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Virtual Lecture Series - Religion, Secularism and Liberalism

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The relationship between religion and liberalism in Western democracies

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In this series, we will investigate big questions: religiosity, secularism, and how religion intersects with liberalism and Western democracies. Big questions require many angles and so, at different times, we will learn about sexuality, economics, history, psychology and sociology. The series draws on Brian’s PhD studies and should have real relevance for understanding American politics, large social trends, and how Western societies work.

6 April 2021 The Axial Age

In a short 500-year period about 2,500 years ago, the major religious systems – Jewish monotheism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Greek philosophy – were all born. We still live with these outlooks dominating the way we look at the world (and no system from before then is dominant). Why is this and what happened during this pivotal period?

13 April 2021 We’re all Protestants! How the Protestant Reformation Birthed the Modern West

The most brilliant political science professor I ever met claimed that the most important political event in the history of the West was undoubtedly the Protestant Reformation. We will explore how this earth-shaking event changed so much of how Europeans saw themselves and society. The Reformation upended society in ways both intended and unforeseen.

20 April 2021 **NO LECTURE THIS WEEK**

27 April 2021 What Drives Religiosity

For perhaps a century, innumerable scholars have been trying to figure out why some societies are more religious than others, and what accounts for religion’s growth and decline. We will explore some of the best research produced to date.

4 May 2021 American Exceptionalism?

While religion has declined massively in almost all Western countries, the largest outlier to this pattern has been the United States. In this session, we will explore what is unique about our neighbour to the south and what accounts for its “exceptional” status.

11 May 2021 Feeling God is Real

For many us, God’s reality is as obvious as the sun. For others, deities seem clearly untrue. Here we will follow an anthropologist who invested herself in religious communities she was not part of and combined her own experiences (and those of others) with thoughtful psychological research. There’s a lot to learn here about the human mind and how our understandings of reality can go down one path or another. God’s reality will be beyond us, but we can learn about ourselves.

18 May 2021 Liberalism and the Secular State – A dissertation in an hour (?)

In the last 72 hours before defending my thesis, a series of penetrating questions by the external examiner (an academic from outside the university) made me realize the full potential of my project. I want to share that with you here. We will discuss individualism, emotions and reasoning, and what this all has to say about liberal politics.

25 May 2021 Family Values Politics

Politics and religion in Canada and the United States centres mostly on so-called “family values” issues – LGBTQ rights, abortion, sex education, etc. The irony is that early Christians did not see themselves as family values advocates. We will explore the history of sexuality in Christianity and ask how it is that sex and family have become the beating heart of modern conservative Christian politics.

1 June 2021 Some Lessons from 20 Years of Studying Religions

For 20 years, I have had the privilege not only of studying and teaching about religions, but of visiting religious communities, taking part in their rituals and bringing others to places of worship to meet leaders and experience some sense of lived religion. In this talk, I will try to share with you some of the things I think I have learned. I hope you enjoy it.

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