Understanding religion - understanding people

Religion affects all of us, regardless of our personal beliefs. Lying at the core of human understanding, religion has, and in many instances, continues to both reflect and shape culture, politics and society.

The discipline of religious studies uses a variety of methodologies to try to make sense of what Dr. Hillary Rodrigues calls the "human religious response."
Focusing his research on Hindu religion, Rodrigues strives to address the fundamental, yet elusive responses to how people answer the big questions in their lives – Why are we here? What is the purpose and meaning of life? What happens when I die?

After completing his undergraduate degree in chemistry at McGill University, Rodrigues spent four years traveling in South America and Asia. It was during this time that he discovered his real passion and decided to pursue his academic career in religious studies.

"During my travels, I became more deeply interested in world culture and philosophical questions," explains Rodrigues. "I found religious studies to be an area where I could bring these interests together."

Rodrigues went on to receive a master's and PhD in religious studies from McMaster University in Hamilton before joining the University of Lethbridge in 1992.

"Tenure-track positions in religious studies are rare," says Rodrigues. "I was pleased to hear about an opening at the University of Lethbridge because I was attracted to its relatively modest size and the prospect that I could contribute towards the development of the religious studies program here."

In addition to teaching and developing the religious studies program, Rodrigues has been working on a comprehensive study of a Hindu goddess named Durga. According to him, an inadequate amount of research has been conducted on Durga since gods have traditionally been the focus of study rather than goddesses.

"The idea of God being imagined as female is foreign to many of us in western society," Rodrigues explains. "When we think of goddesses we tend to think of them as part of ancient mythology. But goddesses are still widely worshipped in the Hindu tradition, and Durga is Hinduism's Great Goddess."

Durga's rich and complex mythology has captivated Rodrigues, and she has become his primary research focus. He has written a book entitled Ritual Worship of the Great Goddess in which he discusses an elaborate worship ritual that takes place each year in Durga's honour.

Currently, he is attempting to understand the various ways in which individuals draw empowerment from Durga.

Rodrigues conducts both textual and field-based research, using methodologies that stem from anthropology, sociology, and philosophy.

Although his research is focused on India, it has definite implications for Canadians.

"Since Canada is a multicultural society, my work on Durga will enable us to understand more about the religious and cultural values of some of our fellow citizens," Rodrigues emphasizes. "Such understanding, I hope, will diminish certain forms of prejudice and enable us to live with a greater tolerance and acceptance of, or even a connection with, each other's diversity."

For more on Dr. Rodrigues and the Department of Religious Studies, visit