$5 million gift from McGill alumni strengthens interfaith scholarship

Posted on Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Barbara and Patrick Keenan's $5-million gift to the Faculty of Religious Studies will fortify teaching, research, scholarly collaboration and outreach related to the study of comparative religion and interfaith dialogue. / Photo: Nicolas Morin

Transformative donation is the largest to the Faculty of Religious Studies since its founding

McGill alumni Barbara Keenan, BA’54 and Patrick Keenan, BCom’54, CA’57, have made a landmark gift of $5 million to the Faculty of Religious Studies, as part of the University’s fundraising effort, Campaign McGill: History in the Making. This donation – the largest to the Faculty since its founding – will fortify teaching, research, scholarly collaboration and outreach related to the study of comparative religion and interfaith dialogue.

“In our globalized world, religion is a vital dimension of our humanity,” said Barbara Keenan. “It is very important that today’s students – no matter what their course of study – have an understanding of and sensitivity to the multitude of faith traditions and the cultures they produce. This knowledge will help to shape them as tomorrow’s leaders.”

The Keenans’ gift will support five distinct initiatives related to interreligious scholarship. The centrepiece will be the Barbara and Patrick Keenan Chair in Interfaith Studies that will fund, in perpetuity, world-class scholars who will lead new research initiatives and bring fresh perspectives to interfaith studies. As the first such Chair in Canada and one of only a handful worldwide, the position is expected to firmly establish McGill’s Faculty of Religious Studies as a centre of excellence in this field. The Chair will also spearhead the development of a new introductory level course “World Religions and the Cultures They Create” that will enhance foundational religious literacy among a greater number of undergraduate students at the onset of their university careers.

The gift will also create the Wilfred Cantwell Smith Graduate Fellowships, honouring the memory of an influential and internationally renowned professor in the Faculty, which will be awarded each year to three outstanding entering doctoral students; two annual Barbara and Patrick Keenan PhD Dissertation Finishing Fellowships for doctoral students; and at least two annual Barbara and Patrick Keenan Undergraduate Internship Awards that will provide recipients with valuable first-hand experience of religious cultures in global communities. Access to these internship awards will not be limited to students in the Faculty of Religious Studies; any student across the University who has taken at least two elective courses in the Faculty can apply for one.

Finally, the Barbara and Patrick Keenan Conference Support Fund will support one or two high-profile symposiums that will bring together prominent international scholars to share their knowledge of world religions and globalization with the wider community.

“These initiatives will nourish creative, interdisciplinary scholarship and advance graduate and undergraduate education on issues of religion and society at a time when such contributions are arguably more critical than ever before,” said Ellen Aitken, Dean of the Faculty of Religious Studies. “The intellectual discourse and research they generate will solidify McGill University’s position as one of the world’s premier centres for the study of the interrelations among the world’s religions.”

McGill’s leadership in the study of world religions and cultures and their impact on social, political, educational and health issues has been recognized through its selection as the only Canadian university among an exclusive group of the world’s leading universities to partner with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation in its Faith and Globalisation Initiative.

“This extraordinary gift from Barbara and Patrick Keenan reinforces a core element of McGill’s mission: a commitment to diversity and the inclusion of different traditions, viewpoints and ideas,” said Principal Heather Munroe-Blum. “By giving our students an appreciation of the complexity of religious thought and practice around the globe, we will be preparing them to contribute meaningfully to the challenges of our modern world, whether as scholars, religious leaders or engaged citizens. It is a remarkable testament to the Keenans’ vision and generosity, and their commitment to helping realize Campaign McGill’s vision of addressing important global challenges.”

For a video about the Keenan’s and their gift to McGill’s Faculty of Religious Studies, go here

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