I’ve just returned from a weekend consultation with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada as the EFC sets up an exciting new research arm.
Among the several old friends among the several dozen gathered there was Reginald Bibby. It was my privilege to nominate Reg for the Order of Canada, and my delight to see him named an Officer of that order last year.
Here is my letter of recommendation to the Governor-General, which I post here as a tribute to my friend and as an introduction to those of you who don’t know of Reg, and should:
Governor General of Canada Attention: Director of Honours The Chancellery of Honours Rideau Hall 1 Sussex Drive Ottawa, ON K1A 0A1
Re: Nomination of Reginald Wayne Bibby to the Order of Canada
My nomination of Dr. Reginald W. Bibby, incumbent of the Board of Governors Sociology Research Chair at the University of Lethbridge, arises out of a single, fundamental fact: No one has done more to acquaint Canadians with the landscape of religion in this country than Reginald Bibby.
For more than thirty years, Reginald Bibby has been the leading authority on the contemporary contours of religion in Canada. His survey data, interpreted to scholarly audiences in a steady stream of articles and monographs and to popular readers in a series of well-received books, magazine pieces, and media interviews, have told us most of what we know about the proportions, growth, decline, and nature of our religious and spiritual life. To be sure, Statistics Canada has provided invaluable data from our decennial censuses, and Ipsos-Reid polling has offered its own helpful information since the mid-1990s. We have also benefited from a new tide of historical and sociological scholarship on religion from coast and coast. But since the mid-1970s, Reginald Bibby has been surveying Canadians throughout this country and telling us about ourselves in clear, simple, and suggestive terms with unequalled influence.
Along the way, Bibby has literally shaped the discourse of the contemporary sociology of religion internationally. His early work on the “circulation of the saints,” for example (some of it with the University of Calgary’s Merlin Brinkerhoff), showed that much of the growth reported by some churches was merely the movement of believers from one church to a similar one, and generally not “growth” in the sense of conversion of outsiders to insiders. He also gave us the striking term “religion à la carte” to describe the now-common way in which Canadians pick from a smorgasbord of religious options to compose individual forms of spirituality without authoritative guidance from any clergy or group.
Reginald Bibby has offered himself tirelessly to the news media in order to help journalists report accurately on religious trends in Canada. I myself give dozens of interviews a year (there aren’t many of us in this country who specialize in this sort of thing!), and I rarely have to introduce a journalist to Reginald Bibby’s name or work: he is usually the first call on any responsible journalist’s list.
Bibby’s prose is lucid and arresting—not common attributes of a sociologist. His enthusiasm for the subject is invigorating. His energy is inspiring. And his integrity is exemplary. Indeed, he has manifested the quite extraordinary grace of revisiting his previous work and revising it in public—determined as he is to get things right, and not merely to defend the considerable edifice of his work.
Canada has been blessed with a number of excellent scholars of our religious heritage and contemporary situation. But in terms of the national scene, in terms of a comprehensive picture of the country as a whole as well as its regions, for more than three decades Reginald Bibby has had simply no peer. To me, he is simply an obvious choice for the Order of Canada, and I am surprised, frankly, that he has not been named earlier. I therefore heartily commend him to you.
John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Ph.D. Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology and Culture Regent College and Adjunct Professor Department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies University of British Columbia