Having said something of the 'why' of this research, I must also say something of the 'how.' Because the Canadian Forces do not record or compile statistics on the religious identity of their members, and there has been so little research on this topic to date, ethnographic interviews seemed to be the most realistic way to approach the topic. However, two factors in particular challenged my efforts and limited the scope of my work to an exploratory study: my civilian (and, at the time, nonacademic) status, and ethical limits imposed on the research by the University of Waterloo and the Canadian Forces Directorate of Human Resources Research and Evaluation (DHRRE).
My first obligation, before conducting any interviews with personnel, was to obtain official military sanction for my study. To do this, I needed a research branch or other office to endorse the value of the work. My calls, emails, and voicemails were ignored, rejected, or redirected until finally I encountered Dr Daniel Lagace-Roy of the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute, who agreed to endorse my study. I needed to demonstrate this approval on all my contact letters to show research participants that military higher-ups approved the study and participating would not get them in trouble. Nonetheless, a Forces-wide survey on religion was out of the question. The DHRRE advised me: 'The Army has just entered a phase of "regeneration" after a very long period of high operational tempo. The purpose of this period (about 18 months) is to give the soldiers some breathing room and allow time for collective training activities that have been put on the back burner for several years. During this period of regeneration new social science research projects with high data collection demand characteristics are to be minimized' (Benham Rennick 2004).1
Shortly after this, I was invited to speak at a community seminar on military chaplaincy held at the University of Victoria's Centre for Studies in Religion and Society in 2005. There I met then Chaplain General Ron Bourque, who gave his further support for the research and invited me to participate at the Annual Chaplain Retreat as an observer and guest speaker. He granted me unlimited access to seek participants from within the chaplain branch. While my initial objective was to focus primarily on personnel and secondarily on chaplains, the restrictions placed on the study, and my limited access to personnel as operations again increased with Canadian engagement in Afghanistan, resulted in my having a greater access to chaplains and some difficulty finding participants in the regular forces because of continual movement and deployment. This was particularly true for members of religious minorities, who are considerably fewer in number than the mainstream. On several occasions I sought permission to be deployed with Canadian troops in Afghanistan to conduct field research in that environment. Most of these calls and emails went ignored, but others came back advising that permission was not granted.
I attempted to compensate for these limitations by pursuing every opportunity, in addition to formal interviews, for informal discussions and email and telephone exchanges with personnel and chaplains about various aspects of life (including the religious) in the Canadian Forces. While these people did not all consent to participate in the study, they often made comments and suggestions that were helpful in directing my research. Further to these encounters, I attended meetings, conferences, lectures, and memorial events that addressed or demonstrated the role religion plays in the military. For example, I visited base chapels in Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia and was a participant observer at the Annual Chaplain Retreat in June 2006. I examined websites dedicated to specific religious groups within the CF, and I gathered news clippings about the experiences of various religious minorities and the chaplains ministering to them, as well as religious events and activities occurring on bases and during missions. I relied on ombudsman's reports, government documents, and Department of Defence newsletters. In addition to my own field research on the topic, I examined the little existing research and documentation that addresses the role of religion in the CF today. Most of this is in the context of the chaplaincy; however, recent efforts by U.S., Australian, and Dutch military policy-makers to address the lack of so-called 'cultural intelligence' among military personnel are garnering some attention to religion as an aspect of culture. These projects note the importance of training military members in aspects of the culture in the regions to which they are deployed, but limit religion and religious identity to one small component within the notion of 'culture.'2 I did extensive research on the sociology of religion and military sociology in Canada and among NATO forces.
When the waiting period imposed by the DHRRE elapsed, I made efforts to contact sympathetic personnel on bases across Canada. My calls and emails to senior personnel were often ignored or redirected me to base chaplains. Unsurprisingly, chaplains are interested in religion in the military and were therefore helpful in my requests for assistance in identifying personnel from a variety of faith perspectives. I interviewed chaplains, but I also asked them to connect me with personnel who might participate in my research. I asked for atheists, Muslims, Pagans, 'not sures,' evangelicals, Buddhists, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, and others. Some of these groups are present in very small numbers in the Canadian Forces and are frequently moved around as needs arise. For example, I made multiple attempts to interview a group of Sikhs in a Toronto unit, but as we were to meet, two of them were deployed and one was sent on manoeuvres. As a result, I corresponded with them via email and followed their web pages on being a CF Sikh. When I did make a positive contact with someone, I requested him or her to direct me to other potential participants. This is commonly known as 'snowball,' or geometric, sampling.
To my surprise, many CF personnel were willing and even eager to talk to me about the role of religion or, as they frequently preferred, 'spirituality' in their lives. I had expected people to show little interest in research on 'religion' and perhaps refuse to participate in such a study. Of course some people did just that but not for the reasons, such as lack of interest, that I had anticipated. One memorable refusal came from a young soldier who was irate that I would ask him about such 'personal matters.' More amiable types immediately referred me to the chaplains and claimed to have little interest in or knowledge of religion. More frequently, however, I found people responding with their own questions and making statements that attested to a spiritual quest, a desire for deeper insights and meaning in their lives, and a genuine desire to 'do good.' Normally I started interviews with general questions related to their duties, the amount of time they had served in the military, and their experiences on deployment or in training. Often they brought up religious and spiritual interests without probing. Other times I asked basic, open-ended questions from a pool of approximately 11 questions that included additional probes (indicated in parentheses below):
Can you talk about this a little (e.g., did religion become more/less significant during your deployment)?
My goal was to conduct an exploratory analysis into the place and role of religion in the Canadian Forces. By exploratory I mean a 'broadranging, purposive, systematic, prearranged undertaking designed to maximize the discovery of generalizations leading to description and understanding of an area of social or psychological life' (Stebbins 2001, 4) that has previously been overlooked and is of growing significance in Canadian society. To this end, in addition to the informal discussions, site visits, meetings, lectures, and other research described above, I conducted 32 semi-structured and unstructured interviews with a select but diverse group of participants with an eye to establishing a snapshot of the role religion plays for Canadian Forces members of all stripes.
I took notes and transcripts from interviews and analysed them using the qualitative methodology of grounded theory. I applied qualitative coding to identify recurrent elements and establish analytical categories. In this process, theories explaining the data are 'grounded' in the data. This model of putting data collection first, followed by analysis that looks for common themes, and finally application of a theory to explain the results is a reversal of traditional approaches to research but one that works very well in areas of study where there is little prior knowledge about the place or significance of the object of study. Following this method, as themes became apparent, I found that they further informed the data collection process as I attempted to amplify the critical data or challenge the theories I was applying to explain them.3 For example, when I heard numerous people remark that, despite their generally non-religious orientation, they might pray during periods of stress, I sought to pursue that question more thoroughly with other non-believers. This led to the assertion that some do not pray, some meditate, some visualize better circumstances, some seek solitude, some seek community, and so forth. With respect to a general description of religion in the Canadian military, three core categories quickly became apparent. These were 1) the role of the chaplains, 2) the personal experiences of personnel, and 3) questions about suffering and meaning. The diversity of meaning surrounding the terms 'religion' and 'spirituality' and the relative lack of engagement in an active, established form of religion made it difficult to fully establish religion in the military as a singular concept, so I continually asked participants to explain and clarify their understanding and usage of these terms.
Military sociologists tend to prefer broad surveys and statistics that are helpful methods for establishing rules and achieving specific measurements but become problematic when trying to learn something of the minority experience. My use of grounded theory with a select group of participants has provoked some criticism therefore, particularly from military sociologists, that this study does not entail sufficient breadth for an analysis of religion in the Canadian Forces. This criticism might have been legitimate if the purpose of this research had been quantitative analysis of religion in the CF. The objective, however, as I have already stated, was to learn something of the role that religion plays for personnel and the challenges of providing religious support for members of an increasingly diverse group of people. When one considers the number of personnel the CF presumes to have within its ranks from minority groups (presumably few, as we shall see in chapter 4, although again, we cannot confirm this precisely because the CF does not keep statistics on religion), and the differences of experiences faced by individuals of all backgrounds, there is clear justification for seeking out and interviewing members of specific groups as well as conducting in-depth interviews rather than superficial data collection. How else, exactly, could we begin to learn anything of Muslim or Aboriginal experience in the CF unless we ask members of those groups? For example, apart from learning that they are few in number, we will not learn much about Sikh or Buddhist experience in the CF through a general survey or the collection of statistics. Grounded theory, however, can direct us to the key concerns of the individuals involved so that we can begin to identify the social processes at work in this particular context. Ultimately, both the broad-spectrum statistics and the targeted research are required if military policy-makers hope to be prepared for the inevitable diversity of future military personnel.
Over the course of three years from September 2004 to September 2007, I conducted semi-structured interviews with military personnel (16 chaplains and 16 non-chaplains) about the role of religion and personal spirituality in their lives.
Table 1.1 and figure 1.1 show the demographics of the interview participants. These are included simply to identify groups with whom I had first-person contact. As these numbers show, like the makeup of the CF (see chapter 4), the majority of participants were white males from Christian traditions. The majority of regular forces members are army (31%), followed by administrative and support personnel (combined total 32%), then air force (23%), and finally navy (15%) (CBC News 2006a; DND 2006a). In keeping with the makeup of the CF, most participants were members of the regular forces with representation from the army, air force, and navy. Although I indicate only Francophone
Table 1.1. Demographics of Interview Participants (1)
Figure 1.1. Demographics of interview participants (2)
and Anglophone here, I interviewed personnel whose first language was neither of these. For the sake of concealing their identity I incorporated those people under the language they primarily speak in Canada. 'Protestants' includes Anglicans, United Church members, Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Christian Reformed, Lutherans. 'Other Traditions' includes Muslims, Wiccans, and those who follow Native Spirituality.