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Author Talk: Towards a Godless Dominion

With Elliott Hanowski

In recent surveys, one in four Canadians say they have no religion. A century ago Canada was widely considered to be a Christian nation, and the vast majority of Canadians claimed they were devoutly religious. But some were determined to resist. In the 1920s and 30s, groups of militant unbelievers formed across Canada to push back against the dominance of religion.

Towards a Godless Dominion explores both anti-religious activism and the organized opposition unbelievers faced from Christian Canada during the interwar period. Despite Christianity’s prominence, anti-religious ideas were propagated by lectures in theatres, through newspapers, and out on the streets. Secularist groups in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver actively tried to win people away from religious belief. In the first two cities, they were met with stiff repression by the state, which convicted unbelievers of blasphemous libel, broke up their meetings, and banned atheistic literature from circulating. In the latter two cities unbelievers met social disapproval rather than official persecution.

Looking at interwar controversies around religion, such as arguments about faith healing and fundamentalist campaigns against teaching evolution, Elliot Hanowski shows how unbelievers were able to use these conflicts to get their skeptical message across to the public.

Challenging the stereotype of Canada as a tolerant, secular nation, Towards a Godless Dominion returns to a time when intolerant forms of Christianity ruled a country that was considered more religious than the United States.

Elliot Hanowski is an academic librarian at the University of Manitoba and a professional historian. He is interviewed by Bettianne Hedges, the executive director of Humanist Canada.

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