Meet Professor Mikal Austin Radford (Religion, Philosophy, and Culture)

Photo: Mikal Austin Radford

Photo: Mikal Austin Radford

To quote the Bards of San Francisco, “What a long strange trip it’s been.” From his beginnings in Halifax as the son of a Navy Commander, to the family’s move to Toronto during the 1960s where he discovered the spiritual insights of Aldous Huxley (thanks Dad) while trying to recreate his own Kerouac’s Dharma Bums (hey, The Fountainhead didn’t do it for me), to a rather eclectic undergraduate experience at Wilfrid Laurier University (Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, Geography and Radio Arts), Mikal came to the academic field in a very round-about way.

“After completing my General B.A. at Laurier, I was given a chance to apprentice at a community newspaper north of Toronto. The idea of becoming a professor wasn’t in the cards at that time; however, after several years as a reporter/photographer for the community newspaper and then 10 years at the Toronto Star Newspaper, I was given a fantastic opportunity to return to the newly developed Religion and Culture Department of Wilfrid Laurier University, and in 1991 started my Honours B.A. and Masters Degrees.”

As an undergraduate Mikal’s primary focus of study was the relationship between South Asian religious, philosophical, and mystical traditions. His Honours thesis, titled Sallekhana: The Ritual of Holy Death in the Archaic and Contemporary Jaina Community, was a study of the philosophical foundations underlying the Jain ritual of fasting to death. Switching gears for his Master’s degree, Mikal’s field of study broadened to include mystical traditions within First Nation cultures (with a particular focus on the Ghost Dance), and the Gnostic traditions and their connection with the Thomas Christians of India. The title of his Master’s thesis was Origins of the Thomite Tradition: The Acts of Thomas and the Genesis of Indo-Oriental Christianity.

Mikal joined the Ph.D. program in Religious Studies at McMaster University in 1999. His Ph.D. dissertation, titled Did the Tirthankaras Cross These Oceans? Boundaries, Frontiers and the Negotiation of Transnational Identity Within the Jaina Community of Toronto, is an examination of this community and their particular concerns over transnational religious identity formation. Mikal’s current interests include media and religion, religion as political instrument, and he has begun to research the field of Neolithic death rituals and associated architectural structures from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Black Sea region to the Indus Valley.

Mikal Austin Radford answers Alchemy’s Proust Questionnaire:

Favourite virtue: Socratic Humility.

Most overrated virtue: The importance of Self.

Most important lesson I learned in kindergarten: More fun than Nursery School.

Most important lesson I’ve learned this year: Dealing with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, and realizing that neither of you recognize each other.

My favourite qualities in a student: Curiosity.

My favourite qualities in a teacher: Encouraging curiosity

Moment in my life I’d like to re-live: Continue with learning the bassoon.

My idea of perfect happiness: Getting to complete the ‘Bucket List’.

In my opinion the secret to success is: Looking at the glass as being half full, and to continue striving onward despite any setbacks (and should madness follow, ‘go with it’).

My favourite word: Osmosis.

My least favourite word: Any acronym used in place of a word(s) – LOL

My favourite quotation, motto, or phrase:

Before Enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.

After Enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.

If I weren’t a teacher I’d be: An archaeological site tour guide.

The talent or skill I wish I had: To construct the most divinely perfect sentence.

Language I’d love to be able to speak: For the immediate future: Greek and Turkish

A country/place I’d like to visit: The entire Silk Road

On my bucket list: Too many, but see above destination to get a clue about some of that list.

My favourite historical, literary, or cinematic character(s): Peter Sellers as Chance, the Gardener in Being There.

My least favourite historical, literary, or cinematic character(s): Howard Roark in The Fountainhead.

My favourite food/meal and drink: Near Eastern/Eastern Mediterranean.

My favourite painter/artist: Hieronymus Bosch

My favourite singer/musician: Infected Mushroom (from Israel)

The most embarrassing song/album in my iTunes or music collection: “The Best of Ultimate Spinach”

My guilty TV pleasure: Big Brother Canada and The Amazing Race (Canada/US).