Albertans more likely to believe in a higher power, pray or attend religious services, survey suggests

Albertans and their fellow Prairie dwellers are more likely to be “religiously committed” than other Canadians, a new survey on faith suggests.

Quebeckers more likely to eschew or question religion, the data suggests

Albertans are more likely than most Canadians to pray daily, and engage in other religious practices, according to a new survey. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Albertans and their fellow Prairie dwellers are more likely to be "religiously committed" than other Canadians, a new survey on faith suggests.

The data, released Monday, suggest a larger proportion of Albertans believe in God or a higher power, routinely read a sacred text or pray, or educate their children in religion compared to people in Ontario, B.C. Quebec or the Atlantic provinces.

The Angus Reid Institute and Cardus, a Christian think tank based in Ontario, surveyed nearly 3,000 people online between January and April. The surveyors sought out Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs for interfaith perspectives, as well as polling the general Canadian population.

"Alberta clearly is a more religious province than some of the others," said Cardus vice-president and co-founder Ray Pennings, in an interview Monday.

Albertans are also more likely to be open about their religious beliefs, the survey suggests, which Pennings said is easier to do when more neighbours are routinely heading to a gurdwara or mosque.

The result comes despite the fact that Albertans are among the least likely to have been raised in a religious environment, the survey suggests.

Surveyors found about a quarter of Prairie residents were "spiritually committed," meaning they were likely to belong to communities of worship, believe in the afterlife and a deity or deities, or routinely practice their religion.

That was compared to 18 per cent of Canadians.

Pennings said it's likely due to the demographics of Europeans who settled in the Prairies, who may have been more reliant on community institutions, like churches, than on the government while the land was sparsely populated.

Immigration to the province and the country is also changing the demographics, as religious diasporas grow.

Ray Pennings is executive vice-president and co-founder of Cardus, a Christian social policy think tank based in Ottawa and Hamilton, Ontario. The organization has been surveying Canadians on their religious beliefs and actions since 2017. (Submitted by Cardus)

Cardus has done a version of the survey annually since 2017, and has seen the numbers of people who feel unsure about their faith gravitate more toward the extremes, Pennings said.

"There is no social benefit anymore to being religious," he said. "You're either religious, and you sort of take the whole meal deal, or, we're seeing an increasing trend of not being religious, if that's not your thing."

The survey suggests 45 per cent of Canadians feel "spiritually uncertain." Middle-aged women and older men are the most likely to find themselves grappling with questions of spirituality.

And those who feel a religious connection may not be frequently acting on it. About 29 per cent of the general population said they attend religious services more than a few times a year.

Albertans concerned about freedom of religion

When asked if the overall presence of certain religions were damaging or beneficial to Canadian society, respondents were most likely to peg Catholicism, evangelical Christianity and Islam as having a negative impact.

Pennings said the results on Catholicism could reflect the effects of stories surfacing of hundreds of unmarked graves discovered at residential schools, many of which were run by the Catholic church.

About a third of Albertans self-identified as Catholic in the survey, the highest of any religion.

Albertans also appeared concerned about the state of freedom of religion and conscience in Canada.

Pennings said this concern could stem from high-profile arrests and building closures when some Alberta churches refused to adhere to COVID-19 public health measures, such as capacity limits, to prevent the spread of disease.

Albertans were more likely than the national average to say Canadian society "shuts out" their faith and beliefs, rather than accommodating them.

The margin of error for a comparable random sample survey would be 1.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. A margin of error for Alberta results would be seven percentage points.

Detailed results are on the Angus Reid Institute website.


Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.