soutenir la religion dans une société pluraliste et dans la vie publique canadienne

Our Whole Society - Closing Remarks

Our Whole Society: Bridging The Religious-Secular Divide (March 22-14, 2015, UBC Robson Square, Vancouver, B.C.)

Closing Remarks

As theologians, academics, religious practitioners, media, persons of faith, politicians, civil servants and persons who would self-define as atheist or humanist we first gathered at McGill University, Montreal in 2013 to engage, deeply engage each other on the questions and implications of the role of religion in society. The conversation there was complex and thoughtful and by the close of that conference we knew there was a need to go further in our articulations and questions and also to broaden participation, both in terms of geography and as sectors of civil society.

The second iteration of “Our Whole Society: Bridging the Religious-Secular Divide” therefore took place in 2015, hosted by the Laurier Institution at UBC, Vancouver, focusing on how we as people inclusive of all parts of civil society might and could work together for the common good. While the Montreal conference emphasized the positive role of religion in society, the Vancouver one pushed further into an emphasis on the common good and the defining of secularism.

In Montreal we concluded with comments about some of the directions in which this conversation needs to further develop and in Vancouver we did the same. We spoke about, a little ironically, the need to further define who the ‘we’ is in these conversations, emphasizing the need to still further broaden the discussion. We reflected on the need to say ‘no’ to some definitions of religious accommodation and secularism in the knowledge that hurt may be caused. We wondered about the role of geography in multiculturalism and pluralism and the reality that neither faith traditions nor secularism are monolithic, that there is pluralism within communities themselves as well as within society as a whole. The need for religious literacy was raised in the understanding that in the past it has often been the faith communities who have felt the obligation to educate about their traditions but that given the on-going place of religion in society, the secular reality also has a responsibility to know some of the priorities and traditions of faith traditions. In Vancouver there was also much discussion, and rightly difference of opinion, on the relationship of human rights and religious rights. We also emphasized the need to stand up for the rights of others and not just those of our own particular community.

As the presentations took a variety of formats – academic, reflective and anecdotal – we were reminded that ‘story is to both religion and secularity as math is to science’, that we as human beings are engaged in the lived stories of our lives in these deep issues. We were also reminded that the abuse suffered by First Nations peoples in Canada was not only physical, sexual and cultural but also spiritual. There cannot be meaningful reconciliation unless spirituality is not only acknowledged but is actually a primary part of that reconciliation.

“Our Whole Society: Bridging The Religious-Secular Divide” concluded with the strong affirmation that it is imperative for the conversation continue. So…to 2017 – an opportunity on the occasion of Canada’s 150th Anniversary to vision and act for the common good. 

Contributed by the Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, Chair, "Our Whole Society" Steering Committee