Engaging Religion at 4th Space

(Left to Right) Ellen Dobrowolski, Dr. Sowparnika Balaswaminathan, and Dr. Naftali Cohn during the panel discussion. Photo by Emma Bell / The Concordian

Scholars and faculty of Concordia’s department of Religions and Cultures discuss the discipline.

Concordia University’s 4th Space hosted a panel discussion with participating graduate students and faculty from the department of Religions and Cultures to address what it means to choose religion as a field of study. The panellists included PhD Candidate Ellen Dobrowolski, Dr. Sowparnika Balaswaminathan, Dr. Naftali Cohn, PhD student Jordan Molot, and MA graduate Katrina Kardash, and was moderated by PhD Candidate Arwa Hussain. While each participant brought a unique background and perspective to the table, they were united in their passion for a department that holds space for interdisciplinary research interests and methods. Each panellist maintained that their curiosity gradually pulled them through twists and turns toward religious studies.

The study of religion can open up opportunities to engage with difficult cross-disciplinary questions. For example, Dobrowolski’s PhD research discusses how a person’s religious identity might reinforce or undermine their ethnic identity. As a scholar with both Métis and Brazilian heritage, Dobrowolski observed that their Catholic upbringing tended to complicate the acceptance of their indigeneity, while simultaneously strengthening that of their Latin background. This experience informs their research onthe life and work of Sara Riel, the first Métis Grey Nun missionary. 

As seen through Dobrowolski’s research, the department of Religions and Cultures fosters a breadth of study that is at once deeply personal and widely relevant within secular academia.  Each project is unique. Dr. Balaswaminathan’s work investigates how a community of artisans in her home country of India struggle to honour the integrity of their traditional crafts in a world that increasingly commodifies the artistic production of the Global South. Meanwhile, Dr. Cohn examines the representation of diverse cultures and the performance of religious rituals in the media. Second year PhD student Jordan Molot, on the other hand, studies the history of Jewish settlers in Canada and their entanglements with the transatlantic slave trade. Recent MA graduate Katrina Kardash unearths the intimate lives of evangelical Christian communities in order to understand the dynamics of gender within their domestic spaces. All of these projects draw from personal experience and demonstrate how our personal trajectories can deeply inform our academic endeavours. 

After sharing their own research and experience within the department, the panellists wrapped up with some advice to prospective graduate students who may be seeking to join the program. The group was unanimous on how the study of religion opens the doors to diverse experiences with people and places you may never have otherwise encountered, and anyone who is fueled by the desire to learn new languages, travel, and discover new perspectives ought to consider religious studies. In a more practical sense, prospective students should begin to flesh out exactly what questions they would like to investigate and reach out to professors to build connections, setting them on a path toward success. 

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