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Sacred Spaces: The City in the Religious Imagination

There is an active dialogue going on in the City of Victoria, focused on religious institutions and practices, and the meaning of the term “spiritual”.

 There is an active dialogue going on in the City of Victoria, focused on religious institutions and practices, and the meaning of the term “spiritual”.  Sponsored by The Committee for Urban Studies at the University of Victoria, a series of public lectures (City Talks) and walking tours (City Walks) have been undertaken to encourage public discourse on “The City in the Religious Imagination”.

The recent media coverage of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, the lingering images of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York City, and the 2011 global manifestations of The Occupy and The Idle No More movements, all serve to disturb the civilized sensibilities of human communities across the country and the world.  Religious institutions are freshly challenged to provide relevant tenets of belief, including rituals of worship and community involvement, that enable adherents to find personal meaning and social cohesion in an increasingly chaotic, pessimistic modern world.   (The Times-Colonist, December 26, 2013)

In one of the first “City Talks” events, held at the Legacy Gallery in downtown Victoria, researchers cited sociological data from recent Canadian census records that reveal a rapid growth of the “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) population.  The fastest growing religious demographic in Canada are those who no longer identify themselves as claiming a specific religious affiliation.  Many traditional Christian churches are showing declines in attendance and membership losses.  A recent article in the Globe and Mail (November 11, 20013) reported on the number of redundant traditional church properties in Canada that have recently been sold or will be for sale in the next few years.

Of particular interest to researchers is the data showing that this SBNR group of Canadians continues to identify themselves as “spiritual”.  Whether they are non-church evangelicals, liberal Christians, monists or even secular humanist or atheist, each group lays claim to having “spiritual” foundations.

The growing immigrant population in Canada, increases numbers of other religious and spiritual traditions that now influence the “religious imagination of the city”.  As some of the traditional religious sites and congregations are at risk of diminished influence, other religions are rising in the Canadian, and specifically in the Victorian, consciousness. There is also a strong resurgence of traditional spiritual practices among the First Nations citizens of our city and nation, as they struggle to recover from the dehumanizing effects of colonization, including the traumas of residential school experiences.

The rise of the SBNR population brings a surge of individualism and a more personal quest for spirituality, as reported in the Times Colonist (Nov. 09, 2013).  The secular marketplace is rife with advertising for products and services that are targeted at the SBNR population.  Classes in yoga and meditation are offered as well as massage and body treatments.  Tarot and psychic consults, books and classes on spirituality and Eastern spiritual traditions are available. In a subsequent article, I propose to offer my own views about the ways in which SBNRs express “spiritual” identity, and the social impact implications of new and altered forms of religious expression in our community.

W.H. Bill Israel is an ordained United Methodist cleric and Community Sabbaticant working on a Fellowship project at The Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria.  He is also a former Chair of the Board of Directors for the United Way of Greater Victoria

You can readmore articles from our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE