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Reviewed by:
  • A Long Eclipse: The Liberal Protestant Establishment and the Canadian University, 1920-1970, and: Knowledge Matters: Essays in Honour of Bernard J. Shapiro
  • Len Findlay (bio)
Catherine Gidney . A Long Eclipse: The Liberal Protestant Establishment and the Canadian University, 1920-1970 McGill-Queen's University Press. xxvi, 246. $70.00
Paul Axelrod , editor. Knowledge Matters: Essays in Honour of Bernard J. ShapiroMcGill-Queen's University Press. xviii, 132. $75.00, 27.95

While Canada's political leaders show signs of turning their attention once again from health to education, and amid intensifying interest in post-secondary education as the best guarantor of the nation's global competitiveness, attention to the history of Canada's universities and their changing mandates becomes all the more necessary. Large organizations like AUCC, CAUT, and the two main national student bodies lobby assiduously while the federal granting councils strive to document the return on federal and provincial investment. But individual faculty and students need to be engaged too in making the argument for public support of post-secondary education, and one of the ways they can do so is by writing about the policies and practices that have brought us to where we are. The two quite different books under review here show that there is a wide range of ways in which debate can be enlivened and public understanding enhanced, even though neither work is as radical as some might like.

Catherine Gidney's contribution to the McGill-Queen's series Studies in the History of Religion is valuable and timely. Universities and colleges across Canada are faced with regular attempts to inject religious considerations into the activities of academic teaching and research, often in ways that are framed (and inflamed) by the media as a radical departure from Canada's secular and sober academic traditions. But faith and facts, revelation and reason have shared university and college space in Canada from the earliest days. A reality not at all surprising, given the political prominence of faith-based learning, Clergy Reserves, Protestant/Catholic tensions, and the distinctive traditions of France and Britain in further education. A Long Eclipse reveals how gradual has been the shift from Protestant hegemony to secular reason in the Canadian academy, and how demographic and social change directly and indirectly affects institutions that hate to be hurried into change, even though their connection to change (in the form of progress, growth, prosperity) is one of the most important bases of their self-esteem and public appeal. In the course of eight well-researched and effectively sequenced chapters, Gidney shows how faith in education entwines with religious faith so as to invigorate and constrain the activities of both, and how liberal Protestantism was a powerful and persistent 'public voice' inside and outside Canadian universities until the 1960s. She also shows how mistaken it is to equate 'religious' with 'conservative,' to think of Protestantism as a loose synonym for 'decline, ' or to link modernization and secularization too closely. The changing face of Canada is attended by changes in its communities of faith, including [End Page 415] those whose faith is more informally spiritual or zealously secular. There are important continuities between the social gospel of the early twentieth century, the radicalism of the 1960s, and global justice movements today. Gidney's work reminds us of the social and moral functions, or even missions, of the university, and that much current anxiety about its politicization would seem naïve or plain silly to large numbers of students and faculty who lived through the realities and consequences of two world wars and the great depression. Gidney might have said more about what university presidents presume and promote today, and faced up more explicitly to the limited liberality of Protestants towards 'counter-culture,' and, more importantly, towards First Nations and Métis people. But she tells her story well.

An important series of insights into current academic leadership and the best course for the contemporary university have been elicited by Paul Axelrod to mark the retirement of Bernard Shapiro from McGill (and his move into the even more difficult waters of parliamentary ethics). The range and eminence of the contributors reflect Shapiro...


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