Chapter 4. McMaster’s Contribution to Religious Studies in Canada
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69 Chapter 4 McMASTER’S CONTRIBUTION TO RELIGIOUS STUDIES IN CANADA until i began doing the research for this chapter, I had not recognized the full extent and significance of the contribution of McMaster’s graduate program to the development of religious studies in Canada. Let me begin with an anecdote told by Wayne McCready, a McMaster Ph.D. in New Testament , supervised by Ed Sanders. Wayne tells how a good colleague from the University of Toronto, on more than one occasion, has noted that in the mid-1970s, McMaster grads simply took over the study of religion in departments from Newfoundland to British Columbia. Wayne has asked repeatedly how this happened, and his answer is that aside from the qualities of individual applicants, it likely had to do with the broad training and comparative skills that we brought to the job competition (Wayne McCready, personal communication, March 14, 2006). McMaster also had assembled a very strong group of faculty in the areas of Bible (Coombs, Craigie, Meyers, and Sanders), modern Western thought (Grant, Robertson, Weeks, and Mohl), as well as Chinese Buddhism (Jan) and, of course, Indian philosophy and religion (Kinsley, Younger, Arapura, and Murti). As this book is not an objective history, but my own personal retrospective, its treatment of McMaster’s contribution focuses on my experience of the Indian philosophy and religion stream. Graduate students in the Bible, modern Western thought, or Chinese Buddhism streams could write retrospectives based on the excellent teaching and research supervision available in those streams at McMaster in the 1970s and 1980s. It is true, as well, that McMaster graduates had a depth and breadth of knowledge of religious traditions that was simply not part of the Ph.D. degree training of other universities at the time. In addition, the critical mass of Ph.D.s from McMaster was substantial. Harold Remus, in 70 Chapter 4 his study of graduate enrolments and degrees granted in Ontario, reports that in 1972, for example, McMaster had seventy-two Ph.D. enrolments and twelve graduates (Remus, 1992, p. 234). In 1973, when I graduated, it seemed to me there were closer to fifteen or twenty of us completing. In those days the only other Ontario graduate department producing Ph.D.s was Ottawa, with five in 1972. The University of Toronto had none. Moreover, not only did McMaster graduates win many of the tenure-track positions on offer in the 1970s and 1980s, but they became department chairs and presidents of the key Canadian societies such as Religious Studies and Biblical Studies and ended up shaping the development of the discipline in Canada. Often, that shaping followed the McMaster model, as David Hawkin says: It was the McMaster vision of religious studies which shaped the landscape of the discipline in Canada. Central to that vision was the idea of breadth and depth. Specialization was encouraged, but such specialization had to be seen within the larger context of the discipline, which accords well with the pluralistic and multicultural society in which we live. (David Hawkin, personal communication, March 16, 2006) As I have mentioned, central to this vision was the McMaster requirement that, in addition to one’s own specialization, one must gain familiarity with both Eastern and Western religious traditions. This requirement was not duplicated elsewhere in Canada at that time, and its practical impact upon the development of religious studies in Canada cannot be overestimated. McMaster graduates were shaped by this vision, which enabled many of them to become department chairs. In turn, the McMaster vision helped to shape new programs in universities right across Canada. Wayne McCready confirms that McMaster’s main contribution was to provide a learning and research environment in a comparative context. He writes: My graduate period at Mac was incredibly exciting and enriching because of the “self-definition” research that was going on in the mid70s and the outstanding faculty associated with the project—but it was made particularly meaningful in hindsight because of the way that early Judaism and Christian origins were studied in tandem, not for the sake of making one religion a foil for the other that was rather typical at the time, but because it was an intellectual necessity to ask appropriate questions when working in a comparative context: Jewish questions to early Judaism, Christian questions to early Christianity, then Jewish questions to early Christianity and Christian questions to early Judaism. The end result was that one gained a delicate hand...


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Subject Headings

  • Religion--Study and teaching (Higher)--Canada--History--20th century.
  • Theology--Study and teaching (Higher)--Canada--History--20th century.
  • Universities and colleges--Curricula--Canada--History--20th century.
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