Reaching out from campus to community

The Birks family has been involved with McGill’s programs of religious scholarship for over a century, and a passion for theological education and ecumenism inspired William Massey Birks to advocate for the founding in 1948 of what would become McGill’s Faculty of Religious Studies, providing for its flourishing with his own generous philanthropy.

That treasured friendship continues today, with great-grandson Jonathan Birks, BA’67, sitting on the Faculty Advisory Board, and through the valued support of the Birks Family Foundation, whose most recent gift to McGill aims to help bring the discussion on religious issues into the broader community.

The Birks Forum on the World’s Religions and Public Policy will bring together academics, public policy experts and the public to explore issues arising from the rapidly changing role and impact of religion in a global society.

As part of an ongoing effort to open up discussion to the broader community, the Forum will seek to facilitate constructive interaction between religious leaders and key representatives from the government, industry, and law and health care sectors.

“The Birks Family Foundation is delighted to continue to support McGill’s Faculty of Religious Studies. We are genuinely very excited about this new Forum, and we greatly look forward to continuing to work with this fine team to keep the Faculty in the vanguard of all of McGill’s exceptional Faculties,” says Birks.

“Our Foundation genuinely believes that a very special concept has been developed that definitively demonstrates the Faculty of Religious Studies and McGill's leadership role in this ever evolving world of ours. There is little doubt that universities must become increasingly proactive at interacting with their local and world communities, and it is tremendously satisfying to the Trustees of our Foundation that the Faculty and McGill are up to the challenge.”

The gift builds on the Faculty’s existing prestigious public lectures and international conferences, which include the South Asian Religions Distinguished Lectureship series, made possible through the generosity of Dr. Robert Stevenson, BA’49, BD’61, the retired Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill. Established in 2009, the lecture series complements the Faculty’s strong undergraduate and graduate programs on South Asia, and encourages public understanding of South Asian religions.

“These lectures are always well attended by the wider community, and this type of engagement and outreach is an important part of our work,” says Professor Ellen Aitken, Dean of Religious Studies.

The robust slate of talks and conferences is an important dimension of the Faculty’s leadership in scholarly contributions to the interplay of religion and society.