Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life

Purposes and Origins

Purposes

At the Ronning Centre, our work aims to:

  • facilitate interdisciplinary research, critical teaching, ethical reflection, and public programming on a range of issues in which religious communities, practices and ideas are directly implicated, or on which thoughtful religious perspectives might be brought to bear
  • foster inter-religious and interfaith dialogue
  • contribute to the delivery of relevant degree programs offered by the Augustana Faculty, including Religious Studies
  • honour the history and commitment of the Norwegian-Lutheran pioneers who founded Augustana over ninety years ago and made it accessible to the broader community, and also to honour the life of Chester Ronning, who has a long association with Camrose Lutheran College, Augustana's predecessor.

While rooted in the academy, our activities engage the public square and a range of religious communities, bringing the depth and texture of the most varied religious and civil ideas into hospitable and constructive conversation. Scholars of the Centre are recruited locally, nationally, and internationally.

Origins

The Ronning Centre grew out of the merger of two academic institutions. Augustana University College was built on commitments to an education in which the intellectual, physical, artistic, and spiritual dimensions of life equipped students for leadership and public service. The University of Alberta, committed to research and teaching excellence, works under the mottoQuaecumque vera ("whatsoever things are true"; Philippians 4:8).

On September 12, 2004, Augustana became a faculty of the University of Alberta, bringing these aspirations together. The Ronning Centre was established at Augustana to recognize the commitment of the founding community and to draw an interdisciplinary group of scholars together to work on many of the challenging issues facing contemporary societies.

Chester Alvin Ronning 

Chester Ronning signing a document

Photo courtesy of the Noel and Wendy Cassady Collection, CRC.

The Ronning Centre is named in honour of Chester Alvin Ronning (1894–1984), one of Canada's distinguished diplomats of the past century, and principal of Camrose Lutheran College, predecessor of Augustana, from 1927 to 1942. Ronning's rich, active life and hospitable disposition exemplifies the kind of public engagement central to the Centre's work.

Ronning, the child of Norwegian Lutheran missionary parents, was born and received his early education in China before his family settled in Alberta. He graduated from the University of Alberta in 1916. After teaching in China, he took up his position at Camrose Lutheran College as principal, teacher, and choir conductor. He was also active in provincial politics, winning a 1932 by-election for the Farmers of Alberta and then serving as leader of the new Co-operative Commonwealth Federation from 1940 to 1942.

In his diplomatic career, he worked as the de facto ambassador to China, ambassador to Norway, high commissioner to India, and head of the delegation to the Geneva conference on Korea and Laos. He served as special envoy to Hanoi and Saigon in 1966 in what proved an unsucessful attempt to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. During the Cold War he strove to build bridges of understanding between the West and China. He was designated a Companion of the Order of Canada and was inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence.

National Film Board on Chester Ronning

The National Film Board has digitized its film about Chester Ronning, China Mission.  The film may be found at http://www.nfb.ca/film/china_mission_the_chester_ronning_story/