Robyn Sneath

Study program:
DPhil education
Current affiliation:
University of Oxford

Drawing on over a century of history of Mennonite communities in Canada, Robyn Sneath is learning about how government education policies may have conflicted with Mennonites’ vision of citizenship.

Robyn Sneath (education, Oxford University) has worked nationally and internationally as a researcher, educator, and advocate on issues related to access to education, and religion in society. Her doctoral research centres on the intersection of education, citizenship, and religion, and is an ethnographic case study of the Old Colony Mennonites of Canada and Mexico. Robyn holds a Master’s in Religion and Society from Harvard University, for which she received the Monrad scholarship (full funding). She graduated valedictorian of her B.Ed. class at UBC and with the gold medal in honours History and German at the University of Winnipeg.

Doctoral research

“Be Not Wise”: A Study of the Educational Beliefs and Practices of Canadian Old Colony Mennonites

Robyn’s research comprises an archival and multi-sited ethnographic analysis of Canadian Old Colony Mennonites’ perceptions of the purpose of schooling and the extent to which this understanding has remained constant across time and space.  In the 1920s, conflict over schooling prompted the exodus of 8,000 Mennonites from Manitoba, Canada to Chihuahua, Mexico. Since then, at least 50,000 Old Colonists have returned to Canada, where tensions over schooling persist.  Robyn will use archival analysis as well as Mexican Mennonite ethnography to inform and contextualize the current state of Old Colony education in Canada.  Despite Canada’s long and contentious history in religious and ethnic minorities and schooling, there is a paucity of research in this area.  The powerful and relatively unknown story of Old Colony Mennonite schooling has the potential to make significant contributions to the field of intercultural education by illustrating how minority groups have used education to preserve the religious and linguistic boundaries of their group vis-à-vis the dominant culture.

Robyn is reading for her doctorate in education at the University of Oxford, where she focuses on the intersection of education, religion, and politics.  Her thesis is on the educational beliefs and practices of the Canadian Old Colony Mennonites.

Robyn holds degrees from the University of Winnipeg, Harvard University, and the University of British Columbia.  She matriculated at the University of Winnipeg with the Alumni Award, the most prestigious entrance award, and graduated with the gold medal in honours history four years later (BA [Hons], 2003). In 2003, she received a full scholarship to Harvard University (M.T.S., 2005), where she studied the history of religion in twentieth-century North America.  Between Harvard and the University of British Columbia, Robyn worked as a researcher and a lecturer in history at the universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba and the Canadian Mennonite University. She also worked as a fashion model with Canada's top modelling agency.  While studying at the University of British Columbia (BEd, 2011), Robyn served as a senator on the university senate, on several education-related committees, and as valedictorian for her graduating class of 700 students.  She received the top award in her program as well as an award for teaching excellence.  She has received over 25 scholarships and awards so far.

As the first person in her family to pursue any form of higher education, Robyn is well acquainted with many of the educational barriers faced by students from marginalized groups.  Inspired by her own experience and through years of working with at-risk students, in 2010 she co-founded a charity, CanU, a weekly intensive mentorship program that brings children from Winnipeg’s inner city to the university where they are mentored by university students.  In the program’s latest year, 320 students participated. Robyn considers pursuing a doctorate in education to be the most effective way for her to maximize her commitment to helping to advance the right to education.  The prospect of training others to regard teaching as a high calling and to be mindful of the power of education to shape the character of individuals as well as the character of the nation is an enormous privilege.  Robyn has worked in the public and independent school systems, with home-schooled and international students, as a teacher, as a course and curriculum developer, and as a homestay parent.