$5 million gift strengthens interfaith scholarship

Transformative donation from McGill alumni is the largest to the Faculty of Religious Studies since its founding
Published: 1 May 2013
The Keenans’ gift will support five distinct initiatives related to interreligious scholarship. The centrepiece will be the Barbara and Patrick Keenan Chair in Interfaith Studies that will fund, in perpetuity, world-class scholars who will lead new research initiatives and bring fresh perspectives to interfaith studies. As the first such Chair in Canada and one of only a handful worldwide, the position is expected to firmly establish McGill’s Faculty of Religious Studies as a centre of excellence in this field. The Chair will also spearhead the development of a new introductory level course “World Religions and the Cultures They Create” that will enhance foundational religious literacy among a greater number of undergraduate students at the onset of their university careers.

 The gift will also create the Wilfred Cantwell Smith Graduate Fellowships, honouring the memory of an influential and internationally renowned professor in the Faculty, which will be awarded each year to three outstanding entering doctoral students; two annual Barbara and Patrick Keenan PhD Dissertation Finishing Fellowships for doctoral students; and at least two annual Barbara and Patrick Keenan Undergraduate Internship Awards that will provide recipients with valuable first-hand experience of religious cultures in global communities. Access to these internship awards will not be limited to students in the Faculty of Religious Studies; any student across the University who has taken at least two elective courses in the Faculty can apply for one. Finally, the Barbara and Patrick Keenan Conference Support Fund will support one or two high-profile symposiums that will bring together prominent international scholars to share their knowledge of world religions and globalization with the wider community.

“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,” said Professor Ellen Aitken, Dean of the Faculty 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.”

McGill’s leadership in the study of world religions and cultures and their impact on social, political, educational and health issues has been recognized through its selection as the only Canadian university among an exclusive group of the world’s leading universities to partner with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation in its Faith and Globalisation Initiative.

“This extraordinary gift from Barbara and Patrick Keenan reinforces a core element of McGill’s mission: a commitment to diversity and the inclusion of different traditions, viewpoints and ideas,” said McGill’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Heather Munroe-Blum. “By giving our students an appreciation of the complexity of religious thought and practice around the globe, we will be preparing them to contribute meaningfully to the challenges of our modern world, whether as scholars, religious leaders or engaged citizens. It is a remarkable testament to the Keenans’ vision and generosity, and their commitment to helping realize Campaign McGill’s vision of addressing important global challenges. ”

To watch a video about the donors and their motivation for making this gift:

About McGill University

Founded in Montreal, Que., in 1821, McGill is a leading Canadian post-secondary institution. It has two campuses, 11 faculties, 11 professional schools, 300 programs of study and some 38,000 students, including 8,800 graduate students. McGill attracts students from over 150 countries around the world, with more than 7,700 international students making up 20 per cent of the student body. Almost half of McGill students claim a first language other than English, including more than 6,700 with French as their first language. For more information about McGill University:

About Campaign McGill

Publicly launched in 2007, Campaign McGill: History in the Making is raising the funds needed to attract and retain top students and faculty, increase access to quality education, and ensure that McGill remains one of the world’s great research-intensive and student-centred universities.

For more information on Campaign McGill, visit


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