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April 25, 2002 Joint PhD program in Religion expands to Quebec City



by Barbara Black

Joint programs are the ideal way to make the most of limited resources, take advantage of the cluster of universities in Quebec, and tap into the richness of a bilingual learning environment. While the idea is not new, Concordia’s involvement in joint programs is growing.

A case in point is the joint PhD in religion, which now embraces Concordia, UQAM and Laval. Leslie Orr, chair of the Religion Department, explained that although Concordia has had a doctorate in religion since 1974 and a joint doctorate with UQAM since 1989, the introduction of Université Laval brings new elements.

Distance, for one. Professor Orr said that the seminars that have proved so successful with UQAM will probably be refashioned into day-long events to make travel to and from Quebec City feasible.

These seminars have been a feature of the program for the past seven years, she said. They take place in English and French — speakers speak their institutional language, and discussion flies in both languages — and have been stimulating not only for the students, but for the participating faculty, too. “I’ve taken part in all three seminars held so far, and we all benefit from these year-long face-to-face encounters,” Orr said with enthusiasm.

“French and English have a different intellectual inheritance. The francophones tend to have read more European sources, while the anglophones have gone for American and British viewpoints.”

The constituent universities have their own areas of specialization. Concordia’s Religion Department is especially strong in Judaic studies and comparative ethics; the Université du Québec à Montréal specializes in religion in Quebec and contemporary religious phenomena, and its programs are growing.

Laval introduces a new dimension. Long established in traditional faith-based theology, the university also has experts in the religions of India and Amerindian religions, as well as a big project on the Nag Hammadi texts, part of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

At any one time, between 50 and 60 students have been enrolled in the joint Concordia-UQAM program, and these numbers will increase with the addition of Laval students. Each PhD student is enrolled at one of the member universities.

One benefit is sharing resources among more faculty. “I teach Buddhism, and there will be one or two others. It’s so good for students to have more than one viewpoint,” Orr said.

She has been impressed by the openness of her francophone colleagues, who go out of their way to provide extra help for students struggling to understand difficult material in their second language.

While the bilingual sessions are a challenge for some of the students at first, she said, “at the end of the day, they’re glad they did it. It’s a pleasure to see the goodwill on both sides.”

Religion for the real world

A religion degree can be an entrée to the legal profession, government and NGO work, social assistance, education and health care — even business. Here are some examples.

Marlene Bonneau,
who is getting her PhD in religion this spring, is working as a ritual counsellor and marketing specialist with Mount Royal Cemetery.

Russ Daye is teaching at a United Church seminary in Fiji. Patricia O’Rourke is an ombuds officer for the Royal Victoria Hospital, and Rabbi Meyer Schecter is a chaplain at the Jewish General Hospital. (We told you about their careers as ethicists in CTR, Mar. 30, 2000).

Abolfazl Sajedi, who got his PhD recently, is working for the government of Iran.

Susan Palmer, who has been profiled recently in The Gazette as well as CTR (Feb. 7), is an expert on new religious movements like the Raëlians. She has published a number of books, serves as an expert witness in court cases, and teaches at Dawson College and Concordia. A more recent graduate, Maria Mamfredis, is also teaching in the Religion Department.

Current PhD students include Sonia Zylberberg, who was recently mentioned for her work on Jewish women’s rituals in an article in the Toronto Star.

PhD candidate Louis Chauvin is teaching business ethics, business and society, and sustainable development in the Faculty of Management at McGill.

Marco Mingarelli owns and manages a consultancy that advises governments on the privatization of public businesses, and Bassem Khalifa, who helped establish the Canadian Institute of Technology, is involved in property management.