Chapter 5. Growing into Maturity: Development of Religious Studies Departments from the Late 1970s to the Present
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81 Chapter 5 GROWING INTO MATURITY Development of Religious Studies Departments from the Late 1970s to the Present in his Religious Studies in Atlantic Canada: A State-of-the-Art Review, Paul Bowlby notes that religious studies have been at the forefront of defining the postmodern preoccupation with otherness, which has received much scholarly attention in humanities faculties since the late 1970s (Bowlby with Faulkner, 2001, p. 3). Bowlby notes that as religious studies programs matured in the latter half of the twentieth century, they have been deeply affected by the complex debates about this topic in the humanities and social sciences. For instance, feminist critiques about knowledge of “man” as the universal human are widely taken up in research and teaching within religious studies departments. Analysis of different patterns of socialization for women and men have been shown to profoundly influence the nature of religious traditions, both in their texts and often in their patriarchal systems of organization . Interpreting and understanding these and other, analogous issues is now a significant part of the task of religious studies. So also, says Bowlby, the relationship between academic study and the cultures and religions of non-Western peoples has been a major concern of religious studies. “Orientalism ” is a key example. The term was originally coined to enable a critique of Western studies of Islam, but has now led to the awareness that our teaching and study in the West has frequently been dominated by world views and methods culturally specific. Bowlby notes that during the later decades of the twentieth century, “both gender studies and orientalism have helped shape the realization that knowledge is humanly constructed.… That startling awareness has humbled every discipline in its claims to ‘truth’ and most particularly created a profound difficulty for claims to a universal truth” 82 Chapter 5 (Bowlby with Faulkner, 2001, p. 5) of the sort common in religion. To deal with these challenges, religious studies brings to bear a strong interdisciplinary approach that highlights the problems. In addition, there is now an enhanced recognition of the value of Canada’s multiculturalism and of the diaspora of religious-ethnic communities, which provide the context for the research and teaching of religion throughout Canada. After the excitement and rapid growth in establishing the first religious studies programs across Canada at a time when universities were expanding , there followed some difficult years. During the mid-1970s and early 1980s, student numbers declined in some programs, often coinciding with government cutbacks to university funding. In contrast to the boom times of the late 1960s and early 1970s, job prospects were scarce for newly graduated religious studies Ph.D.s. Often when the pioneering professors of the Golden Decade retired, they were not replaced. Yet substantial numbers of students continued to want to do graduate work in religious studies. The Canadian government sought to help the job prospects of graduating Ph.D.s in the humanities and social sciences by introducing a ruling, still in effect, which says that a non-Canadian cannot be hired to fill a vacant position if a suitably qualified Canadian is available. This helped to counter the tendency to hire senior faculty members from the US and UK who had trained in their home countries, rather than Canadians from Canadian graduate programs. Another change was that, unlike the first generation, the next generation of faculty members had not had Christian theology or seminary training before doing a Ph.D. in religious studies. As was the case with many of my own students at Calgary, they began as undergraduate majors with strong language training and went directly on to M.A. and Ph.D. training, followed by a search for an academic appointment. Theology or seminary training was no longer involved as it was for me and others of my generation. In our day (the 1950s and early 1960s), religious studies undergraduate programs simply did not exist, and one often did theology because it was the only religion subject available at the university. The situation of the next generation was quite different. For example, Leona Anderson, Arti Dand, Barbra Clayton, and Lyle Eslinger were Calgary-area undergraduate students in my Hinduism class in the mid-1970s. Arti came from a Calgary Hindu family, while the others had a variety of Christian or secular backgrounds. But all went directly from undergraduate to M.A. degrees at Calgary, then to doctoral work at McGill, McMaster...


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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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