Royal Society of Canada Profile: Laurel Weldon


Four Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences professors have been named to the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) this year, including Distinguished SFU Professor Laurel Weldon. Membership in the RSC is Canada’s highest academic honour.

Weldon received her undergraduate degree at SFU and recently returned from the United States to take a professorship in the Department of Political Science. Previously, she held the position of Distinguished Professor at Purdue University in Indiana, where she taught for 18 years, serving briefly as Vice Provost (2013-2014) and establishing the Purdue Policy Research Institute, which catalyzed and coordinated research on global challenges.

“This is a great honour,” says Weldon. “I am keen to be back in Canada to give back to the country that has given me so much. Fellowship in the Royal Society, I hope, will help do that. On a personal level, it reinforces for me my general feeling that my return to Canada was the right decision.”

Her research focuses on comparative public policy, social movements, feminist theory and women’s human rights, especially violence against women. Her contributions include creating and analyzing global datasets on women’s rights and social movements that have enabled theoretical innovation in the study of human rights and gender politics.

One of her most recent research projects looks at feminist mobilization and economic empowerment.   The study finds that autonomous organizing by women on their own behalf is an important driver of women’s greater economic empowerment, associated with increasing land-ownership, greater legal equality in the workplace, more access to bank accounts, better legal protections for domestic workers, more sexual harassment legislation and more generous social policies.

“My first experience with feminist organizing was on the Burnaby campus at SFU some 30 years ago, so it feels like a good place to finish this massive project studying feminist mobilization in 126 countries,” says Weldon.

Over the years, Weldon has also taken on many editorial roles. In June 2020, she took on  the editorship of the American Political Science Review with a team of 11 colleagues. She was a founding editor of  Politics, Groups, and Identities and the co-editor of the Oxford Handbook on Gender and Politics. She has worked closely with human rights groups, such as the Global Fund for Women and the American Jewish World Service.  

“The memory of my dissertation advisor at the University of Pittsburgh, Iris Young, continues to inspire me,” says Weldon. “She was a tough, dedicated scholar who did excellent, careful work, and somehow also always managed to contribute to public discussion of important issues in a constructive way. I strive to follow in her footsteps in these respects, trying to do careful, important scholarly work that makes a significant intellectual contribution and offers some helpful insight to those working outside of academia who are trying to build a better world.”