I am genuinely thrilled to announce we are again offering our hugely successful series from last year Religion: The Big Questions. This series tackles important questions like why does every human civilization have religion and how does religion fit or not fit in secular societies? Whether you’re religious or not, if you like learning and want to know more about your society and your world, I think you’ll really enjoy this series. You can even do it with others – last time, several people contacted friends or family and signed up together, watching it in separate locations and connecting afterwards to share and discuss the series. Here are the seven talks and what we will explore:

The Axial Age: It’s a strange truth that the religious and philosophical systems that dominate our planet mostly all emerged in a short window of time spanning five or six centuries around 2500 years ago. During that time Abrahamic monotheism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism and Greek philosophy all appeared and altered our world. We will explore what happened to foster this creative explosion that continues to shape our globe.

Confucius, Socrates, Isaiah and the Buddha all lived within a couple of centuries of one another. What was in the water to create such thinkers whose ideas still dominate our world today?

We’re All Protestants: At university, I was amazed to learn how deeply the Protestant Reformation shaped everyone in the West. It not only altered religion, it reshaped our politics, our views on sex, and even our understanding of our world and what a person is. You may not be Protestant but by virtue of living in the modern West, we are all descendants of the Reformation. In this talk, we will, to some extent, witness the birth of the West.

What Drives Religiosity: As far as we know, every human society has had religions. In this session, we explore why this is as well as why religion seems to be declining dramatically today in certain parts of the globe but not others. We will draw on findings in cognitive science and sociology to try to understand this driving force of human life.

American Exceptionalism: No Western society is as religious as the United States. Scholars have written thousands of pages on why this is. In this talk, I will summarize their work and add my own take on why I think religion is so resilient in the USA and the surprising role that politics plays in the story. This talk provides interesting insight into the world’s most powerful country.

The USA is so unique both politically and religiously. We will explore how these two issues connect and how each informs the other.

Feeling God is Real: Dr. Tanya Luhrmann is a rare academic – a fascinating anthropologist deeply interested in psychology. She blends the two fields to shed light on one of the most fundamental questions: how do divine figures seem so obviously present to some and so obviously not true for others? Her work is unparalleled and taught me so much about our minds and about how we perceive the world. Her work has been featured in major media outlets and I will draw on her books and my interview with her.

Some of us feel the presence of spiritual beings so powerfully…and others have no sense of this. Tanya Luhrmann helps us bridge that gap.

Family Values Politics: In the West, religious politics often focuses on so-called family values issues around sexuality and the family. Early Christians, however, did not focus on these issues or even think about them in the same way. We will explore Christian history and how family values has come to be so central to modern conservative politics.

Liberalism and the Secular State (My dissertation!): Finally, this concluding talk was the favourite when we first ran this series. I will share what years of thinking, reading, debating and writing about religion’s place in a secular society taught me about religion and about Western societies. Audiences have really enjoyed it and I can’t wait to share it with you!

That’s it folks! Honestly, I think it will be a banquet of learning and a lot of fun! There is so much rich ground to cover. We will have Q&A every night and sessions will be recorded so if you have scheduling conflicts, you can catch up the next day. Sign up for a single session, a group of three, or the whole series.

Whoever you are, religion has shaped you by creating the very categories in which our societies think and live. Join us on this exploration of the Big Questions!

The series runs every Thursday night at 7pm ET beginning February 10 and concluding March 24, 2022. Please sign up at the link worldreligions.ca/big-questions.

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