On the March: Secularization of Canadian Academia

Scott Douglas Jacobsen

According to Nathan Fung of The Gateway, the next convocation at the University of Alberta will not mention God, whatever that one happens to be or whoever they happen to be, but, rather, the community will be the target of service. As in, you serve your community rather than your personal god.

The General Faculties Council at the University of Alberta, which is the highest body for academic governance, approved, or passed, the changes to the convocation admission. As an undergraduate student, I find this intriguing as a development, as this has been something of discussion in elementary and secondary schools in sectors of the country. The conversation around the level of the secularization of the schools or, more properly, the level of one or other religion’s privileges over other religions/irreligion, or most/all religions educational privileges over the irreligious.

That being, the secularization of the educational system at the first two recognized tiers, primary and secondary. Now, apparently, this is another instance in the long march towards further secularization at the post-secondary, or tertiary, level now.

Intriguing.

The original phrasing in this convocation speech was “to serve your God,” which in a majority Christian adherent nation makes sense, but, with the decline in the numbers of the religious, the questions begin to arise with the increase in the irreligious – those with no religious affiliation – throughout the nation, as well as the reduction in the markers of faith (e.g., religious attendance, in the secondary beliefs, and so on), “Why have ceremonial reference to gods or a God? What if this was the hope of much of the student population but not a significant minority of them, say lower double-digit percentages? Why not have the university or college be neutral in its convocation on religion in the first place?”

Now, the phrase is “to serve your community for the public good.” That seems fair. I would commend Chancellor Doug Stollery for doing so, whether religious or not. It is a public good and community life statement, so the University of Alberta becomes a neutral player on religion at least in its convocation reference.

It seems similar to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada with God’s supremacy stated in the Preamble (Government of Canada, 1982). Why not remove it, even if only symbolic, for neutrality of the state on matters of faith? If not, does one argue the state remain preferential in matters of faith? If so, why? (und so weiter…)

It also seems like the tide of history for advanced industrial nations with highly educated populaces such as Canada. Religion becomes more personal, which I respect, and less socially, culturally, and educationally leaned-to in terms of privileges, which I observe as a loose historical heuristic – especially for education.

Stollery said, “A very important value of the university is inclusivity…that includes inclusivity of students of all faiths and students of no faith.” That seems fair to me, too.

Prior to 1999, the religious statements were, in essence, basic statements of allegiance: “for the glory of God and the honour of your country.” This was changed into: “for all who believe, to serve your god,” To top it off, the convocation began with a prayer with a call for blessings from the, at the time, chancellor of the University of Alberta.

That will be replaced with a call for the celebration of community and no prayer. Less than two decades to go from prayer, blessings, and the “glory of God” to no prayer and simply serving the community. That’s the rapid trend towards secularization.

References 

Fung, N. (2017, October 8). Convocation speech changed to be more secular. Retrieved from https://www.thegatewayonline.ca/2017/10/convocation-speech-changed/.

Government of Canada. (1982). Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Retrieved from http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-15.html.

One thought on “On the March: Secularization of Canadian Academia

  1. This action of the University of Alberta is certainly good news for all atheists and agnostics everywhere. The evidence for our human community is very good and important to recognize. The evidence for God has always been much more dubious so why continue to advance this belief especially in places were truth is most expected.

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