Putting faith at the centre of a global conversation

Too often these days, religion and conflict seem to go hand in hand. As globalization and migration patterns bring the world’s cultures and religions together like never before, understanding the world’s religious traditions – their structures, tenets, practices and motivating principles – is critical to ensuring a peaceful, tolerant and prosperous future.

Fortunately, through the work taking place in its Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill is performing an important role in advancing scholarship, teaching, dialogue and outreach in the area of interfaith studies. Generous donors to Campaign McGill have played a significant role in making this possible.

A $5-million gift from Barbara Keenan, BA’54 and Patrick Keenan, BCom’54, CA’57, will help the Faculty recruit the best minds to produce cutting-edge research and dialogue in this critical field. This donation – the largest to the Faculty since its founding – will fortify teaching, research, scholarly collaboration and outreach related to a global society that is both multicultural and multi-religious.

“In our globalized world, religion is a vital dimension of our humanity,” says Barbara Keenan. “It is very important that today’s students – no matter what their course of study – have an understanding of and sensitivity to the multitude of faith traditions and the cultures they produce. This knowledge will help to shape them as tomorrow’s leaders.”

The Keenans’ gift will establish and endow the Barbara and Patrick Keenan Chair in Interfaith Studies and thus allow McGill to recruit a world-class scholar who will lead new research initiatives and bring fresh perspective to interfaith studies. As the first such Chair in Canada and one of only a handful worldwide, this scholar will take the lead in the development of a new introductory level course “World Religions and the Cultures They Create” aimed at enhancing foundational religious literacy among a greater number of undergraduate students at the beginning of their university careers.

The funds will also create renewable undergraduate student internship awards and graduate and dissertation fellowships, as well as support academic conferences, giving the Faculty additional tools to shed new light on the impact and influence of religion in our world.

“These initiatives will nourish creative, interdisciplinary scholarship and advance graduate and undergraduate education on issues of religion and society at a time when such contributions are arguably more critical than ever before,” says Professor Ellen Aitken, Dean of Religious Studies. “The intellectual discourse and research they generate will solidify McGill University’s position as one of the world’s premier centres for the study of the interrelations among the world’s religions.”

Thanks to the Keenans, McGill will be able to provide unparalleled opportunities for students to examine the crucial issues of religion in the world today and to develop a religious literacy necessary for all types of leadership.