previous census.
The increase in so-called “nones,” as sociologists label people without any religious affiliation, represents a wake-up call to all religious institutions and adherents.
Hans J. Rollmann is Professor of Religious Studies at Memorial University of
Newfoundland and can be contacted
by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.