Joel Thiessen, PhD, MA, BA
PhD (University of Waterloo)
MA (University of Waterloo)
BA (Nazarene University College)
I am a sociologist passionate about learning and excellence, from the classroom instructing students to the research field gathering data to consulting settings bridging sociological knowledge with ‘real world’ concerns. Since joining the Ambrose faculty in 2008 I have used teaching, research, and speaking opportunities to demonstrate how the sociological perspective enables us to think carefully, critically, and scientifically about human attitudes and behaviours, often challenging 'common sense' myths with sound empirical data. In the classroom I stress the sociological imagination, critical thinking and communication skills, various teaching and assessment methods, and the integration of faith and learning. As a researcher I actively gather new data and publish research in my main area of interest, the sociology of religion and especially religion and culture in Canada.
I am married to Helen and we have a dog, Shadow. I am an avid sports fan, a drummer, and I enjoy reading biographies and exercising.
My current research cuts in three distinct yet broadly related directions: flourishing congregations in Canada, religious nones in North America, and millennials in Canada.
Flourishing Congregations in Canada – This ongoing research with Dr. Arch Wong (Ambrose University), Dr. Bill McAlpine (Ambrose University), and Dr. Keith Walker (University of Saskatchewan) is connected to the Flourishing Congregations Institute. Drawing on an appreciative inquiry approach, our central aim is to define and understand what flourishing congregations look like in a uniquely Canadian context and how local congregations from various traditions may move towards and maintain a flourishing ethos. Our first substantive study - three years in length - draws on interviews and focus groups with church and denominational leaders in five Canadian regions (phase one), a national survey with church leaders and congregants (phase two), and in-depth case studies with some congregations (phase three).
(Almost) Everything you Wanted to Know about being a Religious "None" in North America – 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 are working on 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.
Millennials in Motion: Canadian Youth Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow – In collaboration with Dr. Reginald Bibby (University of Lethbridge) and Dr. Monetta Bailey (Ambrose University), this book will draw 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 Media Appearances
February 27, 2017. “The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age … Continuing the Conversation.” Blog for Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network.
May 26, 2016. Radio Interview on “The Andrew Lawton Show.” Andrew Lawton, AM 980 Corus Radio (London, Ontario).
May 24, 2016. “Inversion of Moral Order: ‘Nice’ Canadian Parents Defer to Children on Religion.” Albert Mohler, The Briefing.
May 19, 2016. “‘Nice’ Canadian Parents Defer to Children on Religion, Most Everything.” Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun.
May/June 2016. “The FT Interview with Joel Thiessen.” Karen Stiller, Faith Today.
April 4, 2016. “Empty Strip Malls in Edmonton Offer New Homes for Churches: Strip Mall Churches Make for Affordable Houses of Worship.” Trisha Estabrooks, CBC News Edmonton.
March 6, 2016 . Radio Interview with Greg Glatz, Corus Radio.
January 2016. “What it Means to Thrive as a Church in Canada: Five Things Healthy Churches Do Well.” Faith Today.
Speaking and Consulting
My teaching and research interests position me to speak and consult about religion and culture in Canada, practical and theological responses for churches in twenty-first century Canada, comparing religion in Canada and the United States (particularly in evangelical settings), youth and religion, 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
2017 (Forthcoming). “Creative Knowledge Mobilization.” Conference Presentation for Engaging Communities through Research Event, in Waterloo, ON.
2017 (Forthcoming). “Building a Comprehensive Model for Religious None Growth in North America.” Conference Presentation (with Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme) for Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.
2017 (Forthcoming). “Comparing Religious Nones in Canada and the United States.” Conference Presentation (with Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme) for Association for the Sociology of Religion Annual Meeting in Montreal, QC.
2016. “Flourishing Congregations in Canada: Preliminary Observations.” Conference Presentation (with Arch Wong) for Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting in Atlanta, GA.
2016 . “Religious Nones in Canada: Freedom from Religion.” Conference Presentation for Association for the Sociology of Religion Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA.
2016. Panel Member in “Author Meets Critics” session with Christel Manning (author of Losing Our Religion) for Association for the Sociology of Religion Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA.
2016. “The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age.” Author of “Author Meets Critics” session for Association for the Sociology of Religion Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA.
2016. “Canadian Large Church Survey: Introduction and Demographic Realities.” Conference Presentation for Canadian Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting in Calgary, AB.
2016. “The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age.” Author of “Author Meets Critics” session for Canadian Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting in Calgary, AB.
2016. “A Glimpse into the Future in the United States: Religious Nones in Canada.” Invited presenter for Association of Nazarene Sociologists and Researchers Annual meeting in Kansas City, MO.
2016. “Religious Nones in Canada: A Qualitative Exploration.” Conference Presentation for Evangelical Missiological Society (Canada Region) in Calgary, AB.