In an age of rising nationalist tensions, Anne Trépanier, a professor in the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies has launched her new CUOL course this term: Critical Nationalism.

Trépanier’s academic experience is in Quebec studies, her last online course being Introduction to Quebec Society, and so her take on nationalism is from a uniquely Quebecois perspective.

“The course is about questioning Canada… on what makes a nation for us, and why do we need or not need a nation to exist? As an online community, but also as individuals,” Trépanier said.

Critical Nationalism (CDNS 2300) is a mix of history and theory. Despite the title, the course is not so much about critiquing nationalism as it is about examining it and its causes and consequences.

“Being critical is not only to critique. It is to approach complex words with nuances and knowledge,” Trépanier says.

It’s essential to focus on nationalism right now, says Trépanier, because we have to recognize that we are still a world of nations—even if the current government is not overtly nationalistic.

“Trudeau said we were a ‘post-national’ nation, and the first one,” Trépanier recalls. “And in doing that, he was still confirming the existence of nationalism. He was still pushing for a sense of national engagement. ‘We Canadians are’—it’s a way of defining the group.”

You might think nationalism is a strictly conservative idea. Not so, says Trépanier, whose interest in nationalism was sparked during the Quebec referendum of 1995. The push for the sovereignty of Quebec came from both the political right and left.

“It fascinated me that nationalism was not belonging to left or right,” Trépanier said. “Patriotism is something different than nationalism. Nationalism can be promoted by conservatives, but by liberals as well. The course is about distinguishing all these definitions of movements, of processes.”

Trépanier hopes the course will establish understanding among students for the causes of nationalism.

“The unsaid goal of the course is to develop empathy for the various nations in Canada,” Trépanier says.

“It’s interesting how we can know so little about what makes us who we are!” one student wrote online, reflecting on an exercise to study a Canadian nation more in-depth.

“I believe that as a Canadian living in Canada, I should learn more about Indigenous peoples and their history,” another student who decided to study the First Nations wrote. “And as an immigrant mother I will pass all of the information to my children.”

Trépanier would recommend the course to any student interested in becoming more informed on what makes a nation—even those who might self-identify as nationalists.

“They will have a clearer vision of themselves,” Trépanier said. “Every university student, if they’re learning engineering or computer science, could benefit in the dialogue, the exposure to new knowledge… and the consequences of belonging to a state, a nation-state like Canada, to better understand your place in the world.”

by Greg Guevara, Fourth-year Journalism, Carleton

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