After growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, Rebecca Coughlin began her undergraduate studies at McGill, where she had originally planned to focus on literature and philosophy. Instead, however, she became fascinated by Religious Studies and graduated with a Honours BA in Religious Studies. During these years, Ms. Coughlin became increasingly interested in Neoplatonic philosophy, in part due to a course in ecclesiastical history taught by Dr. Torrance Kirby (MA 1980), who suggested that she consider undertaking further study in this area in the Dalhousie Classics department under the direction of Dr. Wayne Hankey. This she promptly did, researching the links between Greek philosophy and Christianity in late antiquity and the early mediaeval era. With us she particularly enjoyed included the rigorous study of ancient languages, poetry, and tragedy and fondly recalls the camaraderie and scholarly engagement of the professors. Rebecca completed the MA in 2006.
For three years thereafter, Rebecca employed her mind and energy in both theoretical and practical fashions. She remained involved with the Department as a teaching assistant in classes dealing with history, mythology, and the representation of myth in film. She also reached wider audiences: in 2006 she presented a paper at the International Society of Neoplatonic Studies Conference in Quebec City. Dr Hankey recalls Rebecca's presentation: "Rebecca stood alone at the head of an ancient stone room in the Séminaire de Québec. In front of her, among others, were the two most eminent senior scholars in the world on her subject and the young rising star in the field, all three care passionately about her topic and are notorious for their hypercritical enthusiasm. Also present were the two leading experts in another field whose work she was using to revamp the standard interpretation of her subject. Her topic was full of traps; Her task required fording rivers, wading through swamps, finding her way through dense forests, and climbing mountains. Evidently (and properly) terrified but strong, she delivered the most memorable and admired paper by a graduate student at the whole three-day conference: a very great triumph." Not surprisingly, in the following year, she was invited by the present Dean of McGill's Faculty of Religious Studies to participate in a Symposium on Late Antiquity in the Levant. She also served with several organizations addressing women’s concerns in society and on the boards of the Dalhousie Women’s Centre and YWCA Halifax. Rebecca coordinated projects for Silent Witness Nova Scotia, a grass-roots organization that seeks to educate the public concerning domestic violence
In the autumn of 2009, Rebecca returned to Montreal as a PhD student in Religious Studies at McGill, pursuing research under Dr. Kirby’s direction and building directly on her earlier work. Such single mindedness from one’s undergraduate days is seldom seen! She remains deeply interested in early Neoplatonism and its reception in the Middle Ages. Nor, as she notes, are such studies of purely historical interest; they help to illuminate the present relations within the religious traditions of the European West and beyond.