Religion and culture: TWU scholar awarded $500K Canada Research Chair

This July, after a rigorous national review process, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) awarded Professor Zimmermann a Canada Research Chair (CRC) for his interdisciplinary research combining philosophy, theology and literature to investigate how religion shapes cultural ethics and to what extent religions allow for interpretation.

“This is a Tier Two Chair, which is awarded to gifted young scholars who show promise of being future world-class scholars,” explains Mark Charlton, Dean of Research and Faculty Development at TWU. Through the grant, Professor Zimmermann and the University will receive $500,000 over the next five years, renewable for another five. The funding benefits scholarship throughout the university, providing research fellowships for students, opportunities to host world-renowned speakers and an engagement of inter-faith dialogue and examination of religious beliefs at TWU.

Zimmermann's research looks at culture today: “From academics to cultural critics to sociologists, since 9-11, the message has been that the West suffers from an identity crisis, and we need to re-define who we are,” he says. “The only way we can do that is to rediscover our religious roots. Zimmermann points out that it's not only the church, but secular academics and statesmen like the French minister of interior affairs and culture, Nicolas Sarkozy, who argue in favour of religion as a pillar of a balanced society.

For this grant, Zimmermann created a research program that investigates the meaning and implications of this resurgence of religion.

“There are two main areas that I'm looking at,” he explains. “First, there is the resurgence of religion as legitimate public knowledge, which has been marginalized since the 1960s. And second, there is the public opinion that the rise of religious conviction, leads to violence.”
“We used to diffuse this confrontation by relegating religion to the private sphere,” continues Zimmermann, “And by reducing religious doctrines to their lowest common denominator. We can no longer do this, because 60s view of comparative religions has itself become discredited. Instead, my research examines each religion to see if they are intrinsically violent and looks at their doctrines to see how much they allow for interpretation. Room for interpretation in a religion is what distinguishes it from fundamentalism.”

In a culture of renewed religious interest, research into religiously-based social values has direct impact on the public arena. Rogers OMNI television, a multi-faith station, has awarded Zimmermann and two other TWU professors a $100,000 grant to implement an annual, televised symposia for five years that will engage people in dialogue on religion and culture. “Muslim Voices,” the first of these events, takes place February 20 and 21 on TWU's campus and features Shabir Ally, a prominent broadcaster, Muslim activist and theologian.

“We're excited to invite the diverse faiths of the lower mainland community to this event,” says Zimmermann.

Zimmermann has already done extensive work on issues of interpretation, faith, and their importance for education. Zimmermann's first book Recovering Theological Hermeneutics (2004), was recently followed by The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism And the Future of University Education, co-authored with former TWU English professor, Norman Klassen. Zimmermann has interviewed and written on important philosophical thinkers like Hans-Georg Gadamer. He has also recently written on Radical Orthodoxy, theologians Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans Urs van Balthasar and won the Lionel Basney Award with his essay on the future of literary theory. In addition to the current grants, Zimmermann is also a recipient of several smaller SSHRC grants and a $20,000 CCCU networking grant.

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a not-for-profit Christian liberal arts university enrolling over 3,300 students this year. With a broad based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 39 major areas of study ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 14 other graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership. For more information visit: www.twu.ca

Last Updated: 2007-10-11
Author: Erin Mussolum