Shadbolt fellow credits rebellion as teenager for successful career

April 06, 2006, volume 35, no. 7
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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Douglas Todd, the first recipient of the Jack and Doris Shadbolt fellowship in the humanities at Simon Fraser University, credits his award-winning career as the Vancouver Sun's religion and ethics writer to an act of teenage rebellion.

“Some people rebel in adolescence by turning their backs on religion. Instead, I turned my back on my family's atheism, which I found lacking in hope. I found I was increasingly drawn to the hopefulness of some religious people,” says Todd.

Today the author of two books and countless articles on the subject of spirituality is delighted to find himself in a position - much envied by his journalistic colleagues - of “having the opportunity to explore an idea for longer than two days before moving on to the next column. It's an incredible luxury for a journalist to be able to read a whole book rather than parts of it and to be able to spend time picking the brains of acclaimed scholars.”

According to dean of arts and social sciences John Pierce, the Shadbolt fellowship is intended “to recognize and support leaders in the humanities who are not necessarily part of the academy.” During his two-semester appointment, Todd aims to build bridges between the university and the wider community to facilitate respectful discussions about spirituality in general, and controversial religious issues in particular, through lectures, seminars and panel discussions.

“I worry that Canadian universities avoid talking about challenging subjects such as Sharia law or creationism or polygamy in the name of multicultural sensitivity or political correctness,” he says. “I'm also observing that a lot of instructors aren't talking to their classes about the big topics - truth, beauty, goodness - and if they're not being talked about at a university then where are they being talked about?

 “I can't emphasize enough how well people at SFU are treating me. Coming from a rugged journalistic culture, I'm amazed at the gentility of SFU faculty and staff. At the same time, I'm noticing it takes a while to convince a few people that a thinking person can be a spiritual person, and vice versa. My hope is that I can help make religion less of a dirty word on campus.”

This summer, Todd's capstone project will be a symposium on spirituality and social change in Cascadia - the geographic area that contains B.C., Washington, and Oregon. “I want to assemble scholars and public intellectuals from all over this secular-but-spiritual region to examine the ways people on both sides of the border are making inroads in the areas of spirituality, ecology and social justice. If things go the way I envision, there will be enough material from this event for a fascinating book.”

Meantime, he will deliver the inaugural Shadbolt lecture - Journalists vs. Academics: So suspicious, so alike - at 7:30 p.m. on May 2 at SFU Vancouver Harbour Centre in room 1400.

To reserve a seat contact or 604-291-5100.

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