Chapter 8. Conclusion
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199 Chapter 8 CONCLUSION religion has played a major role in human history and deserves a prominent place in academic studies. As noted in Chapter 1, theological colleges and seminaries were often important in the early foundation of Canadian universities, and consequently the early academic study of religion in Canada was dominated by Christianity. During the 1960s, the Christian denominational approach to the teaching of religion was gradually replaced by the non-sectarian, interdisciplinary, and comparative study about religions . Eastern, Western, and Aboriginal traditions were studied in arts and science faculties, marking the arrival of fully fledged, academic religious studies in Canada. In this book, I have reflected on my personal experience of and involvement in this development, and in so doing I have perhaps made a beginning contribution toward a more formal history that remains to be written. Now, by way of conclusion, I will offer a brief summary of the current state of religious studies in Canada, and a brief comment on what I think its future prospects are. THE TEACHING OF RELIGION As a young student setting out to study religion in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I had to enrol in a seminary and begin by focusing on Christianity even though my curiosity about other religions led me to look for a broader approach. For me, this broader approach came through hearing George Grant on a CBC Ideas program, which in turn led me to discover the Department of Religious Studies he had developed at McMaster in the mid-1960s, at a time when other, similar departments were being founded at universities such as UBC, Manitoba, Carleton, Ottawa, Concordia, UQAM, and Memorial . As George Grant observed in 1968, Canadian universities had largely 200 Chapter 8 ignored what religion tells us about what it is to be human. His observation matched my own curiosity, not just about the Christian tradition in which I had been raised, but also about the other traditions through which people had explored and developed their religious experience. So I joined George Grant at McMaster in his new rapidly growing religious studies program, which, with its interdisciplinary and comparative approach, suited me perfectly . Across Canada, and indeed throughout the US and the UK during the 1960s, there was a similar awakening of interest in world religions that led students to flock to the new religious studies departments. In the US, for example, in 1964 the National Association of Biblical Instructors was renamed the American Academy of Religion. In many respects, the way forward in the teaching of religious studies in Canada was pioneered by Wilfred Cantwell Smith, who was appointed to McGill’s Faculty of Divinity in 1949 to teach comparative religion, but, due to his experience of studying Islam and having lived and taught in India and Pakistan, felt it necessary to break out of the Christian Protestant seminary context and establish the Institute for Islamic Studies in 1951. Both Smith and Grant felt that it was necessary to study other religions by bringing together faculty and students from different religious traditions. So at McMaster we had Murti and Arapura as Hindu faculty members along with many Indian students who had followed them from India, and Professor Jan for Chinese Buddhism. There was still a dominance of Christian biblical studies, with a special interest in Christian thought in its engagement with modernity. But the context was open and interdisciplinary, and the approach was quite different than what I had experienced in my seminary training. For example , biblical study was done in a comparative context with the Hebrew Bible (taught from a Jewish perspective by Jewish faculty), together with a critical analysis of early Christian and Jewish beginnings. All of this was challenging and exciting for those of us who were among the first students in these new programs. Many of us had been through seminary training, as had some of our faculty, and so we experienced the critical, comparative, and interdisciplinary approach of the new religious studies departments as a liberating and exciting environment in which to study, especially when faculty and students came from a variety of Western and Eastern religious traditions. We were pioneers in the study and teaching of religion, and it was an exciting time. In the early years of religious studies, textual study commonly involved an engagement with each tradition through its scriptures and key texts, to which was added a historical assessment of the religions in question. In this context, I...


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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