Graduate theology student awarded CMU’s first SSHRC scholarship

Sarah Deckert, student in CMU's Graduate School of Theology and Ministry Sarah Deckert, student in CMU's Graduate School of Theology and Ministry

A CMU student has been awarded a prestigious Canada Graduate Scholarship worth $17,500 by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). This is the first year CMU has been eligible to distribute this scholarship, due to the university's successful federal research funding.

Sarah Deckert is a student in CMU's Graduate School of Theology and Ministry, working on a Master of Arts in Theological Studies. The SSHRC scholarship will go towards the work she is doing on her thesis, which is currently titled, "Embodied Pneumatology: The Role of the Holy Spirit in Healing the Wounds of Colonialism."

When she was previously a high school teacher for five years, Deckert saw the impacts of colonialism everywhere. She struggled with how little of a difference she could make in her students' lives against centuries of systemic injustices. "That created the awareness in me of the systemic nature of oppression and marginalization particularly of Indigenous people in Canada," she says.

This led to her decision to write her thesis on the topic of reconciliation when she began studying at CMU in the fall of 2019. She uses the language "healing the wounds of colonialism" because she soon learned from research and talking to others that "reconciliation" terminology wasn't necessarily robust enough to encompass the depth of the issues at hand.

The more federal grants CMU faculty access for research projects, the more the institution becomes eligible to distribute graduate scholarships, says Jess Klassen, Centre for Resilience and Research Grants Coordinator at CMU.

The projects of several professors have earned grants over the past few years and made distributing a SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship to a CMU student possible for the first time.  A few include, research on dementia in rural contexts by Heather Campbell-Enns, Assistant Professor of Psychology; conservative religion and politics in Western Canada by Brian Froese, Associate Professor of History; and most recently, an opera about Louis Riel composed by Neil Weisensel, adjunct Professor of Music.

Deckert's own research will look at "...what the role [of the Holy Spirit] could be, how could the Holy Spirit perhaps allow Christians to be more open to Indigenous experiences of God..." she says. She's been reading the doctoral dissertation of Lisa Dellinger, a Chickasaw woman and theological scholar. "[Dellinger] talks about the Holy Spirit as a productive place to look at colonialism theologically and so I'm interested in that."

Deckert also acknowledges the work is tricky because of the central role Christian theology has played in colonialism, and is working to engage in decolonial and healing theology. A course on Christianity and Indigeneity she took this spring with CMU's newest professor, Rev. Dr. John Boopalan, opened up many more questions and ideas she's excited to pursue.

Students applying for the scholarship have their applications reviewed by a committee of CMU staff and faculty using guidelines provided by a council of three federal agencies: SSHRC, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). The committee passes on their recommendation to the tri-council, who then delivers the decision on the scholarship. Applicants must be Canadian, full-time graduate students, and have completed less than 12 months of a program.

"I hope it will be a draw for domestic students to [our] graduate programs. I think it's a great opportunity for students," says Valerie Smith, Associate Registrar for Graduate Studies. She's excited about the opportunities this will provide students who are eager to study full-time and dive into challenging topics. "We think [Sarah] is an excellent candidate and we were delighted to nominate her for this scholarship."

Anyone interested in learning more about the SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship or CMU's graduate programs can contact Valerie Smith at

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