Four Canadian scholars in fields ranging from conflict resolution to women’s studies will be announced as the winners of coveted Trudeau Fellowships on Monday – research awards worth $225,000 with few restrictions on how the money is spent.
The Fellowships, often likened to America’s MacArthur grants, are intended to support creative academics showing commitment to solving social issues that are important to Canada. They are administered by the Trudeau Foundation, established with a $125-million endowment in 2002 as a legacy for the late former prime minister, Pierre Trudeau.
Joining the Foundation’s community of scholars are the University of British Columbia’s Macartan Humphreys, a political scientist who uses field work to study development and security in Africa; Concordia University’s Ronald Rudin, a social historian with an interest in storytelling using technology and media; Haideh Moghissi of York University, a prominent analyst of women’s issues in the Muslim world; and John McGarry at Queen’s University, a specialist in conflict resolution in divided countries.
Globe reporter James Bradshaw spoke to two of the honorees about turning personal passions into academic accomplishments.
The peacemaker – John McGarry
A desire to mend societies at war with themselves comes naturally to John McGarry. Growing up in Northern Ireland amid violent upheaval -- some of his school chums were assassinated and a friend's brother gunned down -- he still says he was “blessedly sheltered” from the worst of the conflict. Raised a Catholic nationalist in Ballymena, a town populated mostly by Protestant unionists, he learned to understand the “other” side early on.
“I have an interest … especially in trying to come up with political institutions that can allow deeply divided communities to live together in peace,” he said in an interview from Cyprus, where he is part of peace negotiations facilitated by the United Nations.
Prof. McGarry feels his work resonates with Canada’s peacekeeping history. But it is not rooted in the tradition of Lester Pearson – “keeping the sides apart and sticking blue helmets in the middle” – but rather seeks settlements that make peacekeeping unnecessary.
He served a 15-month stint as the UN’s Senior Adviser on Power-Sharing, and has visited Cyprus nearly 20 times in three years. He takes those experiences into the classroom, showing students “that what happens in the so-called Ivory Tower of academe can have real impact.”
“I’m going to use [the funds]to visit the kinds of places that tourists don’t normally go,” he said.
The displaced activist – Haideh Moghissi
Winning a Trudeau Fellowship is the latest testament to Haideh Moghissi’s success as a Canadian academic, but as she points out, that is her “second life.”
Her first was in Iran where she headed the old manuscripts department at the National Archives, and Iranian women made gradual progress toward legal rights and equality. That life evaporated with the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which she had supported. In the ensuing years, she helped found the Iranian National Union of Women to fight back, but under pressure she and her family bribed their way out of the country in 1984, settling in Canada.
Now, she focuses on demystifying issues of the status of women in Muslim-majority countries, Western reflections of those societies, and issues of fundamentalism – subjects she thinks are of great interest to Canada, with its diverse and growing Muslim population.
“The supporters of Islamic legal practices are no longer only the uneducated, the downtrodden. Many are educated professionals. So if my work reaches to them, and to women in particular, I am happy,” she said.
Prof. Moghissi’s published books have been translated and reprinted in Indonesia and Pakistan, among other countries, and some of her Trudeau funds will bring international scholars to a conference “making sense” of the Arab Spring in 2012.