Faculty of Arts

International Conference on Religion & Film in Halifax for the first time

How are Muslim filmmakers reconstructing the Muslim identity as it appears in film and television? In what ways are food and land protection sacred in Indigenous cultures? What do film superheroes say about masculinity and religion? How is contemporary culture reflected in the popular wave of apocalypse films?

These are just a few of the questions to be explored from June 12 to 14, when scholars of film and religious studies will connect at Saint Mary’s University for film screenings and research presentations. It’s the first time Nova Scotia is hosting the International Conference on Religion & Film (ICRF), co-sponsored by SMU and the Journal of Religion and Film, based at the University of Nebraska Omaha. Professors, filmmakers and graduate students will attend from across Canada and the U.S., and as far away as India, Turkey and the Netherlands.

“This year in particular, one of the themes for the conference will focus on Indigenous cultures,” says s Dr. Syed Adnan Hussain, one of the event’s organizers and an Assistant Professor with the SMU Department of Religious Studies. “It’s in keeping with the University’s commitment to continue these conversations. Those conversations are not necessarily about reaching conclusions, sometimes it’s just about coming together and sharing stories. Film is one of the most potent mediums for that.”

The public is invited to join the conversation – on Friday, June 14, the conference will host free public film screenings in the Halifax Central Library’s Paul O’Regan Hall:          

·        3:00 pm – Wi’kupaltimk (Feast of Forgiveness), 46 minutes  

·        5:00 pm – Sembradoras de Vida (Mothers of the Land), 1 hour 14 minutes

·        6:00 pm – Nakatuenita (Respect), 1 hour 2 minutes

Wi’kupaltimk is a documentary by Salina Kemp, a master’s student in the Atlantic Canada Studies graduate program, and Mi’kmaw from the Millbrook First Nation. With co-director Kent Martin, she explores the issue of food security as it affects urban Indigenous Peoples living in Kjipuktuk (Halifax), both historically and in the present. Her film celebrates the resilience of the Mi’kmaw, the rich resources available prior to colonization, the medicines and wild foods still available, and the sacredness of that food. Food security themes continue in Sembradoras de Vida, by Peruvian directors Álvaro & Diego Sarmiento. It follows five women from the Andean highlands in their daily efforts to maintain a traditional and organic way of working – and protecting – the land.

A documentary about the resilience of the Innu First Nation of Labrador, Nakatuenita was a coproduction of the Innu Nation and the SMU-based Community Conservation Research Network (CCRN). Directed by Mr. Martin, it was produced by Dr. Trudy Sable of SMU and Richard Nuna. Following the screenings, Dr. Hussain will host a panel conversation with filmmakers including Kemp, Dr. Sable, Martin, Bernie Francis and Roger Lewis.

Also during the conference, local and visiting scholars will present and discuss 29 research papers on a variety of fascinating film and religion topics. See the conference website to register, and for the complete schedule of sessions and presenters.


Historic day: First graduating class at SMU in unique 2+2 partnership with BNUZ

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Twenty-eight students from China graduated from Saint Mary’s on May 17, becoming the first cohort to complete a unique 2+2 Arts degree program in partnership with Beijing Normal University - Zhuhai (BNUZ).

“You are part of an historic happening,” President Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray told the group at a reception in the Library the night before the Faculty of Arts convocation ceremonies. “As far as we know, no other Canadian university has a partnership with a university in China in Arts.”

Through the 2+2 program, Chinese students complete the first two years of their undergraduate Arts degree at BNUZ, and the final two years at Saint Mary’s. Since September 2017 when the first cohort arrived, more than 80 BNUZ students have registered at Saint Mary’s.

Some of the new graduates are heading home to China but a number will stay in Canada to pursue further studies, said Yajie “Cora” Cao, who majored in Asian Studies. On behalf of her fellow students, she thanked Saint Mary’s faculty and staff at the reception for a memorable learning experience, and for helping students with ongoing challenges such as language and cultural differences.

Zining Chen was thrilled that her mother came to Canada for the first time to attend her graduation. They spent a week travelling out west in Vancouver, Jasper and Banff National Park before returning to Halifax for Friday’s ceremony, which included a special portion for the BNUZ students.

“I’m applying for postgraduate studies, so I’m considering staying in Canada,” said Chen, admitting that her mom “really misses me but it’s ok because she knows I am so happy here.”

While it was helpful having BNUZ schoolmates here, Chen also worked hard to meet new people: “You need to make friends other than your friends who came with you. You need to overcome the language barrier, so I tried to attend as many activities on campus as I could.”

XiaoJiao Wang enjoyed her studies in Halifax but was looking forward to heading back to China on Sunday.

“I haven’t been home for two years,” said Wang, who stayed at SMU for summer classes last year. “I really miss my family but I needed to work hard because I know they always support me. I didn’t want to let them down.”

Her Linguistics major and German language studies at SMU will be a great addition to her prior education in teaching Chinese as a second language, she said. She also volunteered at the Halifax Chinese Language School, and found it interesting to teach Canadian-born students of Chinese descent who didn’t speak any Chinese.

“In China, there are a great number of people learning English now,” she said, adding she’s planning to pursue graduate work next in applied linguistics, toward her teaching career. “I think this degree will help me a lot for my future studies.”

Another highlight for the graduating class was the chance to reconnect with a familiar face from home: Dr. Yue “Cecilia” Qiu had taught them linguistics in their first year at BNUZ, and came on a faculty exchange to SMU two years ago to teach Chinese language classes. Now BNUZ’s Director of the Office of International Exchange and Cooperation, and Associate Dean of the School of Chinese, Dr. Qiu joined Dean of Arts Dr. Margaret MacDonald onstage in the McNally Auditorium to wish the students well after they received their parchments.

“Congratulations to our students, you tried your best and I wish you more success in your future,” said Dr. Qiu, also thanking SMU and its professors. “This is a very good beginning stage for their following future planning, they will have a very good bridge to the friendship between Chinese and Canadian people.”

Saint Mary’s is also a good bridge to friendships in other countries as one of Canada’s most globally connected universities, with students from more than 110 countries. The Faculty of Arts also bestowed degrees this spring to graduates from across Canada, as well as Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Bermuda, Brazil, Ghana, India, Italy, Japan, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Turkey, the U.S., Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The SMU-BNUZ partnership began in 2002 and includes a study abroad program, transfer credit agreements, and a satellite SMU campus established at BNUZ in 2014. It offers an annual five-week summer study abroad program at BNUZ on Chinese history and culture, as well as a three-week summer program for Chinese students, focused on North American culture and English language. SMU and BNUZ also collaborate in offering four professional development institutes for academic faculty and administrative staff from the two universities.

Short story by SMU professor receives prestigious O. Henry Prize

“If a rabbit doesn’t like you, you will know it,” says Professor Alexander MacLeod.

If people like your short story featuring a rabbit as a central character, you will also know it. On May 16, his story “Lagomorph” was announced as a 2019 winner of the O. Henry Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious awards for short fiction.

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“I’m super thrilled,” says Dr. MacLeod, who teaches English and Atlantic Canada Studies at Saint Mary’s. He first heard the news while driving to Mabou for a SMU Emerging Researchers session with Cape Breton high school students.

It’s a particularly special year to win – the prize is celebrating its centenary, so “Lagomorph” will appear in The O. Henry Prize Stories 100th Anniversary Edition, to be published in September by Anchor Books. Past winners include such literary masters as Flannery O’Conner, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Eudora Welty and William Faulkner.  

“It’s unreal company,” says MacLeod. “If you look at the past winners, those are all the people that I love. The writers I’ve admired the most in my life have won this prize.”

“Lagomorph”, available for reading online, was originally published in Granta 141: Canada, the British magazine’s fall 2017 edition to recognize Canadian writers during the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

When the special edition came out, it made an international splash. In this review in Macleans magazine, Brian Bethune singled out MacLeod’s “brilliant” contribution as “suspenseful, moving and … hilarious.” Granta brought MacLeod and several other writers on a road show that season to events in Scotland, Canada House in London, and the renowned Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris.

“I have travelled a great distance via rabbit,” says MacLeod. He admits he lacked faith in “this most stubborn of stories” during the writing process, and nearly abandoned it four or five times.

“It taught me that sometimes you just have to stick at it. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the editors at Granta, who were patient with me.”

The story is about much more than a rabbit named Gunther, of course – it’s about time and change, the quagmire of intimacy vs. autonomy, and the mysteries of care and affection.

“The way we love animals differently from people is fascinating to me. Are we loving animals for what they need or for what we need? It’s tricky business,” says MacLeod. 

Born in Inverness, Cape Breton and raised in Windsor, Ontario, MacLeod resides in Dartmouth with his family and their dog. They once had a pet rabbit too, but “our rabbit expressed a preference for country life, and he’s living out his last years on a farm.”

MacLeod is currently working on two short stories that are competing for his attention, toward publication of his next collection. His first book, Light Lifting, was named a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Book Prize, and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. The collection was also recognized as a ‘Book of the Year’ by the American Library Association, The Globe and Mail, and Amazon.ca.

Ancient vapours are helping researchers identify gold deposits in Nova Scotia

Kevin Neyedley, left, and Dr. Jacob Hanley of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax are doing research supported by Nova Scotia’s Mineral Resources Development Fund. (Photo: Kelly Clark/Communications Nova Scotia)

Kevin Neyedley, left, and Dr. Jacob Hanley of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax are doing research supported by Nova Scotia’s Mineral Resources Development Fund. (Photo: Kelly Clark/Communications Nova Scotia)

Vapour trails from an ancient volcano may point the way to an economic opportunity in modern-day Nova Scotia.

Researchers at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax are using the composition of ancient volcanic vapours, trapped in tiny fragments in rocks, and other geological features, to learn more about a type of precious metal deposit called epithermal gold. Their work over the past year was supported by the province’s Mineral Resources Development Fund.

Geology professor Dr. Jacob Hanley said the project’s goal is to gather information on how and when the gold deposits formed, and to generate exploration criteria that may predict where the highest concentrations of gold may be found in the province. Giving companies a better idea where to explore has financial and environmental benefits.

“The more information we gain about where the deposits are sitting in this vast array of rocks which we have in the province, the better off the environment will be. The overall footprint is smaller in terms of that activity.”

Hanley and PhD student Kevin Neyedley received a $47,500 grant from the development fund in 2018 for their project, which focuses on deposits in the Eastern Cobequid Highlands. The area is about 50 kilometres north of Truro, Nova Scotia.

Continue reading the full article from the Department of Energy and Mines.

Mineral Resources Development Fund expansion announced at Saint Mary’s University

Dr. Jacob Hanley and Kevin Neyedley chat with Sean Kirby, left, executive director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia, and Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette. (Photo: Kelly Clark/CNS)

Dr. Jacob Hanley and Kevin Neyedley chat with Sean Kirby, left, executive director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia, and Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette. (Photo: Kelly Clark/CNS)

Businesses, prospectors and researchers now have more support for innovative projects in the mining sector as the result of a provincial government announcement at Saint Mary’s University.

As part of Budget 2019-20, the province is increasing the Mineral Resources Development Fund by $800,000 to a total of $1.5 million. Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette opened the fund to applications in an event at Saint Mary’s on April 9.

“Mining is a globally competitive sector that creates career opportunities for our young people, while generating revenue for programs and services that benefit all Nova Scotians,” said Minister Mombourquette. “These investments make connections and develop new ideas that help our companies stay at the forefront of technology and environmental protection.”

Saint Mary’s University Professor Dr. Jacob Hanley and PhD student Kevin Neyedley received $47,500 from the fund in 2018. They are working on research and gathering geological information about how strategic minerals formed. This will help identify where deposits may be located and then extracted with minimal environmental impact.

“It is vitally important for Nova Scotians to have access to the most current scientific knowledge, gathered using cutting edge research tools,” said Dr. Hanley.

“Our research can help attract companies by reducing exploration costs for industry and reduce the impact that grass-roots exploration has on the environment through narrowing the size of mineral deposit targets,” said Mr. Neyedley.

Last year, the province supported 28 projects including mineral exploration programs, professional development, innovation, university research and training opportunities for young people.