The Faculty and its impact
In recent years, the relevance of religious studies has grown steadily, as our globalized society grapples with challenges related to health, environmental degradation, war, and the changing perceptions of our own origin. Religion is recognized as a vital dimension of society and requires the best of our critical insight in order to appreciate its impact.
McGill’s Faculty of Religious Studies recognizes the crucial role played by religion and brings the highest level of academic excellence to the study and analysis of the world’s religions as phenomena of human society. The Faculty takes a multi-disciplinary approach to religious scholarship, incorporating perspectives from history, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, politics, and literature to enrich students’ appreciation of the extraordinary richness of their religious heritage and the diversity of contemporary religious expression worldwide.
McGill’s reputation as a leading centre for religious studies is enhanced by the Faculty’s team of world-class scholars—experts in world religions and cultures and their impact on social, political, educational, and health issues.
Clockwise from top left:
(1) Prof. Davesh Soneji has been working with communities of Hindu temple dancers and courtesans for more than a decade. He is shown here with the late Maddula Venkataratnam and her large matrifocal kinship network in Tatipaka village, Andra Pradesh, South India.
(2) Students from the Faculty of Religious Studies working at the Tel Dan archaeological site in Israel. This research trip was led by Professor Patricia G. Kirkpatrick.
(3) Professor Lara Braitstein at the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she spent time studying Indo-Tibetan Buddhism.
(4) The Column of Marcus Aurelius in Rome, where Professor Ellen Aiken studies the Roman imperial context of ancient Christianity.
Asking the right questions
McGill’s Faculty of Religious Studies is one of the first places in North America where the world’s religions have been studied rigorously in a university setting, alongside professional training for ministry. Not only does this provide an ideal venue for fostering the methods and interpretive framework so critical to the study of religion; it also nurtures an appreciation for the perspectives and practices within religious traditions.
Considerable attention has been given over the years to the role of religion in civil society, explored through a global perspective. In teaching and research, the Faculty has engaged crucial questions regarding public policy, law, ethics, gender, pluralism, and the environment.
The vision and generosity of the late William and Henry Birks have played a pivotal role in the Faculty’s growth. These two benefactors believed that the study of religion and theological cultures and the academic training of clergy were best carried out in a university setting. They had a comprehensive view of religious studies – one that took in the religions of the whole world – and they believed that such an approach would help to address today’s and tomorrow’s questions.
The Centre for Research on Religion (CREOR)
The Faculty’s expertise in world religions and cultures – ranging from Christianity and Judaism to Hinduism and Buddhism – along with McGill’s Institute of Islamic Studies and Department of Jewish Studies in the Faculty of Arts – have provided fertile ground for the creation of a Centre for Research on Religion (CREOR).
The Centre, established in 2005, serves as a broad academic platform to coordinate and support interdisciplinary and interfaculty research on the identities of the world’s religions. It brings prominent scholars from fields such as anthropology, the classics, education, law, medicine, philosophy, psychology, and sociology and those studying the world’s religions together in small, targeted research groups to discuss and debate issues of present-day relevance.
Many members of CREOR are internationally renowned experts in social and religious changes in the fields of health care, human rights, minority politics and public policy. This initiative has fostered collaboration among researchers at McGill and further afield through scholarly meetings and colloquia that have in turn provided impetus for interdisciplinary research projects.