As we look back at the origins of the system of higher education in the Maritime provinces we are reminded that one of the primary motives for founding such institutions was to produce an indigenous Christian clergy. Had one asked “What is the future of the study of religion?” in the early nineteenth century, the answer would have been positive and full of confidence. Today, however, the difficulties that universities face in obtaining adequate public funding combined with the privatization of religion, the secularization of higher education, the professionalization of the professoriate and the search for economic and technological mastery leave departments of religious studies and seminaries concerned that they may be increasingly marginal in the eyes of the university in particular and the public in general. In the two centuries since higher education appeared here, scholars of religion have moved from confidence and leadership to anxiety and marginalization. The shift is clear in the observation that all of the heads of institutions of higher learning in the Maritimes used to be respected members of the clergy, while today Acadia and St. Francis Xavier are the only universities with presidents who are entitled to be called “Reverend.” In most cases there is resistance to appointing a member of the clergy to a junior position on the faculty.
Perhaps this shift is more a reflection of the position of the churches in the Maritimes than of the position of religion. For example, the one Englishspeaking university in the region that lacks a department of religious studies is the University of New Brunswick, where the university charter forbids the teaching of “religion”—a holdover from the nineteenth century when “religion” meant the standpoint of the Church of England. Even Catholic universities, however, have distanced themselves from their church in renaming what began as departments of “religion” in the region. Following the Second