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The Persistence of Religion

Religion in the Ranks provides us with a number of insights relating to religion in Canada, debates surrounding secularization, and the persistence of religion in late modernity, as well as the changing nature of military society. Additionally, as a case study, this examination of the role of religion in the Canadian military has implications for our understanding of other public Canadian institutions, such as prisons and hospitals, which face issues related to religious diversity and equality, interfaith cooperation, and religious discrimination and intolerance.

The persistence of religion in highly bureaucratic organizations indicates the continuing significance religion can have for people employed in other secular Canadian institutions. Along with those who continue to participate in traditional religious communities, those who identify themselves as 'passively religious,' 'spiritual-but-not-religious,' or believers in 'something, I'm just not sure what!' as well as those who continue to seek a higher meaning and purpose for their lives through all manner of religious and value-laden initiatives indicate a need to further examine the role of religion among late modern individuals.

The evidence that religion - both in its traditional forms and in new and individualized forms - still plays an important role for people is an indication that secularizing trends do not always imply a weakening of interest in religious issues but to a significant change in the way that religious beliefs are understood, practised, and activated. Evidence that people turn to religious resources in times of hardship and stress suggests that religion and religious resources may remain valuable sources of comfort and consolation despite individuals' rejection of traditional organized religious forms.

As an exploratory and qualitative study, Religion in the Ranks only scratches the surface of the information that could be gleaned about the role of religion in the Canadian military. For example, we do not yet know the numbers of personnel who actually go to see a chaplain, attend a religious service, or engage in other types of religious activity. Further, we do not have a full picture of the motives that inspire personnel to engage in these practices. Obviously, more comprehensive work is necessary if we are to identify the nature, frequency, and motivation behind these activities and develop a better understanding of the role religion plays in the CF. Primary among the steps that would help in our understanding of the role of religion in the military is for the Department of National Defence to recommence collecting and compiling information on religion from personnel. Furthermore, a number of broader empirical surveys about religious interests and values (including perspectives that are 'spiritual but not religious'), religious knowledge, and the role of religious resources on deployments are needed. For example, questions such as 'How often do you go to a chaplain?' and 'Why do you go?' would clarify the conditions under which personnel seek out religious guidance. Besides adding to our general knowledge, answers to such questions would allow military officials to effect policies that could improve the quality of life for personnel, ensure adequate and appropriate moral and ethical leadership, and supply additional resources to assist in averting serious operational stress injuries, for example.

In addition to having to negotiate religious differences within the ranks, Canada's current security and defence policies that point to continued participation in military operations other than war highlight the need for military personnel to acquire religious knowledge for dealing with civilians and international military forces as a means to establish good relations and avoid abuses such as those that occurred in Somalia.3 Further research that makes a serious effort to uncover what knowledge military personnel currently have and lack is essential to being able to provide adequate training and information to prepare all members of the CF for the postmodern military environment. For example, a survey to discover what military members know and think about various minority religious groups (such as Muslims, to name one frequently maligned group) would point to areas where further training and education are warranted both for dealing with differences within the ranks and for negotiating civil-military and inter-military operations in Islamic countries. Furthermore, researchers and policymakers interested in military culture, group cohesion, and leadership training must expand their analysis to include religion as an aspect of personal identity and an indicator of difference within a group.

The role religion plays in assisting military members to cope with emotional and psychological stress needs to be examined seriously. While the work presented here suggests that chaplains are important sources of non-stigmatized consolation and comfort who provide an alternative to the professional mental health resources, it is not yet clear how effective they are. Moreover, as we have seen, chaplains require increased training and support in their role of aiding military personnel in dealing with stress because they are frequently facing considerable stress themselves. More research is required to understand the best ways of addressing these needs.

Finally, an examination of the role that religion plays in other Canadian institutions, such as prisons and hospitals, would broaden our understanding of the role of religion in Canada generally, and especially in environments where people face acute ethical, moral, and existential concerns. For example, rescue workers, law enforcement and security personnel, correctional service providers, and health care professionals all work in potentially highly stressful environments where issues of life and death are frequent aspects of their duties either for themselves or for those in their care. Although these people are members of secular public institutions and are not challenged by the same degree of unlimited liability and universality of deployment as CF personnel, it is not inconceivable that religious interests are significant for them as they are faced with existential concerns, moral and ethical dilemmas, and traumatic and stressful experiences. Studies that examine the role religion plays for individuals employed in these types of public service roles would enhance our knowledge of the role religion plays in Canadian public institutions.

Religion and religious diversity in Canadian society, despite their changing forms, will continue to be important social and cultural reference points for present and future generations. Identifying and preparing for this reality is an essential task not just in the ranks of the Canadian Forces but across Canadian society.

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