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Like mother, like daughter: Maag comes home

by Anna Bratulic

The apple hasn't fallen far from the tree in Karin Maag's case. She grew up in an academic family and has herself embraced the world of academia.

Ask her anything about John Calvin or the Reformation, and, in a way that reveals her deep mastery of the subject, her eloquent response will include all the names, dates, places and circumstances necessary for you to understand.

Her mother, Tannis Arbuckle-Maag, is a psychology professor here at Concordia, and her father, Urs Maag, is a statistics professor at the Université de Montréal.

Maag graduated from Concordia in 1989 with a double major in Religion and Western Society and Culture (offered by the Liberal Arts College).

MaagNow a historian who teaches at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Maag returned two weeks ago as an invited speaker of the Liberal Arts Colleges 20th anniversary lecture series. Her talk was about educational changes during the 16th-century Reformation. (See article, this page).

In an interview with her mother the morning of her talk, Maag recalled memories of growing up with professor parents. "I remember when Mom was working on applying for research grants. If it was successful, we would all go to a restaurant and celebrate," Maag said. "Research grants were always connected with nice meals!"

However, Maag felt no pressure to undertake scholarly pursuits just because her parents were university professors. In fact, her brother and sister have both taken career paths outside academia.

Maag's own early history coincided with a tumultous period in the history of the University. Arbuckle-Maag was seven months pregnant with her at the time of the Computer Centre Riot of 1969, when student protesters temporarily took over the Henry F. Hall Building, tossed computers out of ninth-floor windows and caused millions of dollars in property damage.

"The elevators and escalators weren't working, and my office was on the eleventh floor at the time. I had to walk up eleven flights of stairs," said Arbuckle-Maag. A colleague went up with her in case she toppled over. "So Karin has, in my mind, at least, always been connected to Concordia."

Arbuckle-Maag began teaching at Concordia in 1965. Her research interests lie in the fields of cognitive psychology, aging and, more particularly, what factors help people maintain cognitive abilities in old age. She is a member of the department's Centre for Research in Human Development.

She remembers feeling both proud and a little uneasy when Karin received a three-year scholarship to continue her graduate studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland after spending a year there. "If she spends four years there, will she ever come home?" Arbuckle-Maag remembers thinking.

As director of the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies, Maag and her colleagues discovered a 16th-century catechism by the Genevan reformer John Calvin, printed in Italian in 1545. It was anonymously written, had no title page and was inconspicuously inserted into another book, making it easy to overlook for all these years.

Maag contends that this was done purposely because it was not wise to be overtly Protestant in Italy at the time. "It's fundamental because it tells us how much of Calvin's doctrines were spreading, and it tells you something about the ways in which these books were concealed," Maag said.

Maag got her PhD from St. Andrews in Scotland in 1994. In the course of her research, she spent time in the Geneva and Zurich city archives, reading many volumes of correspondence and city council minutes.

"The first weeks in an archive are usually difficult for a young scholar, often because 16th-century handwriting is hard to decipher."

Her book based on her studies, Seminary or University? The Genevan Academy and Reformed Higher Education, came out in 1995. Her next book, The European Melanchthon, will be published later this year. She has edited two other books.

Copyright 1999 Concordia's Thursday Report.