Joel Thiessen, PhD, MA, BA

Professor, Sociology
Director, Flourishing Congregations Institute
Phone:
+1 (403) 410-2000 ext. 2979
Office Location:
L2105

Education

PhD (University of Waterloo)
MA (University of Waterloo)
BA (Nazarene University College)

Biography

I am a sociologist of religion. My research interests include religion in Canada, Christianity, congregations, religious nones, millennials, and qualitative methods. I have authored four books: None of the Above: Nonreligious Identity in the US and Canada (2020, with Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme); The Millennial Mosaic: How Pluralism and Choice are Shaping Canadian Youth and the Future of Canada (2019, with Reginald Bibby and Monetta Bailey); The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age (2015); and The Sociology of Religion: A Canadian Perspective (with Lorne Dawson, 2014).

I am married to Helen and we have a dog, Shadow. I am an avid sports fan, and a drummer, and I enjoy reading biographies, traveling, and exercising. For more about me and my research, visit www.joelthiessen.ca

Current Research

My current research cuts in three distinct yet broadly related directions: congregations in Canada, religious nones in North America, and millennials in Canada.

Nonreligion in a Complex Future

Beginning in late 2019, I’m part of a 7 year study with an international research team that is exploring the role and place of nonreligion in diverse social contexts around the world, including in Canada.

None of the Above: Nonreligious Identity in the US and Canada

Someone saying they have “no religion” when asked their religious affiliation has become an increasingly common phenomenon in recent decades in both the USA and Canada, with religious nones now forming substantial portions of the North American population. Yet, we know little when it comes to this demographic’s reasons for not identifying with a religious group or tradition, their personal spiritualities or forms of secularity, their feelings towards more religious individuals and their socio-political attitudes and behaviours. Using key survey and in-depth interview data from a number of sources, Dr. Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme (University of Waterloo) and I released a book that explores the dynamics of being a religious none in contemporary North America and how this non-religious identity impacts other aspects of daily and social life. In so doing, we give special attention to similarities and differences between religious nones in the USA and Canada, accounting for the distinct historical, cultural, and religious landscapes in each nation.

The Millennial Mosaic: How Pluralism and Choice are Shaping Canadian Youth and the Future of Canada

In collaboration with Dr. Reginald Bibby (University of Lethbridge) and Dr. Monetta Bailey (Ambrose University), this book draws on data from a national 2015 Religion Survey as well as a new national Social Trends Survey completed in late 2016 to provide an updated reading on Canadian youth.

Scholarly & Professional Activity

Select Recent Media Appearances

January 2, 2020. “Demographic, Cultural Changes Key to Declining Church Membership: Sociologist of Religion.” Matt Gardner, Anglican Journal.

September 27, 2019. "Reaching the 42 million leaving the Church." Abigail Theano-Pudwill, Christian News.

September 14, 2019. "The Millennials Mosaic." Hal Roberts, Bridge City News.

September 12, 2019. "'Values Chasm' between young and old matters in this election, says pollster." Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun.

May 21, 2019. “Study: It’s easier to be a ‘None’ in Canada than in the US.” John Longhurst, Religion News Service.

May 21, 2019. “Flourishing Congregations Institute.” Podcast Interview with Mark Buchanan and Bernie Van De Walle, Faith AEffects.

 May 19, 2019. "Millennials - The Entitled Generation?" Melinda Estabrooks, See Hear Love.

March 1, 2019. “The Canadian Millennials Choosing God in a Secular World” Ellen Samek, National Post.

Speaking and Consulting

My teaching and research interests position me to speak and consult about congregations, religious nones, millennials, why people leave the church and will they ever come back, youth/millennials and religion, comparing religion in Canada and the United States (particularly in evangelical settings), practical and theological responses for churches in twenty-first century Canada, social problems and inequality, and survey construction and design. In the past I have spoken in a variety of settings, including denominational leader meetings, church board and leadership consultations, congregational settings, small group gatherings, youth leader conferences, and teen or young adult retreats.

Please contact me if you are interested in me spending time with your group; I would love to hear from you and I am open to developing material specific to your group’s needs and interests.

Recent Conference Presentations

2020. “None of the Above: Nonreligious Identity in the US and Canada.” Author of “Authors Meets Critics” session for Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, PA. Forthcoming.

2020. “None of the Above: Nonreligious Identity in the US and Canada.” Author of “Authors Meets Critics” session for Canadian Society for the Study of Religion Annual Meeting in London, ON. Forthcoming.

2019. “Canada’s Churches: Realities, Challenges, Opportunities, and Responses” for Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting in St. Louis, MO. 

2019. “Flourishing Congregations & Leadership: Canadian Perceptions and Experiences” for Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting in St. Louis, MO.

2019. “Religious None Perceptions toward the Religiously Affiliated in the United States and Canada” (with Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme) for Association for the Sociology of Religion Annual Meeting in New York, NY. 

2019. “Religious Nones and Civic Engagement in Canada” (with Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme) for Canadian Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting in Vancouver, BC.