Cathryn van Kessel, PhD

Pronouns: she, her, hers


Faculty of Education - Deans Office


Area of Study / Keywords

Education Social Studies Curriculum Theory


Cathryn van Kessel is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Alberta in the Faculty of Education.

Scholarly Activities

Research - Teacher Education, Diversity, and Worldview Threat

In this SSHRC Insight Development Grant project, I am drawing from research in social psychology that has illuminated unconscious defensive processes that prevent us from tolerating opposing worldviews. Terror management theory (TMT) recognizes that human motivation is multifaceted and layered, and yet our terror of death is the worm at the core. All animals seek to avoid death, but we know that humans can experience existential terror even in the absence of an immediate threat. Thus, we create defensive shields against this terror, including our cultural worldview, which tells us how we belong to a group that will endure after us. The problem with rigidly adhering to a cultural worldview to curb our existential terror is that all worldviews are somewhat arbitrary, and thus require continual validation from others in order remain believable. Therefore, exposure to cultures of people with alternate worldviews, especially those that are radically different from one’s own, potentially undermines one’s faith in their worldview and the psychological protection it provides, thus triggering defensive compensatory actions like derogation as well as attempts to assimilate or even annihilate. TMT has been supported by hundreds of experiments in multiple countries. Yet, until this project it has not been employed in an educational context.

This qualitative research project involves pre­service social studies teachers learning and implementing terror management theory (TMT). Through focus groups before and after their practicum placements, as well as reflective journals during their classroom experience and individual interviews my research assistants and I explored how TMT can be an historical lens in a social studies classroom, as well as a theoretical basis to foster respectful engagements with opposing worldviews in any subject area.

If you cannot access an article listed below and would like a copy, please email me.

For updated publications (2022 and later), please see

Link to the Grim Educator open educational resource (OER)

Featured Publications

van Kessel, C.

Palgrave Macmillan. 2022 July; 10.1007/978-3-030-94720-0_4

van Kessel, C., Jacobs, N., Catena, F., & Edmondson, K.

Journal of Teacher Education. 2022 January; 73 (1):97-109 10.1177/00224871211051991

Christ, R. C., Varga, B. A., Helmsing, M. E., & van Kessel, C.

Teachers College Press. 2021 December;

van Kessel, C.

Teachers College Press. 2021 December;

Varga, B. A., & van Kessel, C.

Journal of Curriculum Theorizing. 2021 December; 36 (2):16-31

Varga, B. A., Saleh, M., & van Kessel, C.

Canadian Social Studies. 2021 July; 52 (2):1-9

Varga, B., van Kessel, C., & Helmsing, M. E.

Oregon Journal of the Social Studies. 2021 July; 9 (1):73-83

Varga, B. A., van Kessel, C., Helmsing, M. E., & Christ, R. C.

Iowa Journal for the Social Studies. 2021 June; 29 (2):8-29

Ward, J., Watson, E., & van Kessel, C.

Lessons from the pivot: Higher education’s response to the pandemic [Open Educational Resource]. 2021 May;

Jacobs, N., van Kessel, C., & Varga, B. A.

Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education. 2021 April; 20 (1):51-65

van Kessel, C., & Saleh, M.

Journal of Curriculum Studies Research. 2020 December; 2 (2):1-20

van Kessel, C., Dalman, J., Saleh, M., Horneland, D., Boucher, K., & Scratch, D.

Our Schools/Our Selves (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives). 2020 July; (Summer/Fall 2020):32-35

van Kessel, C.

Journal of Curriculum Studies Research. 2020 June; 2 (1):129-145

Burke, K., & van Kessel, C.

Educational Philosophy and Theory. 2020 May; 53 (1):90-100

van Kessel, C.

Journal for the Canadian Association of Curriculum Studies. 2020 January; 17 (2):38-50

Helmsing, M. E., van Kessel, C.

Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education. 2020 January; 19 (3):140-164

van Kessel, C., Kline, K.

Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy. 2019 January;

van Kessel, C., Plots, R.

One World in Dialogue. 2019 January; 5 (1):21-31

van Kessel, C., den Heyer, K., & Schimel, J.

Journal of Curriculum Studies. 2019 January;

van Kessel, C.

2019 January;

van Kessel, C.

Journal of International Social Studies. 2018 January; 8 (2):160-171

van Kessel, C., Burke, K.

Journal of Philosophy of Education. 2018 January; 52 (2):216-229

van Kessel, C., & Crowley, R.

Theory & Research in Social Education. 2017 January; 45 (4):427-455

van Kessel, C.

Canadian Journal of Education. 2017 January; 40 (4):576-602

van Kessel, C.

Educational Studies. 2016 January; 52 (1):51-67

den Heyer, K., & van Kessel, C.

McGill Journal of Education. 2015 January; 50 (1)

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