Immigrant Religiosity in Canada: Multiple Trajectories

  • Phillip Connor


Although much research focuses on the economic and linguistic adaptation of immigrants to their new societies, it is rare to find research that studies the religious adaptation of immigrants at a national level. Using longitudinal data among immigrants to Canada in 2001, hypothesized trajectories of immigrant religiosity during initial settlement controlling for a number of individual and contextual level factors are explored. Religious group membership increases a few years after migration and then falls back to earlier levels within 4 years after migration. However, religious participation declines throughout the adaptation process, while the likelihood of religious volunteerism dramatically increases. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of potential explanations for these seemingly contradictory trajectories.


Immigration Religion Longitudinal survey of immigrants to Canada Immigrant religion 


Bien que les recherches sur l’adaptation économique et linguistique des immigrants à leur nouvelle société soient nombreuses, le thème de l’adaptation religieuse des immigrants au contexte national reste négligé. Puisant dans des données de l’Enquête longitudinale auprès des immigrants du Canada de 2001, ce travail s’intéresse aux trajectoires religieuses des immigrants au cours de la période d’installation, en contrôlant les facteurs individuels et contextuels. L’appartenance à un groupe religieux augmente dans les années suivant la migration avant de redescendre quatre ans plus tard au niveau initial. La participation religieuse décline tout au long du processus d’adaptation, alors que le volontariat religieux augmente fortement. L’article termine par une brève discussion des facteurs qui pourraient expliquer ces trajectoires à première vue contradictoires.

Mots clés

immigration religion enquête longitudinale auprès des immigrants du Canada religion des immigrants 



I am grateful to Sara McLanahan, Robert Wuthnow, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Appreciation is also extended to Statistics Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for access to pertinent data for this project. Consequently, the views, opinions, and analysis expressed in this paper reflect the researcher and not Statistics Canada or any of the paper’s reviewers. Funding for this project was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council award number 752-2008-0188 as well as Princeton University’s Canadian Studies Program and Center for the Study of Religion.


  1. Alanezi, F. (2005). Theoretical explanations for variations in religious participation among U.S. immigrants: The impact of nativity, ethnic community, family structure, and religious markets. Ph.D. Dissertation, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL.Google Scholar
  2. Berger, P. (1967). The sacred canopy: Elements of a sociological theory of religion. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  3. Beyer, P. (1997). Religious vitality in Canada: The complementarity of religious market and secularization perspectives. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 36(2), 272–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beyer, P. (2005). Religious identity and educational attainment among recent immigrants to Canada: gender, age, and 2nd generation. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 6(2), 177–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blau, P. M. (1977). Inequality and heterogeneity. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bramadat, P., & Seljak, D. (2005). Religion and ethnicity in Canada. Toronto: Pearson Longman.Google Scholar
  7. Bramadat, P., & Seljak, D. (2008). Chartering the new terrain: Christianity and ethnicity in Canada. In P. Baramadat & D. Seljak (Eds.), Christianity and ethnicity in Canada, pp. 3–48. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  8. Cadge, W. (2008). De Facto Congregationalism and the Religious Organizations of Post-1965 immigrants to the United States: A revised approach. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 76(2), 344–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cadge, W., & Ecklund, E. (2007). Immigration and religion. Annual Review of Sociology, 33, 359–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chen, C. (2008). Getting saved in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Citizenship and Immigration Canada. (2008). Facts and figures 2006 immigration overview: Permanent residents.
  12. Clark, W., & Schellenberg, G. (2006). Who’s religious? Canadian Social Trends, 11-008, 2–9.Google Scholar
  13. Connor, P. (2007). New directions for immigrant religious research. Tampa: Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting.Google Scholar
  14. Connor, P. (2008). Increase or decrease? The impact of the international migratory event on immigrant religious participation. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 47(2), 243–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. De Tocqueville, A. (2003). Democracy in America. New York: Penguin Classics. [1831, 1840].Google Scholar
  16. Ebaugh, H. R. (2003). Religion and the new immigrants. In M. Dillon (Ed.), Handbook of the sociology of religion. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Finke, R., & Stark, R. (1988). Religious economies and sacred canopies: religious mobilization in American Cities, 1906. American Sociological Review, 53(1), 41–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Finke, R., & Stark, R. (1992). The churching of America, 1776–1990: Winners and losers in our religious economy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Foley, M., & Hoge, D. R. (2007). Religion and the new immigrants: How faith communities form our newest citizens. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Frees, E. W. (2004). Longitudinal and panel data: Analysis and applications in the social sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. George, S. (1998). Caroling with the Keralites: The negotiation of gendered space in an Indian immigrant church. In R. S. Warner & J. G. Wittner (Eds.), Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious communities and the new immigrants. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Hagan, J., & Ebaugh, H. R. (2003). Calling upon the sacred: Migrants’ use of religion in the migration process. International Migration Review, 37(4), 1145–1163.Google Scholar
  23. Heinrich, J. (2007). Accommodate each other. The Montreal Gazette, Montreal, February 12, 2007.Google Scholar
  24. Herberg, W. (1960). Protestant-Catholic-Jew. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  25. Hirschman, C. (2004). The role of religion in the origins and adaptation of immigrant groups in the United States. The International Migration Review, 38(3), 1206–1234.Google Scholar
  26. Kelley, N., & Trebilcock, M. J. (1998). The making of a mosaic: A history of Canadian immigration policy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  27. Massey, D., Higgins, M. (2007). What role does religion play in the migration process? And vice versa?: Evidence from the new immigrant survey. Population Association of America, New York, Annual Meeting.Google Scholar
  28. Killian, C. (2001). Cultural choices and identity negotiation of Muslim Maghrebin women in France. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Sociology, Emory University.Google Scholar
  29. Kurien, P. (2002). We are better Hindus here. In K. Min (Ed.), Religion in Asian America. Walnut Creek: AltaMira.Google Scholar
  30. Mori. (2001). Asian immigrants alter Canada’s faith picture. Christian Century, January 17.Google Scholar
  31. O’Toole, R. (1996). Religion in Canada: Its development and contemporary situation. Social Compass, 43(1), 119–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Portes, A., & Rumbaut, R. (2006). Immigrant America: A portrait. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  33. Presser, S., & Stinson, L. (1998). Data collection mode and social desirability bias in self-reported religious attendance. American Sociological Review, 63(1), 137–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Saran, P. (1985). The Asian Indian experience in the United States. Cambridge: Schenkman.Google Scholar
  35. Smith, T. W. (1998). A review of church attendance measures. American Sociological Review, 63(1), 131–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Smith, C., Sikink, D., & Bailey, J. (1998). Devotion in Dixie and beyond: A test of the ‘Shibley Thesis’ on the effects of regional origin and migration on individual religiosity. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 37(3), 494–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Stump, R. (1984). Regional migration and religious commitment in the United States. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 23(3), 292–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Statistics Canada. (1997). Caring Canadians, involved Canadians: Highlights from the 1997 national survey of giving, volunteering and participating. Catalogue no. 71-542-XIE.Google Scholar
  39. Statistics Canada. (2003). Longitudinal survey of immigrants to Canada: Process progress, and prospects: Survey methodology. Catalogue no. 89-611-XIE.Google Scholar
  40. Statistics Canada. (2006). Canadian Census 2006. Accessed December 4, 2007.
  41. van Tubergen, F. (2006). Religious affiliation and attendance among immigrants in eight western countries: Individual and contextual effects. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 45(1), 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Warner, R. S. (1998). Religion and migration in the United States. Social Compass, 45(1), 123–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Warner, R. S. (2000). Religion and New (Post-1965) immigrants: some principles drawn from field research. American Studies, 41(2/3), 267–286.Google Scholar
  44. Weber, M. (2002). ‘Churches’ and ‘Sects’ in North America. In P. Baehr, & G.C. Wells (Eds.), The protestant ethic and the ‘Spirit’ of capitalism and other writings. New York: Penguin. [1906].Google Scholar
  45. Wuthnow, R. (2005). America and the challenges of religious diversity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Wuthnow, R., & Christiano, K. (1979). The effects of residential migration on church attendance in the United States. In R. Wuthnow (Ed.), The religious dimension: New directions in quantitative research. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

Personalised recommendations