From the Acting Chair, James DiCenso
After serving as Chair from 2002 to 2007, I spent the next five years, besides teaching and working with graduate students, mainly hunkered down trying to complete a book project on Immanuel Kant’s approach to religion with which I had been preoccupied for years. This ended up becoming two books, one published in 2011 (Kant, Religion, and Politics) and the other in 2012 (Kant’s Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason: a Commentary). Just as the second book was going into production, I was asked to fill in for the year while John Kloppenborg enjoyed a well-deserved sabbatical before returning for another five year term as Chair. The timing was right and, given John’s outstanding service to the Department, I couldn’t say no; hence I ended up back as Acting Chair for 2012-13.
It was an unusually intense year, particularly because of the external review being conducted, three UTSG and 2 UTM tenure cases, and shared searches in South Asian Religious Literatures with Historical Studies UTM, and Modern Hebrew with Jewish Studies. In fact, the final procedure for the external review occurred just the day prior to my writing this (April 16th), where the report and Decanal response were discussed at Governing Council. Both John Kloppenborg and I were present, in case there were questions or concerns, but the review was so positive we weren’t called upon at all. Indeed, it was a pleasure to see that we were assessed as “extremely successful, innovative, interdisciplinary … formidable.” Among the many strengths and achievements noted, the reviewers called us “a high quality Department that could serve as a model for others,” stated that our programs “make a necessary contribution to the Faculty’s goal of advancing a liberal education,” and that we have “one of the richest sets of course offerings in N. America.” At the graduate level, we were described as “a great program with areas of world-wide excellence.” To be sure, there are areas where we will need to continue to develop and grow, but we now have a strong basis for doing so.
Overall, it was a great pleasure to see how the Department had evolved and improved since 2002, and to get a better sense of the wide range of outstanding work being done by our colleagues. It was a particular pleasure to see people whom I had been involved in hiring (or whose positions I had designed) now excelling as scholars and teachers, receiving tenure and promotion, and in some cases serving as administrators. If I tried to name all those who had major achievements in the past year, who deserve special recognition, or who stepped up with extra service contributions when the need was so great, it would be overwhelming (and most of these are detailed within this Newsletter in any case). Hence I’ll restrict myself to thanking John Kloppenborg for his continued advice and support while he was on leave, Arti Dhand for her outstanding work as Associate Chair, and Jennifer Harris for her unparalleled contributions as Director of Graduate Studies. Finally, Irene Kao, Marilyn Colaco, and Fereshteh Hashimi were stellar in their administrative roles (and yes, the external reviewers did take note of our “extremely dedicated staff”).
Download the 2012-13 Newsletter
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE from the UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
January 22, 2013
TORONTO, ON – An international collaboration between the University of Toronto and Columbia University’s research libraries will harness existing expertise in Tibetan collection services at both universities to increase the availability of Tibetan resources to a wider community of scholars in both Canada and the United States.
The faculties and students of both institutions will benefit from the innovative service model created by the partnership, which provides for jointly sponsored acquisitions trips to enhance the Tibetan collections at both universities, and a shared point of service for research consultations. Working in cooperation with the Head of Collection Development for the University of Toronto Libraries, Caitlin Tillman, and the Acting Head of the Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library, Hana Kim, Columbia University’s Tibetan Studies Librarian, Dr. Lauran Hartley, will lead the work of coordinating Tibetan-language acquisitions at Columbia and the University of Toronto in this new pilot project. She will also provide research-support services to University of Toronto faculty and students via e-mail, phone and video conferencing and will visit the University of Toronto annually.
Continue reading University of Toronto and Columbia Libraries Launch Tibetan Studies Partnership
It is with great sadness that we convey the tragic news of the loss of one of our doctoral students, Devanathan Jagannathan. Devanathan passed away this past weekend of natural causes related to a previous medical condition. He died quickly and peacefully.
Devanthan joined the DSR in September 2009 from Chennai India where he studied Indian philosophy specializing in Advaita Vedanta. At UofT he worked with Srilata Raman, Ajay Rao, Reid Locklin and Malavika Kasturi on the theological hermeneutics of early medieval Advaitic commentaries upon Vaisnava Upanisads. Devanathan was thrilled when he successfully passed his general
exams this past summer and was able to celebrate with his family in India. Devanathan was a very beloved only child. He had
just turned 30 years old on November 10th.
We extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends. He was a quiet gentle man with a sweet smile and a kind supportive word for everyone. He will be dearly missed.
After serving as Chair of Religion during 2002-2007, James DiCenso is returning as Acting Chair for 2012-13. DiCenso takes over from John Kloppenborg, who has completed a five year term as Chair of Religion, and after a well-deserved sabbatical will return for another five year term starting in 2013-14.
During his five year period as Chair, DiCenso was instrumental in reconfiguring Religion as a truly globalized and multi-disciplinary program. In collaboration with several other units, faculty positions were created in Buddhist Studies, Islamic Studies, and South Asian Studies at both the St. George and UTM campuses, and new positions were developed in global Christianity and the Anthropology of Religion.
In the past five years, DiCenso has completed a two-book project on Immanuel Kant explicating his ongoing significance for theorizing religion: Kant, Religion, and Politics (Cambridge, 2011), and Kant’s Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason: a Commentary (Cambridge, 2012).
Continue reading James DiCenso is Acting Chair of Religion for 2012-13
From the Chair, John Kloppenborg
As you’ll read, 2011-12 has been an exceptionally active year for the Department for the Study of Religion. Our faculty continue to win top honours for their research, teaching and contributions – and we welcomed some terrific new members. Our almost 100 graduate students, who have been remarkably active in major academic conferences and with publications, are engaged in a diverse range of exciting research projects. More and more undergraduate students are enrolling in our programs. The department is looking better than ever.
Download Spring 2012 Newsletter
Prof. Joseph (Joe) O’Connell, professor emeritus of Hinduism at the Department for the Study of Religion, and long-time associate of St. Michael’s College, passed away on Sunday 6 May at the age of 72, following a brain haemorrhage while in New York. He was born in Boston in 1940. Joe had taught at the University for more than thirty years.
Prof. O’Connell served as the Academic Director at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies in 1999–2000 and since then was also a Senior Associate Fellow of the Centre. Most recently he was a visiting professor at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he was instrumental in the development of a department of World Religions – a discipline that is largely non-existent in South Asia.
He was an exceptional scholar, who did much for the study of Gaudiya Vaishnavism since his PhD in the 1950s on the social aspects of the Chaitanya movement. He has published widely on the history of Vaishnavism in Bengal, and on the social and ethical issues in the tradition.
He is survived by his wife, Kathleen O’Connell, a daughter and two sons. Joe was a kind and generous scholar, and a man of integrity and character. He will be missed by all.
A memorial service will be held for Joe at St Basil’s Church, University of Toronto, May 15 at 3:00pm.
The new issue of Symposia, the journal of the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, publishing in this volume articles related to the theme of religion, space, and place, is now available online. This volume is interested in the intersection of religion and space/place, from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Articles available include “Public Rationality and Performative Religiosity,” “‘Being’ religious and ‘becoming’ secular in Ireland and France: rescaling secularisation theory,” “Pentecostal Power and the Holy Spirit of Capitalism: Re-territorialization in the Charismatic Cosmology,” “Space, Power, and Stories: hagiography, nationalist discourse, and the construction of sacred space at the Khwaja Sahib in Ajmer, India,” “Travel, the Inn, and Identity in Rabbinic Storytelling,” and several reviews.
From the Chair, John Kloppenborg
2010-11 has been an exciting year! In July we welcomed Simon Coleman, the fifth Chancellor Jackman Chair to be appointed by the U of T. Coleman significantly enhances our strength in the anthropology of religion, in particular the anthropology of modern Christianity. We’ve also been joined by Tobie Strauss, who teaches Modern Hebrew, and we’re preparing to welcome Kyle Smith, whose principal appointment is to the Dept. of Historical Studies at UTM, but who holds his graduate appointment at the DSR. Smith is an expert in early late Roman and early Byzantine Eastern Christianity. Three faculty members have released their first books: Amira Mittermaier’s Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination, Laury Silvers’ A Soaring Minaret: Abu Bakr Al-Wasiti and the Rise of Baghdadi Sufism, and Karen Ruffle’s Gender, Sainthood, and Everyday Practice in South Asian Shi’ism. DSR faculty have been successful in winning research competitions and awards, too. Amira Mittermaier won a Wenner Gren grant and a SSHRC Standard Research Grant, and Frances Garrett was awarded a prestigious SSHRC Partnership Development grant, bringing to five the number of SSHRC grants held by core DSR faculty. In addition to an OCUFA teaching award, Shafique Virani won a large Early Researcher Award from the Gov’t of Ontario for a project entitled “Journey to the Roof of the World: The travels of Pir Sabzali in Central Asia.” Walid Saleh continues research sponsored by a Mellon New Directions Fellowship. Graduate students have also been busy and notably successful, with a robust contingent of students presenting papers at the annual American Academy of Religion meeting in Montreal and the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Atlanta. See “Graduate Student News” for an impressive record!
Continue reading Spring Newsletter, 2010-11
The Jackman Humanities Institute has appointed six Undergraduate Fellows for 2011-2012, and two of these are Religion majors. JHI Undergraduate Fellows are linked with faculty fellows who supervise the students’ research projects. Students have carrel space at the JHI and participate in JHI activities. Laura Boles (pictured at right), a Religion, English, and Spanish and Portuguese major, plans during her year-long fellowship to study representations of diaspora and religion in post-9/11 fiction. Her research proposal asks, “How has 9/11 changed the relationship between the immigrant in the United States and the immigrant in Canada, if at all? What do these writings show about the difficulties of assimilation?”
Religion and Buddhist Studies Specialist Christopher Hiebert’s JHI research project is a study of the shifting perceptions and utilization of sacred space in contemporary Tibetan communities in Dharamsala, India, where he will be this summer, and Toronto, over next year. He is particularly interested in how Tibetan concepts and practices associated with sacred geography have mapped onto the urban geography of Toronto and how Tibetan religious practices have changed as a result of being transferred to a “demystified,” urban environment.
Continue reading Undergraduates appointed Jackman Fellows
An Arabic Bible
Professor Walid Saleh was recently featured in the U of T Magazine, with a story on his research into medieval Arabic translations of the Bible. Journalist John Lorinc explains how Professor Saleh got started on this research: “When Saleh was researching commentaries about the Qur’an some years ago, he stumbled across the writings of a 15th-century Islamic scholar who had become fascinated by a translation of the Bible into Arabic. The medieval scholar had befriended a rabbi who helped him understand the original Hebrew text. The scholar, in turn, wrote impassioned and controversial treatises on how the Bible could be used to interpret the Qur’an.”
Last year, Professor Saleh was one of the first two Canadians to receive the highly competitive New Directions Fellowship from the Mellon Foundation. He has spent this year studying the history of the Bible in the Islamic religious imagination, beginning with intensive training in Jewish studies and Biblical Hebrew in order to investigate Islamic interactions with the Bible.
Read the U of T Magazine Story
In celebration of new and upcoming books on Islam by three of our faculty, join us on Wednesday, March 9th, from 5-7 pm, at the University of Toronto Arts Centre, Art Lounge (west of Hart House off Hoskin Ave, on the back campus of University College).
Amira Mittermaier‘s book, Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination, came out with University of California Press in December 2010. UCP describes the book as follows: “Dreams that Matter explores the social and material life of dreams in contemporary Cairo. Amira Mittermaier guides the reader through landscapes of the imagination that feature Muslim dream interpreters who draw on Freud, reformists who dismiss all forms of divination as superstition, a Sufi devotional group that keeps a diary of dreams related to its shaykh, and ordinary believers who speak of moving encounters with the Prophet Muhammad. In close dialogue with her Egyptian interlocutors, Islamic textual traditions, and Western theorists, Mittermaier teases out the dream’s ethical, political, and religious implications. Her book is a provocative examination of how present-day Muslims encounter and engage the Divine that offers a different perspective on the Islamic Revival. Dreams That Matter opens up new spaces for an anthropology of the imagination, inviting us to rethink both the imagined and the real.”
Continue reading New and upcoming books on Islam
Eleven Ph.D. students will be traveling to Germany in February 2011, with the support of a DAAD Study Tour Grant. Profs. Amira Mittermaier and Pamela Klassen will be leading the tour of German research institutions focused on the study of religion and religious diversity from both historical and anthropological perspectives. The host institutions include the Max Planck Institute für Bildungsforschung in Berlin, the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen, and the Institut für Religionswissenschaft at the University of Heidelberg.
The students joining the tour have a range of research interests, including contemporary German theories of religion, Jewish philosophy, anthropology of Islam, and Buddhism in Central Asia. Students chosen to participate include Rebecca Bartel, Maria Dasios, Nicholas Dion, Matt King, Rachel Loewen, Nermeen Mouftah, Aldea Mulhern, Paul Nahme, Justin Stein, Edith Szanto, and Erin Vearncombe.
Assistant Professor Ruth Marshall‘s 2009 book, pictured at right, has already received rave reviews. Jean-François Bayart, of the French National Center for Scientific Research, writes,
“This is one of the most original works in the social sciences that I’ve read in several years. Much more than a simple monograph that will be vital for an understanding of religious and political life in Nigeria, this book addresses all those interested in the significance of contemporary religious phenomena. Through her energetic prose, exceptional fieldwork, and clear mastery of the theoretical and ethnographic literature, Marshall offers a new perspective on religious action and social and political transformations in sub-Saharan Africa, while also making a major contribution to the historical and comparative study of religion.”
Continue reading Ruth Marshall on Spiritual Warfare
Image from http://www.laprensa.com.ni/2010/01/03/nacionales/11975
With support from The Wenner Gren Foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Kevin O’Neill is pursuing fieldwork for a new book, tentatively titled The Soul of Security. Based on fieldwork in Guatemala City and across North America, this research brings a new perspective to Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity’s relationship to one of today’s foundational concepts of international order: security.
Professor O’Neill’s first book, City of God: Christian Citizenship in Postwar Guatemala, tracked how Christian citizenship re-politicized the faithful in desperately violent Central American urban sites. In this new research project, he focuses on transnational gangs, such as Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. These groups originated among Central American immigrants in Los Angeles, California, during the gang wars of the 1980s. Since then, United States deportation policies have transported these gangs back to Central America, with some of the strongest networks forming in postwar Guatemala. Today, tens of thousands of men and women, many of whom are former soldiers, now smuggle drugs, participate in human trafficking, and control prison systems. While research currently focuses on why young men and women join these gangs, Professor O’Neill’s project looks instead at the ways out – at two of the most common ways out of a group to which many have already pledged their lives. The first of these is death. The second is Christian conversion. This curious loophole in gang membership has placed an expanding cadre of Protestant ministers at the intersection of security and salvation, raising a central research question: How does gang ministry exemplify Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity’s growing entanglement with the geopolitics of Central American security?
Three U of T faculty members received recognition from the Ontario Confederation of Faculty Associations for their skills in the classroom.
Professors Susan McCahan of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Shafique Virani of Historical Studies at UTM and Religion at UTSG, and Michael Wiley of anatomy are recipients of the 2010 OCUFA Teaching and Academic Librarianship Awards. Approximately seven awards are given annually to teachers who excel in the classroom.
Shafique Virani has taught everywhere from the banks of the Ganges to Abu Dhabi. He began teaching at Harvard in 2001 before continuing at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates in 2004. In 2006, he moved to Toronto to teach Historical and Religious Studies at U of T Mississauga. This year, he became the Chair of Historical Studies.
“I don’t even think of it as teaching, I think of it as learning,” he said. “People have such fascinating ideas, and if you can draw those ideas out of them, you can learn so much.” Indeed, the learning that comes with teaching is Shafique’s motivation for pursuing the profession.
Continue reading Shafique Virani wins OCUFA Teaching Award
By Eva Mroczek
Before I entered graduate school, I imagined the life of a scholar to be cerebral and solitary and expected to spend days locked in a library pouring over manuscripts. But being a Ph.D. candidate in Centre for the Study of Religion and the Centre for Jewish Studies has taught me that academic life is far more dynamic and social than that. Being part of a scholarly community requires skills far beyond what we learn in class, skills that many of us had the opportunity to hone, under the guidance of Hindy Najman, during the intense flurry of activity at CJS in the last few months.
CJS students are not only intellectually challenged in our field by attending the many events sponsored by CSR and CJS, but we are also actively involved in the behind-the-scenes work of making such scholarly conversations possible in the first place. The Dead Sea Scrolls conference in November gave a group of us the chance to learn what goes into organizing an international gathering of scholars, a project that began a full two years before the event itself and involved careful planning, superhuman attention to detail, and collaboration between several U of T departments, the ROM, and two universities. Chad Stauber of CJS and NMC, Nicole Hilton of CJS and CSR, and I were called upon to help the conference organizers (Hindy Najman, CJS Director, Sarianna Metso of NMC and CSR, and Eileen Schuller of McMaster U.) put together 3 days featuring scholars from N. America, Europe and Israel.
Continue reading Planning for the Dead Sea Scrolls
In the Department for the Study of Religion’s new Research Partnership Program, seven undergraduates and Master’s Degree students are working with faculty and senior graduate students on their research. East Asian Studies major Sophie Zheng, for example, is helping Buddhist Studies doctoral students Ben Wood and Sarah Richardson study Chinese language articles on the Tibetan temple of Shalu, and Religion major Marianna Siniakova is compiling bibliographic sources in Russian on Mongolian Buddhism with doctoral student Matt King. Religion major Daigengna Duoer is working with Professor Amanda Goodman, gathering information from Dunhuang manuscript catalogs of the Stein Collection, the Pelliot Collection and the Beijing Collection.
Religion major Jasveen Puri’s work with PhD candidate Smita Kothari involves translating and transcribing interviews from the Hindi language that Smita conducted during her ethnographic study of a sect in Jainism known as the Terapantha. The study explores notions of charity and meditation practices within this sect and how they relate to social issues, such as ecology, economy and social justice.
Continue reading Research Partnerships Program
By Shaftolu Gulamadov
I worked this year as RA for Shafique Virani, assisting with his courses at the UTM campus. Virani is a lively and inspirational teacher of Islamic history who uses various teaching styles to encourage students to think critically. The aim of the course I worked with was not just to communicate facts, but to help students achieve competency in locating, analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating and applying knowledge in real life, complex situations. I was responsible for creating weekly multiple-choice tests in such a way that they could both test and develop students’ higher order thinking skills.
Before I began designing the tests, I was under the impression that multiple-choice test items were only good for measuring simple recall of facts, i.e., lower-level objectives such as those based on knowledge of terms, methods, procedures, principles and so on. The multiple-choice tests I had seen and taken before seemed only to assess these limited types of well-defined or lower-order skills. This research opportunity has given me the chance to do some serious research on testing methods and how to make them useful for promoting higher order thinking skills. Among many other things, I have carefully studied Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives and categories of cognitive behaviour, Robert Gagne’s hierarchy of learning, Royer Cisero’s theoretical analysis of cognitive behaviour, Thomas Haladyna’s classification of higher order thinking skills and methods of developing and validating multiple-choice test items.
Continue reading Testing Methods and Teaching Islam
Doctoral student Bryan Levman participated in a three week workshop at the Mangalam Centre in Berkeley, California, on translating the recently discovered Sanskrit edition of the Vimalakirtinirdesa sutra (discovered in the Potala Palace in 1999) into English. About this experience, Bryan writes,
“I found the exercise very valuable and the staff was excellent: Paul Harrison and Alex von Rospatt from Berkeley, Luis Gomez (now in Mexico) and Michael Hahn (Germany), Carmen Dragonetti and Fernando Tola (both in Argentina). We compared the Sanskrit with the extant Tibetan and three extant Chinese versions. There were 15 PHD students who participated from all over the world. We were divided into three groups, meeting with one of the faculty in the morning (on a rotating basis) and in the afternoon, there was a plenary session, where the results of our morning work were compared with the results of the other groups. I learned a lot about translation theory, and the practice of good translation, more about Sanskrit and much more about Tibetan and Chinese as well. It was great! They have now formed a committee to translate the entire book and publish the results, and I and about 7 others have volunteered to continue translating to completion, which is anticipated by the end of the year, with publication next year.”
By Sean Hillman
Since returning from the International Summer School for Jain Studies in India, the end of which had me giving my first paper presentation ever on “Jain Voluntary Death as a Model for Secular End-of-life Care” in New Delhi, several opportunities to present on the topic have come. The novel practice of Jain voluntary death was received enthusiastically by Thanadoulas (assistants to the dying) who are in training as part of the Contemplative End-of-life Care program at the Institute of Traditional Medicine, as well as by the director of the program Dr. Michele Chaban, a social worker and leading thanatologist, who plans on incorporating the research into her lectures. Next I presented the paper to both Jains and Jainologists at the University of Ottawa during the “Social Consciousness and Jainism” conference. Just before classes start I will be again be talking about India and my research at a day-centre for the elderly, which is host to a diverse group that is keen on all things multicultural as well as the subject of death. This fall I will talk about Jain voluntary death in hospital at Ethics Rounds at the request of Dr. Steve Abdool, a senior ethicist from the Centre for Clinical Ethics and the Joint Centre for Bioethics at U of T, and a co-worker at St. Michael’s Hospital. The paper itself will soon be published in an Indian quarterly Jainology journal called “Sramana” that is produced by the Parshvanath Vidyapeeth Centre for Jain Studies and Research in Varanasi, as well as a second publication in Canada TBA.
Continue reading Jain Studies in India