Over the past several days I've been attending the gathering of the Canadian Political Science Association, notable for its unnatural bridging of policy nerds and political wonks in one place in space/time. Few things unite this disparate group other than topical interest, the exceptions being a distaste for Ayn Rand, polemical styles in dress, facial hair and vocabulary and, of course, a near universal disregard for religion as a practical force in politics.
This strikes most Americans as bizarre. The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs just launched The God Vote, a collaboration between the Washington Post and Newsweek to track the role of faith in this year's American election. By contrast, the first paper I sat through Tuesday morning—on a basic but insightful analysis of the role of religion in Alberta politics—was heralded as being unique in looking at an archaic factor which most Canadians would dismiss. Conclusively, the discussant was unconvinced even if intrigued by the role religion might play in Alberta, to say nothing of Canada.
That's not what Timothy Shah, Daniel Philpott and Monica Toft are saying over at the Witherspoon Institute's Public Discourse. In God and Political Science they write, "The view of global politics taught by political scientists is the poorest possible preparation for the era of global politics in which we now live. As we address central geopolitical challenges, we must delve into the details of religion and religious actors."
So what if the paper was right? What if religion actually plays a significant role in Alberta politics? And if pundits are right that this past federal election was a win for Alberta, having finally driven Alberta players into the halls of power? If religion was a significant factor in that electoral success, doesn that mean we actually don't understand what's going on in Canadian politics? Shouldn't that embarrass someone at the Canadian Political Science Association?
There's not much left to be said for Marci McDonald's factually unburdened intellectual walk about, The Armageddon Factor. But she has this over the CPSA: at least she's noticed something was afoot. And when we can trot McDonald out for deft sociological analysis, you know we've reached a bad place.