Centre for Studies in Religion and Society (CSRS)

Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 10 August 2006.

Phone: 250-721-6325
Website: http://web.uvic.ca/csrs/index.php


The Centre for Studies in Religion and Society (CSRS) was founded at the University of Victoria (UVic) in 1991 by Harold Coward, a professor of history and well-known specialist in Indian philosophy and religion. The Centre was established in order to, “foster the scholarly study of religion in relation to any and all aspects of society and culture.” In other words, the Centre’s chief goal is, “to promote dialogue between religion and other aspects of human experience,” and it does this with a focus on questions relating to “human values, knowledge and technology.”(1)
Its mission is based on the awareness that religion has been and continues to be “formative of human reality and experience”(2) and that a religious perspective is therefore an important component of an interdisciplinary approach to research. “We do the same thing as other institutions representing science, social sciences and humanities but also add the knowledge of religions,” explained Harold Coward. “We don’t use a dogmatic approach. We let each tradition speak its truth fully and completely alongside the other religions and together with the best of science, technology and ethics research.”(3) The Centre recognizes the role of research in informing policy, both in Canada and abroad, and the valuable role that a religious studies perspective can play in shaping this research.(4)


The Center is busy with a number of ongoing initiatives. It awards and administers a number of research fellowships, organizes lectures for the public, hosts an annual faculty research symposium, builds UVic's resources for teaching and research in religious studies through library acquisitions, engages in research, and creates publications. Just a few of these activities will be detailed below.
Using interest earned from a number of endowments, CSRS provides UVic’s main library with thousands of dollars worth of new religious studies books every year. In 1999, the Centre’s Islamic Studies Resources Fund (previously known as the Muslim Book Fund) was launched with a focus on the need to build the library’s resources on Islam. “Recent global events since 2001, a new Religious Studies Minor program at UVic, and Canada’s evolving social and demographic landscape, have all contributed to an urgent and growing need for increased Islamic studies resources.” In addition to providing much needed resources to the library, this project is “building friendship and solidarity with Muslim faith communities” and “giving focus to issues of spiritual and world importance.”(5) Their goal is to raise CAD$50,000 so that the Centre’s Islamic Studies Resources Fund will generate enough revenue from annual interest to “significantly enhance UVic’s Islamic Studies collection for many years to come.”(6)
This emphasis on sharing and building knowledge is also what informs the Centre’s research projects. Since the Centre deeply values pluralism, it is engaged with a variety of fields of research “not limited to any specific time, place, religion or culture.”(7) Thus, research projects are many and diverse in scope. Some of their undertakings include Acceptable Genes: Consumer Acceptance of GM Foods in Relation to Moral, Religious and Cultural Dietary Prohibitions and Religion and Ethnicity in Canada, which explores “the connections between religion, ethnicity and identity in Canadian multiculturalism.”(8)
Of course, with all this research, there are also many publications, similarly ranging in their topical focus. Among the publications by the Centre is Religion and Peacebuilding, a book edited by Harold Coward and Gordon Smith that, “looks beyond headlines concerning violence perpetrated in the name of religion to examine how world religions have also inspired social welfare and peacemaking activism.”(9) In it, scholars from a number of faiths provide insight into what their traditions have to offer in the struggle for peace. Numerous books have been published, some of them serving as textbooks at other universities. The Centre has also made available many of the lectures and seminars they have hosted in print.

Organizational Structure

While the Centre is not officially linked with any teaching faculty at UVic, the Director is a faculty member. The Director, currently Conrad Brunk who is Professor of Philosophy at UVic, reports to the Vice-President of Research at UVic and is guided by both a Program Committee and an Advisory Council. The Program Committee is constituted by elected members of numerous University departments and it “conducts reviews of all academic projects undertaken by the Centre, adjudicates fellowship applications, and provides liaison to UVic faculties and departments.”(10) The Advisory Council is different in that it consists of both academic and lay members who are based internationally as well as locally. Furthermore, it is “in matters of broad policy and community relations” that the Director looks to the Advisory Council.(11)
The Program Committee and Advisory Council form part of CSRS but there is another organizational body that is considered “adjunct.”(12) Friends of CSRS is an “adjunct” community organization that is comprised of individuals who are supporters of the Centre and who share a common interest in “interfaith study and dialogue.”(13) Membership is by application and membership services include receiving, “a newsletter and regular notice of CSRS-sponsored lectures and events.”(14)


The CSRS receives funding through a variety of sources. In order to meet basic operational costs, it depends on interest earned from its endowment funds. What began the endowment was a one million (CAD) dollar gift from the Vandekerkhove Foundation and a matching grant from the provincial government. Contributions followed from both organizations and individuals of various faiths. Any programs and activities that fall outside of basic operational endeavours are supported by research grants and donations.


(1) CSRS Web Site. http://web.uvic.ca/csrs/about/index.php#mission. Accessed 3 August 2006.
(2) CSRS Web Site. http://web.uvic.ca/csrs/about/index.php#mission. Accessed 3 August 2006.
(3) Pitts, Patty. 'Mission Accomplished' in The Ring. University of Victoria, 5 June 2002. http://ring.uvic.ca/02jun05/coward.html. Accessed 3 August 2006.
(4) Coward, Harold. 'The Contribution of Religious Studies to Ethics and Public Policy'. Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, 1 March 2001. http://www.fedcan.ca/english/fromold/breakfast-coward0101.cfm. Accessed 3 August 2006.
(5) CSRS Web Site. http://web.uvic.ca/csrs/programs/islam_fund.php. Accessed 3 August 2006.
(6) CSRS Web Site. http://web.uvic.ca/csrs/programs/islam_fund.php. Accessed 3 August 2006.
(7) CSRS Web Site. http://web.uvic.ca/csrs/about/index.php#mission. Accessed 3 August 2006.
(8) CSRS Web Site. http://web.uvic.ca/csrs/research/ethnicity.php. Accessed 3 August 2006.
(9) State University of New York Web Site. http://www.sunypress.edu/details.asp?id=60851. Accessed 3 August 2006.
(10) CSRS Web Site. http://web.uvic.ca/csrs/about/governance.php. Accessed 3 August 2006.
(11) CSRS Web Site. http://web.uvic.ca/csrs/about/index.php#accountability. Accessed 3 August 2006.
(12) CSRS Web Site. http://web.uvic.ca/csrs/friends/friend-form.php. Accessed 3 August 2006.
(13) CSRS Web Site. http://web.uvic.ca/csrs/about/friendsofcsrs.php. Accessed 3 August 2006.
(14) CSRS Web Site. http://web.uvic.ca/csrs/friends/friend-form.php. Accessed 3 August 2006.