Enhancing interfaith scholarship

Visit to Parliament in Ottawa
Students and lecturers from RELG 550, an intensive course on human rights and religious minorities hosted in collaboration with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, during a visit to Parliament in Ottawa.

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 faith – its structures, tenets, adherents 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 playing an important role in advancing scholarship, teaching, dialogue and outreach in the area of interfaith studies. And generous donors have been crucial in making this possible.

The Patrick and Barbara Keenan Foundation is enriching the future of religious scholarship through a $5-million gift – the largest donation to the Faculty in its 65-year history – to advance interfaith studies.

The Foundation’s support will allow the Faculty to create and endow the Barbara and Patrick Keenan Chair in Interfaith Studies, which will enable a world-class scholar to meaningfully and effectively examine issues on the interaction between the world’s religions. The funds will also be used to launch a new undergraduate course on “World Religions and the Cultures They Create,” establish undergraduate student internship awards and renewable graduate and dissertation fellowships, and support academic conferences.

Haley Dinel, a Theology student and Vice-President (University Affairs) of the Students’ Society of McGill University, says Kennans’ support will have an important impact on students. “This gift provides and interdisciplinary vision that allows students to truly engage with the world in a tangible way,” she explains. “It forms a nexus between the academics of teaching, learning and research, and the ‘real world’ by applying that knowledge in a meaningful way.”

Also helping to broaden understanding on religions is the Birks Family Foundation. Its generous gift in 2012 to create 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.

The aim of the gift is to open up discussion in the greater community and facilitate constructive interaction between religious leaders and key representatives from the government, industry, and law and health care sectors.

And in the first partnership of its kind in Canada, the Faculty teamed with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation to establish the Initiative in the World’s Religions and Globalization, with the generous support of several key donors, including the McBurney Family Foundation.

The Initiative seeks to broaden understanding of the world’s religions and their relationship to the social, political, economic and legal changes that come with globalization. Through new research, an interdisciplinary undergraduate course on religion and globalization, a lecture series featuring leading international scholars, and a summer school program on human rights and religious minorities, the Initiative is making significant contributions to religious awareness and tolerance.

“This partnership has already provided opportunities for our students to connect with some of the best minds in the world engaged on important issues that reach into so many aspects of our lives,” says Professor Ellen Aitken, Dean of Religious Studies. “We look forward to our students developing their own leadership capacities and supporting them with new research and far-sighted teaching – all with sensitivity to our own Canadian context.”