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Home arrow Religion arrow Religion in the Ranks: Belief and Religious Experience in the Canadian Forces

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-2007: A 'Postmodern' Context

I have already discussed the term 'postmodernity' as it applies to civilian society; however, the phrase 'postmodern military'16 is widely accepted by military analysts and sociologists to describe Western military forces after the collapse of the Soviet Union.17 While this research is not an examination of the postmodern military per se, it is worth noting how military sociologists apply the term. Harry Bondy explains that discussions on the value of ideas about postmodernism have resulted in two schools of thought among military sociologists. The first group 'looks for sociological and political trends in military institutions and their host societies that it calls postmodern. It concentrates on changes that have become most evident since the end of the Cold War... [and addresses issues] centred on changes to the perceived threat, mission definition, the dominant military professional type, public attitudes, media relations, conscientious objectors, and the role of civilian employees, women, spouses and homosexuals' (2004, 32-3).

The second group is more interested in the 'cultural assumptions, behaviour patterns and institutional characteristics of the military in the context of Western society.' What both groups hold in common is the idea that, like civilian society, militarism after the demise of Eastern European communist strongholds has changed (33). The development of the CF Chaplain Branch during this period offers insights for both schools of thought in the way it has faced changing demographics following the end of the Cold War, and in the ways chaplains are attempting to address Western cultural assumptions that govern the branch.

The modernizing influences of the previous decades that reshaped the Canadian military were part of a chain of events happening around the world. Today's 'postmodern military' incorporates greater numbers of civilians, more women and minority groups in the forces,18 more involvement of reserve forces personnel, a higher number of non-combat missions, and greater involvement with civilian populations while on humanitarian aid and peacekeeping tours of duty (Moskos, Williams, and Segal 1999). Legal interpretations of the Charter ensured greater protection for minority groups and demanded a need for new workplace attitudes and policies to ensure those rights to address harassment and discrimination. This meant significant changes to military traditions and norms in order to include increasing numbers of women and other minority personnel joining the ranks as well as formally permitting homosexuals to participate (Jackson 2003a, 4). For example, military officials accommodated religious diversity by allowing time and providing locations for prayer (for Muslims), permitting religious symbols such as long hair (for Aboriginal peoples), and allowing modifications of the uniform (for Sikhs and Muslim women) (Auditor General of Canada 2006; Loughlin and Arnold 2003; Moses, Graves, and Sinclair 2004). At the same time, the loss of moral consensus that comes from the dissolution of a common religious heritage and frame of reference meant that commanders and chaplains were also accommodating personnel with alternate value systems concerning sensitive topics such as homosexuality (Jackson 2003a, 2003b). Traditionally trained chaplains could no longer count on religious 'common knowledge' among personnel to whom they ministered and people were becoming less interested in 'old fashioned' religious perspectives. Further, as more personnel from non-Christian traditions joined the branch, the chaplaincy would recognize the need to move beyond ecumenism to become an interfaith establishment (Benham Rennick 2005a, 2006a).

 
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