The Secular Northwest
244 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:15 Jan 2017
Release Date:01 May 2016
Release Date:22 Jul 2016
Release Date:01 May 2016

The Secular Northwest

Religion and Irreligion in Everyday Postwar Life

UBC Press

The image of a rough frontier – where working men were tempted away from church on Sundays by more profane concerns – was perpetuated by postwar church leaders, who decried the decline of religious involvement on the west coast. The Secular Northwest debunks the myth of a godless frontier, revealing a Pacific Northwest that was serious about its secularity, consciously rejecting the trappings of organized religion but not necessarily spirituality – and not necessarily God.

In this pioneering new book, Tina Block challenges notions of feminine piety and spiritual practice, reconceiving the role of religion in the postwar era. Women, families, and middle-class communities all helped to shape Northwest secularism, but the freedom to be religiously uninvolved came at a cost: the rejection of religion often led to family, gender, and class tensions.

Drawing on oral histories, census data, newspapers, and archival sources, Block paints irreligion as a dynamic element of Northwest identity, grounded in the region’s unique geography, the cultural permeability of the Canada–United States border, the independent spirit of those who called the region home, and their openness to secular ways of experiencing the world.

Scholars and students of religion, irreligion, social and cultural history, and the Pacific Northwest will value this provocative discussion of the rise of secularism in the twentieth century. This book will also appeal to those with an interest in oral narrative and contemporary anthropology.

I am especially impressed by the ways in which Block uses the oral histories she has gathered to challenge the theoretical frameworks often imposed on lived reality. Secularity, she argues throughout the book, is a much more complicated and shifting phenomenon than many assume ... people interested in Pacific Northwest life are indebted to Tina Block for an admirable scholarly endeavor. It deserves wide circulation and consideration. Brian Fraser, BC Studies
...a thoughtful and thought-provoking work that offers a relatively uncommon analysis of secularism in postwar B.C. Chelsea Horton, The Ormsby Review, April 2017
An excellent book will lead you through doors of thought and will open new pathways once the reading is done. Block does not disappoint. Mark McGowan, Department of History, University of Toronto, Pacific Historical Review
The Secular Northwest is a tour de force. Tina Block integrates oral history with a vast and careful reading of the historiography of the Pacific Northwest – and not just that of religion and secularity but also that of gender, class, race, and place – to animate the unique characteristics of everyday non-religious life in British Columbia and Washington State. David B. Marshall, author of Secularizing the Faith: Canadian Protestant Clergy and the Crisis of Belief, 1850–1940
Tina Block offers a rich, multilayered analysis of the practices of irreligion in the Pacific Northwest ... The book opens up new ways of thinking about secularism and regional identity. James Opp, author of The Lord for the Body: Religion, Medicine, and Protestant Faith Healing in Canada, 1880–1930
Tina Block is an associate professor of history at Thompson Rivers University. Her research interests include religion, irreligion, gender, and family in the postwar era. Her work has been published in the Journal of Women’s History and BC Studies.


1 Constructing the Secular Northwest: The View from the Churches

2 A “mounting tide of criticism”: The Challenge to Organized Religion

3 Class, Gender, and Religious Involvement

4 Belief and Unbelief

5 “The closest thing to me”: Religion, Irreligion, and the Family

6 “So much sin amid so much beauty”: Secularity and Regional Identity



Selected Bibliography


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