A Transformative and Unique Approach
12 Sep 2014
This month we interview McGill University's Professor Daniel Cere and Ukrainian student Olena Dudko, who discuss the uniqueness of the programme and the transformative nature of its multidisciplinary approach.
Daniel Cere: Faith and Globalisation Has Been Transformative
Daniel Cere is Professor of Religious Studies and a researcher on religion, law, and ethics at McGill University, Canada. In has taught Religion and Globalisation for the last four years, working closely with the Faith & Globalisation Teaching Network at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Professor Cere also serves as the director of the Institute for the Study of Marriage Law and Culture and Co-Director of the Newman Institute of Catholic Studies. Professor Cere has been a consultant for government and religious institutions on issues of religious freedom, reasonable accommodation, and family law in both Canada and the United States.
Four years ago you started teaching the Faith & Globalisation course based in the Faculty of Religious Studies. Recently, you started offering not simply a course, but also a minor in Religion and Globalisation and have incorporated a Religion and Globalisation thematic component as part of the Religious Studies major.
Prof. Daniel Cere: The Initiative has had a transformative impact on Religious Studies at McGill. It began five years ago, spearheaded by Dean Ellen Aitken. Tragically, Dean Aitken passed away recently after a battle with an aggressive form of cancer. It was a profound loss for McGill community. Part of the legacy she left was her investment in this Initiative. There are a number of important lessons that can be learned from her legacy: one of them is the value of commitment from the leadership in the academic unit. For Dean Aitken, this was not a particularly a natural fit. Her own area of research and teaching was in Biblical Studies and early Christianity. However, she recognised the significance of the initiative and made it a central priority during her tenure as Dean.
First of all she saw the intrinsic intellectual merit of the Initiative, in terms of how it could be a critical focus for research and teaching in the unit. She also recognised that it could bring Religious Studies into a creative dialogue in the public sphere and debate about public policy and law, and the role of religion within global society.
She saw that the initative could have strategic value in terms of attracting support for research, development and funding in relation to the work of religious studies. Her instinct has proved to be correct in all of those areas.
Another aspect in terms of ways in which the initiative progressed at McGill was that Dean Aitken did not make this initiative her personal project. From the beginning she invited other colleagues to team up with her and spearhead this work in the Faculty. From the beginning I have been actively engaged in the project and I strongly believe this collegial approach allowed far more investment in the initiative from the unit as a whole.
She also demonstrated that this framework of religion and globalisation could be a very valuable framework for a wide range of multidisciplinary perspectives in religious studies. As I previously mentioned, her own area was Biblical studies and early Christianity and she herself opened up a very fascinating discussion of the globalising dimension of early Christianity within the context of Roman Empire. She even drew her graduate students in this discussion. One of her graduate student went on to develop his doctorial dissertation in the area of early Christianity and globalisation. He now holds a position at Pepperdine University in the Biblical Studies and also is working with the initiative at the university.
Another feature that is very important for research-orientated universities is drawing the graduate students into this work. The flagship course, Religion and Globalisation, was designed to provide teaching fellowships for four to five graduate students each year. We have been working with this project for only four years, but a significant number of graduate students who have been involved with Religion and Globalisation have had significant success in securing academic positions. As we all know this period has not been very easy for graduate students in terms of employment. Dean Aitken sensed that participation in the Religion and Globalisation project would be extremely valuable for professional development of graduate students. Our graduate students have recognized this and have been keen to be involved with the project.
You mentioned that you have created a very good multidisciplinary teaching team. What is your model? How have you gone about this? And what can others learn from your example?
Prof Daniel Cere: It is important to recognise that units operating in the context of religious studies are multidisciplinary; the unit itself is a multidisciplinary community. It is often difficult to find forums to bring together scholars in religious studies, because we are working on very different fields such as Buddhist studies, Islamic studies, Christianity, post-colonial studies and religion, theology, biblical studies, sociology of religion and so on. Religion and Globalisation seems to provide a critically inclusive and open forum for a set of fascinating discussion in the diverse fields within religious studies itself. For the diverse units themselves, this provides a creative context for discussions within religious studies.
The initiative is also a wonderful forum for broadening the interdisciplinary work in the fields of political science, anthropology, education, law and others. Our approach consists in building relations with scholars in very different disciplines whose work intersects with religion in all kinds of interesting ways. That is our basic approach.
Olena Dudko: The Course Didn't Shy Away from Controversial Issues
Olena Dudko is an alumna of the Sociology Department at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (NaUKMA). She attended the first Faith & Globalisation course offered at NaUKMA and the Faith Foundation's Religion and Foreign Policy coursein Kosovo. Currently she is taking her M.Sc. in Social Studies of Gender at Lund University.
You took the Religion and Globalisation class at NaUKMA. What was unique about this course?
Olena Dudko: Speaking about the uniqueness of the course, I should note first of all its interdisciplinary nature, as the course was co-taught by three different lecturers who were coming from the fields of sociology, political sciences and religious studies. This made the course really interdisciplinary.
Secondly, I like very much how the course was trying to engage students on different levels: not only on the level of seminars, discussions, readings articles and lectures, but also we had many guests to the classes including religious leaders, believers and experts from different faiths and after classes we also had an opportunity to visit churches, temples, mosques and other religious institutions in Kiev. In my opinion, this made the course even more exciting.
Thirdly, I like very much that we were discussing and focusing on very contemporary things and current social controversial issues. For instance, we became familiar with different challenges that society is facing now in religious pluralism. We were looking at different policies regarding religious minorities and non-religious people, as well as the ethics of implementing appropriate policy decisions. So I think it was a very good course.
The Religion and Globalisation course took place almost at the same time with protests in the Maidan Square. What did you learn about Ukrainian identity and its relationship with religion?
It happened that the Religion and Globalisation course was taught at the same time as protests started at Maidan Square, but I think it highlighted the importance of religion in the modern world, especially the role of religious social networks and the organisations in social movements protest and revolution. I could observe how many functions religious institutions were holding upon themselves during protests, such as providing shelters and hospitals in the churches and many others as well. Although some denominations and religions took official positions and joined the protest, others took less official positions but still they were actively involved and engaged in events.
I think the question of identity was not that important during the protest itself, but it is becoming more important now; especially in regards to the biggest denominations in Ukraine that we have. The biggest is Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate and the second biggest we have is Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kiev Patriarchate. Now, with the current political situation, Moscow Patriarchate Ukrainian Church is losing believers and also recently new elections for a new leader of this church were hold; a very pro Russian leader was chosen so it caused a big disagreement and discussion in society and the media. We already have cases where the religious communities are going under the protectorate of Kiev Patriarchate Church, even though they were with Moscow Patriarchate Churches before.
So many experts are saying that Moscow Patriarchate Church will not have a future or that this church will face division. Of course we cannot know yet, but it is obvious that the question of identity is becoming more important. Earlier people did not care where to go to church whether to go to the Orthodox church of Kiev Patriarchate or to the Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate because their doctrine is the same, now it is becoming much more political. People are thinking twice if they want to go to the Church of Moscow Patriarchate, so interesting changes we will see in this regard in the future.