William Reimer on Religion & Violence in Toronto
Date: October 2nd, 2016

Historians and sociologists have long been puzzled by the falling rates of interpersonal violence over the course of the past few centuries.  Despite a few upticks at localized moments, murder rates have been falling in urban areas contrary what one might expect.  William (Bill) Reimer, author of Revisiting “Toronto the Good”: Violence, Religion and Culture in a Late Victorian City, looks at this phenomenon at the micro-level via an exploration of a Canadian “city of churches” in the late 1800s.  His theory builds upon the work of a number of scholars such as Ted Gurr, Norbert Elias, and Manuel Eisner to fill in some of the larger macro-sociological theories that have been floated to explain this phenomenon.  Bill explains how the growing social and political influence of British Evangelical Protestantism, most notably Methodists and Baptists, altered the “rough and tumble” nature of an industrializing city by emphasizing themes of “true manliness,” the importance of marriage, temperance, and empathy for prisoners (particularly those on death row).  We discuss how Bill came to study this topic, oddly enough involving a visit to a “slam poetry” contest, and how his own Canadian roots influenced his area of study.  Bill covers some of the more colorful characters of the era, including William Howland – a pastor turned politician who implemented a strong reformist agenda as mayor of Toronto in the 1880s and who also “put his money where his mouth was” by promoting a number of civic organizations that helped to alleviate various social problems.  We also chat about how the concern of evangelical Christians about the mistreatment of Jews in Europe helped shape the “roots of the peaceful Canadian.”  Bill offers some of his thoughts as to how his historical study may influence our understanding of our contemporary period and ends on an optimistic note about a religious barista who helps with a local struggling family in Vancouver.  Recorded: September 27, 2016.


Regent College Bookstore (in Vancouver, Canada).

Revisiting “Toronto the Good”: Violence, Religion and Culture in a Late-Victorian City, by William D. Reimer.

Methodism: Empire of the Spirit, by David Hempton (mentioned in podcast).

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance (mentioned in podcast).


Byron Johnson on More God, Less Crime.

Byron Johnson on Religion and Delinquency.

Maureen Fitzgerald on Irish Nuns and Welfare.

Andrew Johnson on Pentecostals in Prison in Brazil.

Jeff Henig on Prison Ministry.

Owen Strachan on Chuck Colson.

Jay Hein on the Quiet Revolution of Social Work.

David Dixon on Religious Rhetoric and the Civil Rights Movement.

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