Join us in studying Hebrew, Sanskrit, Pali, or Tibetan, offered exclusively in our department at the University of Toronto. Below we explain the motivations for our language teaching, as well as the unique qualities of our approach.
Intensive language training is central to the study of religion. The Department for the Study of Religion offers Hebrew, Pali, Sanskrit, and Tibetan courses and supports students in other languages, such as Arabic, Burmese, Newar, and Tamil. Our language programs are the largest in Canada, and the classes that we offer online are joined by students from across Canada and the world. Through language teaching, we encourage our students to appreciate cultural change, diversity, and the role of interpretation in assessing truth and conducting oneself ethically. Our students frequently use the languages they learn for their research.
Toronto is home to a diasporic Tibetan community (the largest outside Asia) and a Sri Lankan Tamil population (the largest outside Sri Lanka). Tamil is the third most spoken South Asian language in Canada. In addition, Canada is home to one of the largest Israeli diaspora groups in the world. Our language courses thus recognize diverse communities of greater Toronto, connecting many students with their cultures and histories, past and present. Our instructors skillfully use the connective nature of language to link communities on four levels: in the language classroom, across the university, with the broader research community, and out into our city and beyond. As the bond between the university and the city is often cemented over language, our courses leverage greater Toronto more fully for the mutual benefit of the university and the most linguistically diverse city in Canada (Toronto is home to speakers of over 200 languages). Our courses also strengthen and deepen critical international partnerships.
We encourage solidarity and a sense of exploration in the classroom, making for a productive, enjoyable, and memorable learning experience. We offer an immersion in language and literature and immediacy of connection to other sharers of the language, whether living or ancient. As language forms the foundation of culture, law, history, identity, and religion, our culturally- and historically-informed approach to second language instruction embeds what we teach in the interrelated contexts of history, policy, culture, religion, and society. The languages we provide enable new research in global religious histories, cultures, practices, and associated international forms of art, music, film, dance, foodways, philosophy, environmental awareness, medicine, law, and science. In addition, our courses are supported by faculty research projects that engage students directly in collaborative networks around the world.
Hebrew, Sanskrit, Pali and Tibetan are foundational languages for over 30% of the world’s religious populations (those of Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism). Our classes are linked to more expansive fields of study in and beyond religion within the university, drawing students from classics to computational linguistics. In addition, these courses reach out to the broader research community. The University of Toronto Libraries have the largest Tibetan language collection in Canada. In 2013, a collaboration between the University of Toronto and Columbia University’s research libraries was established to harness expertise in Tibetan collection services at both universities and increase the availability of Tibetan resources to a wider community of scholars in both Canada and the United States. Furthermore, our language-focused programs directly connect students to historicized awareness of the significance of racism, colonialism, and misogyny in the development of the study of religion. They therefore link powerfully to the department’s Action Plan on Anti-Racism, Decolonization, and Equity (ADE).