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Description of the Centre

The "Centre for Research on Religion / Centre de Recherche sur la Religion (CREOR)" is one of McGill's many academic research centres, but one of only a few in the Humanities and the sole one in the field of Religious Studies. The Centre is an inter-disciplinary and inter-faculty entity drawing on the expertise and research interests present in the Faculties of Religious Studies, Arts, Education, Law and Medicine, and other faculties at McGill University, such as Management and Music, as well. The Centre is based at the Faculty of Religious Studies of McGill University and collaborates with researchers from other Montreal institutions and from around the world.

The Centre includes individual scholars, research units and research teams covering Buddhism, Christianity, East Asian Religions, Humanism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and new Religious Movements, as well as the Comparative Study of Religion and Inter-faith Studies. Research projects may be in the hands of one or more scholars from the Faculty of Religious Studies and from the other faculties, departments, units and centres.

The Centre builds on past cooperation on the level of teaching and individual cooperation with Arts (Catholic Studies, East-Asian Studies, History, Islamic Studies and Jewish Studies), Education (Counselling Psychology), Law (Comparative Law, Ethics) and Medicine (MUHC, Centre for Healing). Cooperation will be extended to other faculties and departments, such as the Faculty of Management and the Faculty of Music, as well as with other Canadian and international universities.

Whereas individual scholars, units and research teams will contribute all or part of their research to the Centre in its interdisciplinary setting, the Centre's own function is to initiate, coordinate, support and apply for funding for larger collaboration between existing and new research projects. In this sense, the Centre is more than the sum of its parts, as it creates, directs and manages larger innovative and interdisciplinary research projects, and develops visions for future research interests and needs for further innovation.

Mission and goals

The principal goal of the "Centre for Research on Religion / Centre de Recherche sur la Religion (CREOR)" is to study the world's religions in their constantly changing historical manifestations. The Centre's aim is to create a broad academic platform to coordinate and support research on the identities of the main religions of the world, their differences, and their common grounds, and how they contribute to a better understanding of past and present-day culture, ethics and politics.

The Centre's academic and administrative framework is designed to support individual and collaborative research projects and to initiate and develop comparative studies. It will therefore seek to attract, supervise and finance graduate students, research assistants and visiting junior and senior scholars to collaborate in existing projects or to participate in new projects.

Important goals are the organization of colloquia and international symposia to share its results with other scholars and to communicate them more broadly to society at large. Thus, the Centre understands itself as serving the wider academic, religious and social of communities Montreal, Quebec and Canada.

Activities (axes of research)

Because of the nature of religion, it will be inevitable to examine the world's religions - such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Humanism, Islam, Judaism, and New Religious Movements - both in historical perspective and from a contemporary point of view.

Ideally, research fields will thus cover the formative period of each of the religions of the world, their respective histories, and their present situations both independently and with respect to their interrelation. However, the interface between religion and society makes it also necessary for research on specific topics to be constantly re-defined by and for its relevance to present-day issues, which are constantly in need of a re-examination.

The members of the Centre will investigate individually and as research groups how the literary and non-literary foundations of the various religions - scripture or canon, myth and ritual, and the like - as they have been collected and transmitted in the course of history, have shaped the social anthropology, the political world view, the religious practices and the moral behaviour of religious communities, how this has influenced society as a whole and defined our understanding of it.

The Centre with the expertise of its participating scholars and units represents such a variety of fields as:

I. Philosophy and Religion

II.1. Religions in Greco-Roman Antiquity

II.2. Religions between the Renaissance and the Reformation

III.1. Religions in South India

III.2. Asian Religions and Ethics

IV.1. Religion, War, and Peace

IV.2. Religious Change in Canada

V.1. Religion and Environment

V.2. Religion and Health

Three of these fields are presently successfully functioning and well funded research teams with four or more members and funds of between $100,000 and $400,000. Two more research teams are in progress, others are in preparation.

The following three active research groups represent a variety of interdisciplinary links and axes of research:

II.1. Religions in Greco-Roman Antiquity

The research projects coming together in the research group "Religions in Greco-Roman Antiquity" are all concerned with the centrality of Greco-Roman antiquity as the formative location not only for the definition of basic western religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Gnosticism, Hellenism, "paganism"), but also as the western world's formative experience of religious plurality and competition. Each of the projects represented in the group approaches these problems from a differing perspective and base of expertise.

Apart from the interfaculty cooperation within the McGill academic community, with cooperation between scholars of Archeology, Classics, Hebrew Bible, Greco-Roman Judaism, New Testament and Early Christianity, the program will foster research collaboration in these fields among the German, U.S. and Canadian partner projects represented at a Montreal meeting in September 2003, notably with colleagues from Princeton, Erfurt and Tübingen. Two projects of this research team have received SSHRC funds.

The program is also intended as a vehicle for deepened cooperation among scholars at McGill University and Université de Montréal. After two initial meetings, cooperation between the Faculties of Religious Studies of both universities is presently intensified on the basis of common research projects, colloquia and publications as well as a joint bilingual seminar for graduate students to be held four times a year and starting in September 2005.

II.2. Religions between the Renaissance and the Reformation

This research team is based on cooperation between scholars of Religious Studies (Church History), Quebec Studies, History and French Languages and Literatures of McGill University and Universität Zürich, who specialize in the French Reformation (Jean Calvin and other reformers writing in French) and share common research projects, international colloquia and publications.

One project is the SSHRC funded publication of Reformation texts in French, another one is the project "Political Theology in England from Vermigli to Hooker", and a third one is the well-known Peter Martyr Library, a joint project for the past 20 years of members of the Faculty of Religious Studies and the Presbyterian College.

The first project aims at making available a large number of quite unknown texts (pamphlets, treatises, etc.) from the beginning of the 16th century which contributes to a better understanding of the first moments of the protestant Reformation in France and in its francophone territories, such as Quebec. The members of this research team plan to publish the texts with translations on CD-Rom. The second project is Torrance Kirby's SSHRC-funded project on the English theologian and political thinker Richard Hooker who also had quite some influence on political theories in the New World.

The third project is about an Italian reformer of the mid-sixteenth century, Peter Martyr Vermigli, who spent six years of his career in England (1548-1553), where he exerted an enormous influence upon the rising generation of scholars and leaders who eventually came to shape the intellectual life of the Elizabethan university and church. This research project will offer a critical reexamination and reappraisal of political theology in England during the second half of the sixteenth century. In addition to producing a monograph, comprehensive critical edition of Vermigli's political writings in modern English translation will be published separately as a volume in the Second Series of the Peter Martyr Library.

V.2. Religion and Health

Following the Round Table Discussion on September 7th, the workshop on religion and health on November 11th 2004 and the McGill Colloquium on Religion and Health on April 26th 2005, a team has been created between members of the Faculties of Arts, Education, Law, Medicine and Religious Studies of McGill University to formulate a common research project in the interface between religion and health.

This research project in progress on "Religion and Health" is an interdisciplinary, innovative and transformative forum for a discussion on the religious, spiritual, ethical, legal, socio-political, cultural, educational and scientific aspects of the various interactions between religion, spirituality and health and healing in the present-day health care system in North America.

At the centre of the attention is the multidimensional and mostly unexplored interface between the highly sophisticated health care system in United States and Canadian society on the one hand and the most unexplored positive and negative influence religion and spirituality had and can have on health and health care on the other hand.

The research team will address such questions dealing with 1) philosophy and biomedical ethics (what is scientifically possible and ethically acceptable?), 2) the role of spirituality (can spirituality in medicine, related to both patient and caregiver, be an important aspect in alleviating suffering?), 3) the science versus the art of medicine as it relates to the patient as a "whole person" (concept of "body / soul / mind"), 4) the integration of attitudes and values in training professionals (pastoral mentor models as possibly helpful for training physicians?), 5) professional education involving knowledge of and training in the legal aspects of health care ("legal pluralism", "comparative law", "health care management"), 6) consequences for the development of the academic teaching curriculum and the governmental health care system, and 7) the social, economic and political dimension of illness and healing (does money define access to good health care?).

A first spin off is the five-year project on Religion and Health under the leadership of Prof. Katherine Young, which recently has received a major grant funding from the CIHR. In this research project comparative methods will be used to show how religion interacts with medicine and ethics in various types of society. The comparison is done between traditional religions themselves and between religions and "popular culture", a culture, which on the one hand is influenced by new scientific developments, and on the other hand creates "globalized" religions, and also influences ethical debates in the public square.

The following two projects are in progress and close to finalization:

III.1. Religions in South India

This research group builds on the work of Katherine Young and Davesh Soneji (McGill University) as well as Leslie Orr (Concordia University), all of whom worked on aspects of the history of religions in Tamilnadu. The plans to organize international cooperation, has received several major SSHRC grant and build up a network of scholarship in the same field of South Indian religion. This research team may in future also include other parts of the Indian continent, including parts of the Muslim population.

Topics to be covered are: ritual and performance, religion and gender, language nationalism and religion, religious interactions between Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam and Christianity, religious healing and deity possession, iconographic traditions, goddesses traditions, Sampradayas in South India (Srivaisnava, Smarta, Srividya and others), monasticism and ascetism, agamic traditions (pancaratra, Vasikhanasa, Saiva), comparison on Saiva and Vaiasnava religious motifs, Tamil and Telugu epic literature, etc.

IV.2. Religious Change in Canada

This research group focuses on religious change in Canada and touches the many intersections between religion, law and public policy. It has received a lot of media attention through the debate over marriage and family law in North America. A major international conference on "Religion and Public Policy" organized by Douglas Farrow has taken place in September 2002. A mutual project of Douglas Farrow and Daniel Cere (Religious Studies) on Family Law and Society has been initialized; a desirable cooperation with the Faculty of Law is presently investigated.

A number of research topics to be investigated in present and future research projects are, in Canada in general: secularization and the change of values, religious pluralism, changing religious dimensions of life cycles, civil religion and its contemporary transformations, changing views of gender in religions, portrayals and stereotypes of religions in the media and popular culture (film, novels), and more specifically in Quebec: the growth of Protestantism and various sects after the quiet revolution.

Future research teams, which are still in the process of being created, are:

I. Philosophy and Religion

II. Religion and Environment.

Value added (contributions to the discipline, promotion of research, facilitation of connections)

The Centre is a purely research-driven and interdisciplinary collaboration of McGill's best scholars and research teams in the field of religion. It is independent of any religious and political group or movement and any faith community. It is not defined by any administrative boundary between disciplines or faculties, such as between Arts and Religious Studies, but is dedicated to doing research in areas and intersections between the disciplines and beyond the accepted faculty boundaries.

Its added value, therefore, lies in its innovative, interdisciplinary and independent approach to all the various aspects in the interface between religion, culture and society, as explained above under the descriptions of the axes of research and research projects. The growing interest in religious issues nationally and internationally arises in a complex and culturally plural world. McGill is well placed to provide a leadership role in both academic and public research and dialogue. A Centre will provide significant national and international visibility to this interdisciplinary research and scholarship on religion and its role in society.

The Centre is intended to make a valuable contribution to each faculty that is involved in it. The Centre will bring visibility to McGill's outstanding expertise in the field of religious studies. Without a Centre, that expertise would continue to remain largely untapped. With the presence of a Centre for Research on Religion, the media will know how to contact McGill on religion issues, which they now do only haphazardly. The choice of a generic title for the Centre allows the Centre to remain open and broad in its interests and to make sure that "religion" is always viewed as the basic focus. The Centre will break the isolation of scholars, a particularly common phenomenon in the Humanities, and promote the cross-fertilization of ideas in an inter-disciplinary context.

The Centre will have an administrative role as well. It will maintain a registry of members of the McGill community doing research that in any way touches on religion; granted the necessary resources a Centre will provide administrative assistance with grant applications and grant management; it will assist in the organization of symposia and discussion forums; it will provide a meeting place for exchange among various faculties, as it has already begun doing in its preparatory phase. Furthermore, the Centre will also consolidate linkages with partners in other universities, in governmental, community and non-governmental organizations engaged in the study of or reflection upon the interface between religion and society, and in academic institutions of the various religions of the world, who are involved in, for instance, inter-religious dialogue.

As part of its mission to bring together scholars engaged in research dealing with the subject of religion, the Centre for Research on Religion will continue to organize colloquia for that purpose.

In its preparatory phase, CREOR has held the following highly successful colloquia:

September 6th, 2004
McGill Round Table Discussion of all members of McGill University faculties; Coordinator & Location: Gerbern Oegema, Faculty Club.

November 4th , 2004
Colloquium of members of McGill University and the Université de Montréal dedicated to topics from the field of Biblical and Related Studies (Classics, Old Testament, New Testament, Qumran, Pseudepigrapha, Septuagint); Coordinator & Location: Ian Henderson, Birks Building.

November 8th, 2004
Meetings of members of the McGill Faculties of Medicine and Arts, Education, Law and Religious Studies (see below); Coordinator & Location: Leigh Turner, 3647 Peel Street.

November 11th, 2004
Meetings of members of the McGill Faculties of Medicine and Arts, Education, Law and Religious Studies (discussion of contemporary issues relevant for the interface between Religion and Health, such as stem cell research, health care, aids, pastoral care, education, etc.); Coordinator & Location: Gerbern Oegema, Birks Building.

November 23rd, 2004
Colloquium of members of the Faculties of Religious Studies and Arts working within the fields of Reformation / Renaissance / History / French Literature; Coordinator & Location: Torrance Kirby, Birks Building.

April 26th, 2005
Colloquium of members of the McGill Faculties of Medicine, Education, Arts, Law and Religious working in the interface of Religion and Health (continuation of meetings in November); Coordinator & Location: Gerbern Oegema, Faculty Club.

August 31st-September 2nd 2005
International Conference of the Research Team Reformation / Renaissance with participants from Religious Studies (Church History), Quebec Studies, History and French Languages and Literatures of McGill University and the Universität Zürich; Coordinator & Location: Torrance Kirby, Faculty Club.

September 16th 2005
Colloquium of members of McGill University and the Université de Montréal focusing on Biblical Studies and Archeaology; Coordinator & Location: Gerbern Oegema, Birks Building and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts/Ancient Cultures.

End of September 2005
Colloquium of members of the McGill Faculties of Religious Studies, Law and Arts working on Pluralism and Education within the broader field of Religion and Public Policy; Coordinator & Location: Douglas Farrow; TBA.

September 11th-15th, 2006
International Conference "The World's Religion after 9/11" with one week of key note speakers, simultaneous sessions and workshops and ca. 2.000 representatives from the world's religions to discuss the world five years after 9/11; Coordinator & Location: Arvind Sharma, Palais des Congrès.

Contribution to training (graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, research associates, etc.)

Graduate Students form the heart of every research project, and so too of research centres, as they not only perform most of the actual research but also secure the continuation of research projects, methodologies and schools of thought from one generation to the next. With the Centre for Research on Religion it is no different. The Centre for Research on Religion is, therefore, an important vehicle for transporting knowledge, tools and connections to future generations of students of religion.

As far as the training is concerned, graduate students are involved in most of the research projects, both in individual and team projects. Graduate students will also be represented in the governing structure of the Centre. While small or medium size research projects may not involve more than one or two graduate students each, larger research groups, such as the one on Religion and Health, will involve quite a number of graduate students. At any given time the Centre may thus employ a number of graduate students ranging from 20 to 30, as every one of the presently 21 members will have at least one or two graduate students working with her or him.

Furthermore, due to the interdisciplinary character of the larger research groups as well as that of the Centre as a whole, the work of graduate students at some periods may shift away from individual projects to projects involving multiple forms of interdisciplinary cooperation between the faculties. Such a development is especially important in the Humanities and also marks an overall change in the perception of scholarship away from individual to more group-oriented research.

It is therefore expected that participation in the Centre for Research on Religion will broaden the graduate students' perspective and knowledge of their respective fields and serve to equip them further for their future tasks. The Centre will thus be better able to attract graduate students from outside McGill and will be better prepared to apply for funding. The Centre and its inter-disciplinary activities will provide a highly stimulating learning environment for graduate students from participating faculties. It is therefore also to be expected that this will have positive repercussions on the performance of graduate students and on time-to-graduation rates.