Religion is everywhere. It is there when I watch the news; when I follow politics domestically or internationally; when I take part in the surging efforts towards diversity and inclusion; when I witness the counter nationalistic movements; or when I see how communities are coping with COVID. Religious identities, including how they fit with secular societies, play a central role in the dramas that shape our communities and much of our world.
I did my PhD dissertation (I laboured on it roughly from the Mesozoic to the mid-COVID eras) on these very questions: how does religion fit or not fit in liberal democracies? And do we even understand how deeply religion has shaped those same societies? I have enjoyed exploring these fascinating questions but I have kept this work largely separate from my work at Encounter….until now.
Starting in June, I’m going to be giving a series of Tuesday night talks addressing religion’s role in Western societies. Some talks will look at hot topics such as Family Values Politics or American Exceptionalism (why America is so uniquely religious among liberal democracies). Other talks will step back and consider the big picture, such as Why We’re All Protestants which explains how the Protestant Reformation shaped the Western world (including you whether you are Protestant, religious or neither).
The Protestant Reformation, launched by Martin Luther, dramatically shaped Western politics, religion and even our views of the self.
But we’ll examine both halves of this equation. I’m also going to speak about secularism, exploring Liberalism and the Secular State (my dissertation fit into an hour) and What Drives Religiosity which considers the influences that have weakened religious belief in the past half century. Another evening, I will share with you the fascinating work of Dr. Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropologist of the mind, who explores how God/spirits come to feel real so that we know he/they exist (or, conversely, why some of us lack these experiences). The series opens with The Axial Age, a fascinating era when most of the major philosophical and religious systems that dominate our world took shape (which I describe here). This talk fits with the one on how we’re all Protestants in showing us how religious transformations shape so much of how we understand ourselves and the world.
I have to thank Joyce Dalrymple and the folks at Lifelong Learning Mississauga who pushed me to create this series. We’ve been having a good time with it – me teaching, them listening – and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.
Registrations have been very strong. I hope you’ll join us.
My original dissertation supervisor. Eventually, I had to find someone new for the role.