Nugent honing critical thinkers through lessons on history

At first glance, it seems difficult to see how the study of a religious movement in 16th century Scotland is relevant in today’s society. Spend a couple of hours with University of Lethbridge history professor Dr. Janay Nugent (BA ’95) and the relevance will soon come into focus.

Nugent, the University’s 2016 Distinguished Teaching Award winner, will delve into the history of Scotland in this month’s instalment of the PUBlic Professor Series at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 at Lethbridge City Hall. She will present Converting a Nation: family, religion, and Calvinism in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Scotland.

Dr. Janay Nugent's love of history was established early, sparked by a grandmother well versed in the history of her British ancestors, and then nurtured at Kate Andrews High School.

“It’s about trying to understand how identities are formed,” she says. “We’re studying this so-called irrelevant topic from the past, but it shows how governments and churches begin to shape identities. If they can influence people to change their faith, which is something people hold very close, then that is very relevant to the modern world.”

A Coaldale-born, Kate Andrews High School product, Nugent earned her bachelor’s degree from the U of L before venturing to Ontario where she completed her master’s and PhD at the University of Guelph. Her love of history was established early, sparked by a grandmother well versed in the history of her British ancestors, and then nurtured in high school. And while she began her post-secondary career as a psychology major, it took just one history class and what she calls an amazing group of U of L history faculty to get her hooked.

“I like history because it’s all about developing arguments and winning arguments and I like to do that,” says Nugent with a chuckle. “History was a good place for me.”

At Guelph, her focus turned to Scotland, inspired by a master’s supervisor who understood her preference for social, cultural and religious history and a desire to get into the lives of the people she studied. When introduced to the moral church courts and the seemingly unbelievable mission of Scottish Parliament converting an entire nation to Calvinism from Catholicism, Nugent found a research focus that has been central to her scholarship ever since.

“Most of my research has been driven by this question of how can you make an entire population convert its religion?” she says. “All the work I’ve done since 1995, when I started my master’s, has been building towards trying to begin to answer that question outside of the official story of the church itself.”

It is neither a simple nor straightforward question and it has allowed Nugent to pursue a number of different research avenues, and yet they all tie back to the original query.

A champion of liberal education, Nugent strives to impart upon her students the idea of creating global citizens who are broad thinkers when tackling the issues of today.

“A liberal education allows students the ability to really begin to process questions and problems that exist in our communities from a much broader perspective,” she says, challenging those who question the usefulness of history and humanities studies. “History teaches you the multiple contributing factors to how we got to where we are today. If you’re going to actually have successful solutions to problems, you’re going to have to understand the complex contributing factors, which often are very historical.”

Nugent is enthused by the opportunity to present as part of the PUBlic Professor Series, and while she is the presenter, she fully expects to learn a great deal from her audience.

“I find it’s a great opportunity for me to take the questions I give to my students out to the community to see how they begin to develop perspectives,” she says. “The questions that people ask me are often things I might not think of so, it’s just like the classroom, it’s a learning experience on both sides.”