Quenching the Spirit: The Transformation of Religious Identity and Experience in Three Canadian Pentecostal Churches
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According to Census Canada, after eight decades of consistent growth Canadian Pentecostal affiliation reached an all-time high of 436,435 individuals in 1991. A decade later, the results of the 2001 Canadian census revealed that Pentecostalism underwent a precipitous 15.3 percent, or 66,969 affiliate, decline—the first in Canadian Pentecostal history. Scholars of religion assumed that this decline in affiliation represented an actual decrease in the number of Canadian Pentecostal adherents. Drawing on 42 personal interviews, 158 survey responses, content analysis of material culture, and one year of participant observation within three Canadian Pentecostal congregations located in the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, I provide an alternative interpretation of the decrease in Canadian Pentecostal affiliation that pays closer attention to both the data contained in the census as well as important changes in religious culture that have occurred at the congregational level. I demonstrate how the decrease in Canadian Pentecostal affiliation recorded by Census Canada does not alone provide adequate evidence to claim that Pentecostal adherents abandoned their congregations at a rate of more than 15 percent in the decade between 1991 and 2001. Instead, I argue that this decrease in affiliation can be explained by the fact that Canadian Pentecostals have experienced a transformation of religious identity, belief, and practice from traditionally Pentecostal to generically evangelical categories significant enough to be detected by the census. When asked, for instance, to describe their religious affiliation, 86 percent of interview participants in this study chose a generically evangelical or Christian moniker rather than the term “Pentecostal.” This means that just 14 percent of interview participants would have been recorded as Pentecostal if they answered in a similar way on the census instrument. The significant proportion of the participants in this study that did not identify, believe, or behave the way that Canadian Pentecostals did just a few decades earlier, I believe, helps explain the dramatic, if misleading, 2001 census results.