Why civic religious literacy?

Why civic religious literacy?

Why civic religious literacy and not cultural competency in general? 

Cultural competency is invaluable in the Canadian and global society for your personal and professional life, but discussions on culture seldom focus on or include an understanding of religious, spiritual, and non-religious worldviews.

Our research has found four practical reasons to encourage greater focus on religious literacy for a civic purpose. Our work and approach are based on these practical reasons:



Economic rationale

2022 Skills outlook from the World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum’s 2018 The Future of Jobs report highlights the growing importance in analytical thinking and people engagement on several levels. Successful engagement with your students, peers, colleagues, clients, and the public you serve requires an understanding of their cultural foundations – based in their religious affiliation or the current or historic religious influence in their society.

The need for skills development is validated by the change in global demographics. The Pew Research Center’s The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050 report estimates global population change based on religious affiliation. The data in Canada differs from many global contexts (noted below), but we are not segregated from the  changes in the following graph, especially if we teach for global citizens, work with individuals from international contexts, or engage with clients world-wide.


Our work will prepare Canadians for this change in the workforce through educational programming. Currently, religious literacy education is not mandatory in Canadian professional development and education (with the exception of the ERC program in Quebec schools). However, students in the UK who have completed their mandatory religious literacy program (referred to as Religious Education, or RE, in the UK) offer many insights to the value of religious literacy in their professions. Here are four individuals describing the significance of religious literacy in their jobs. Additional narratives are available here: http://casestudies.reonline.org.uk.

“Understanding people’s faiths and lifestyles is so important for my job as a junior doctor” – Arun, Junior Doctor

“Studying RE gave me a good understanding of different religions and cultures, making me a better firefighter” – Mo, Firefighter

“RE provides an excellent platform for debate, which is a key skill that has helped me study law” – Sena, Law Student

“Studying RE helps me understand how religious beliefs affect different countries” – Ollie, Sports Reporter

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Political rationale

“Spirituality is at the core of Indigenous culture.”

– Blair Stonechild, Professor of Indigenous Studies, First Nations University of Canada, and CCRL Advisor.

The work at CCRL includes spirituality in all its forms, including Indigenous spirituality.

As a country, Canada is politically shifting in its response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (2015) 94 calls-to-action. Our team recognizes and acknowledges these calls for all members of the Canadian public and aims to work with local Indigenous leaders to work towards reconciliation.

In 2018, Dr. Cindy Blackstock stated, “The number one thing you should not do is nothing.” In 2016, she also spoke with Peter Mansbridge on CBC’s The National that elaborated on the need to reconcile relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. Our work in each province, industry, and sector responds to these concerns.

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Social rationale

Socially, the changing demography across Canada necessitates an understanding of different religions and worldviews so that society can understand one another and support one another better civically. British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, are of great interest as they are home to the four largest cities in Canada and experience some of the greatest demographic changes.

In Canada, the Aboriginal population is one of the fastest growing populations (Statistics Canada, 2018). What do you know about them? Not all Aboriginal individuals adhere to Indigenous spirituality, but many do. Do you understand their worldview and history? How does understanding Indigenous spirituality help you make sense of the tensions in Canada today, and the differences among First Nations, Métis, and Inuit groups that comprise Canada’s Aboriginal peoples? Our programming can address part of these issues.

Aboriginal population 2011-2016

By 2036, the number of Canadians with a non-Christian religion is expected to more than double, consisting of 13% to 16% of the national population (Statistics Canada, 2017), based on 2001 and 2011 data. Percentages can be higher or lower in specific rural or urban regions. Where CCRL currently works, the population of people affiliated with non-Christian religions have also grown from 2001 to 2011. 

Non-Christian religions 2001-2011

*Refers to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism in particular.

As the demography changes in Canada, misunderstandings and tensions also arise in the form of discrimination. Statistics Canada measures this in the form of hate crimes.

Although changes in religious hate crime rates cannot be measured per capita (as the Canadian government last collected data on religion and spiritual affiliation in the 2011 National Household Survey), reported hate crimes based on persons accused, motivation type, and age group is of concern. In 2016, youth under 18 years of age were among the largest group accused of hate crimes based on religion, followed by those from 25 to 34 years of age. 

Age distribution 2016

The two largest accused age groups are most likely disconcerting to educators, parents, public service workers, and industry leaders – all currently working to develop the future generation and upcoming talent.

In 2016, anti-Jewish hate crimes consisted of 16% of all national religious hate crimes and Jewish people were the most targeted group in religious hate crimes (Gaudet, 2018). Muslims were the second most targeted group. 

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Legal rationale

Legally, all Canadians and individuals on Canadian soil are expected to adhere to the legal stipulations of the government. Educators and employers are mandated to comply to their professional and industry demands as well. Most of these demands, if not all, follows the federal and provincial laws.

Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom (1982), the rights and freedoms for all Canadians are protected, including the freedom of conscience and religion. This protection is interpreted somewhat differently across British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, but each province maintains the legal protection of both as well.  

In British Columbia, the Human Rights Code of British Columbia (RSBC 1996, Chapter 210) prohibits the discrimination towards individuals in publication, accommodation, service and facility available to the public, purchase of property, etc. based on religion, among many other aspects of one’s identity.  

In Alberta, the Alberta Human Rights Act (RSA 2000, c A-25.5) includes the prohibitory actions listed in the BC laws and offers a detailed explanation on the provincial understanding of religious beliefs, one that includes native spirituality. The Alberta Human Rights Act also has separate statutes for the protection of Indigenous peoples.

In Ontario, the Ontario Human Rights Code’s Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed (2015) prohibits discrimination based on creed that “includes religions as well as non-religious beliefs that have a major influence on a person’s identity, their worldview or their way of life. And protections under the ground of creed also apply to people who have no creed belief or practice.”

In Quebec, the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (RSQ, Chapter 12, as amended 1985) notes that, “Every person is the possessor of the fundamental freedoms, including freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association” (1975, c. 6, s. 3.). Additionally, everyone has the right to full and equal recognition and exercise of this right (1975, last amended in 2016, c. 19, s. 11).

Our work also upholds the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007).

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