At the beginning of February, I applied for a graduate fellowship at UVic’s Centre for Studies in Religion and Society (CSRS), “a community of academics dedicated to the scholarly study of religion,” that has “no affiliation with any religion and no religious agenda.” Last week, I received a letter informing me that I had been awarded one of the Vandekerkhove Family Trust Graduate Student Fellowships. I am grateful to the Centre’s Program Committee for considering me worthy of this honour, and to The Allen and Loreen Vanderkerkhove Family Foundation for the generous support of this fellowship. Here is a description of the research project that I proposed for my time as a fellow at the CSRS:
In Douglas Todd’s edited volume Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia, the region’s “leading thinkers reflect on how spirituality, in the broadest sense, shapes the people of the” Pacific Northwest.1 Following the lead of Todd and the other contributors in The Elusive Utopia, I propose to use the opportunity of a CSRS graduate student fellowship to investigate the “power of place” in one small corner of Cascadia. Specifically, I will develop three scholarly walking tours of religious and spiritual sites in Victoria during the fall of 2013. The theme of the tours will be “Religion in the City.” The tours might involve visiting mainstream religious institutions, sites important to those who are spiritual but not religious, and places that contribute to creating civil religion in Victoria. Using data generated from field observations during the walks, and participant surveys and follow-up interviews after the walks,2 I plan to write an academic article analyzing the pedagogical effects and community building outcomes of the walks. In the spring of 2014, I will analyze the results, write the article and submit it for publication, and complete a thesis chapter on related topics.
This proposal grows directly out of my experience as an MA student in the Department of History and my connection with The City Talks. As part of my course work, and in connection with the lecture series, I led three scholarly walking tours of Victoria in the fall of 2012. Each walk was connected with a talk in the lecture series. The well attended walks encouraged participants to observe and engage with their urban environment, to build on their knowledge about their city, and to think explicitly about how their values influenced their experiences. These pedagogical aims, and the discussion based methods I used to achieve them, would extend naturally to questions of spirituality in a series of walking tours designed to engage Victorians with the lived experience and history of religion in their city.
The walking tours I propose here also support the goals of the CSRS, which will, in turn, support and nourish this project in various ways. By employing my unique discussion based methods to lead walks on religious themes, this project will create a dialogue between the university, various faith groups and the broader community. The resulting article will contribute to scholarly discussion about the role of religion in peoples’ lives, while using data generated by that dialogue. Regular conversations over coffee at the Centre will shape and enhance my research through the sharing of various perspectives from different fields. Other scholars at the CSRS may find similar inspiration in my work. For these reasons, I would be honoured to be granted the opportunity to conduct this research at the CSRS.