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In an increasingly diverse world, religious literacy is essential

Encounter’s mission is twofold:


  1. to increase our religious literacy of diverse religious, secular and spiritual identities

  2. to transform our response to difference from one of threat to opportunity, from fear to curiosity, exploration and growth


For more than 20 years, Encounter World Religions, a registered charity, has been honoured to help people, organizations and communities explore what it means to become religiously literate and enhance their understanding of one another.
Our founder, JW Windland started Encounter with the singular idea that positive encounters with people of different faiths can forge connections that fundamentally change how we understand religion, its place in our culture, and ultimately how we understand one another. 
While we miss him deeply we are committed to carrying on his work.  

Taught from a non-sectarian perspective, Encounter programs are respectful and welcoming for all.


We are honoured to work with the following organizations. 


What happens when a white man from the American south walks into a mosque? It sounds like the opening line of a joke. But it is actually the beginning of Encounter’s story, and the basis for our ongoing work to transform our communities.

JW Windland was passionate about people and about education. He cared for people and took an interest in them. He wanted to know your story. And he felt the marginalization that many felt and was committed to doing what he could to change that.

He believed education could transform us. To borrow the adage, it could ‘make the strange familiar, and the familiar strange,’ and, in so doing, forge connections across difference, and open our eyes to new worlds and ways of being.

Brian Carwana might just be the poster child for Encounter’s ability to transform. He left a business career when he met JW and was astonished at the places JW entered like he belonged and the sheer variety of worldviews and life practices going on in the Toronto area alone.


In the 20+years since Encounter’s inception, we have partnered with organizations in diverse fields including police, health care, for-profit and non-profit organizations to support their religious literacy and work. In his role as ED, Brian is an associate of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, and has written articles for the Interfaith Observer, the Canadian Interfaith Conversation, and other outlets.


Encounter draws together a team of staff, advisors, board members and partners to create and deliver impactful religious literacy programming.


Brian Carwana

Executive Director


Brian Carwana (the "ReligionsGeek") left a business career to pursue a passion for studying religions. Through Encounter, Brian acquired a practical education by listening to religious leaders, observing worship, and visiting houses of worship. In addition, he has a Masters in Religion and Culture and a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto where he studied religion and politics. Each year Brian speaks to thousands of people about religious diversity.


Over his 20 years with Encounter, Brian has consulted on religious diversity and religious literacy to police, health care, and for-profit organizations, including the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, and has written articles for the Interfaith Observer, the Canadian Interfaith Conversation, and other outlets. Religion remains for Brian one of the most interesting facets of life for understanding global politics, social movements, workplace cohesion, or individual lives. Learn more about Brian and his work and for more, check out our blog at or follow Brian on twitter @ReligionsGeek.

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Karen McKay

Managing Director


Karen McKay is Encounter’s Managing Director with special focus on Marketing and Communications. She brings a wealth of experience to the position, working previously with the Canadian Unitarian Council, as well as not-for-profits whose primary focus was ensuring equity and inclusion, in the social services and healthcare sectors. She is currently enrolled in the Senior Leadership and Management in the Not-For-Profit Sector program through Conestoga College.


Adriana Fierastrau

Executive Assistant


Adriana has taken on the role of Executive Assistant at Encounter, focusing primarily on operational efficiencies. Adriana has a Bachelor of Honours in Law and Sociology from the University of Toronto and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Paralegal studies, from Conestoga College. Adriana brings over 13 years of professional work experience with some highlights being: an extensive legal background, administrative, research and problem solving skills.


Outside of work Adriana spends time pursuing photography and outdoor activities with her family either in Rockwood, Ontario or on Rice Lake.



Dr Raj Balkaran (Advisor)

Dr. Raj Balkaran is an expert in World Religions, specializing in Hinduism. He has presented and published widely mainly in the area of Indian mythology. He hosts the “New Books in Hindu Studies”, a podcast channel on the New Books Network, and teaches lifelong learners at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. He was also Ryerson University’s first ever Religious Studies professor. In addition, Dr. Raj applies the humanistic insights from his scholarship to facilitates personal development in a thriving life coaching practice.  You can find out more about his research, teaching, and coaching at

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Dr. Bhante Saranapala (Advisor)


Known as the "Urban Buddhist Monk," Bhante Saranapala is an acclaimed teacher of meditation for seekers who admire his simple, all-embracing approach in transmitting a message of love, kindness, compassion, understanding and wisdom. He has earned an enviable reputation as a global public speaker and a meditation master, and has lead sessions for major municipalities, school boards and police services. Born in Bangladesh, Bhante Saranapala received a monastic and secular education in Sri Lanka before completing undergrad and graduate studies at the University of Toronto and McMaster University. He has been a monk in residence at the West End Buddhist Temple and Meditation Centre for 23 years.

His reputation as a Buddhist practitioner and meditation leader have led to widespread invitations and awards including addressing parliamentarians in Ottawa, receiving the Spirit Award from the Government of Ontario for his humanitarian services, and being granted the “Canada 150 Medal and Sesquicentennial Community Award” by the federal government.

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Michelle Singh (Advisor)


Born into an interfaith family, Rev. Michelle Singh has a deep understanding and appreciation for the world’s rich spiritual and cultural diversity. She is an ordained Interfaith Minister who has been actively engaged in Canada’s interfaith movement, including vice-chairing the award winning World Interfaith Harmony Week Steering Committee and co-founding a multi-faith Spiritual Dialogue Circle. Notably, Michelle was a Board member and Steering Committee Co-Chair for the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions — overseeing the worlds largest interfaith gathering, featuring over 1000 diverse spiritual programs, attended by over 8500 persons. Prior to becoming an Interfaith Minister, Michelle spent more than 30 years in the I.T. and Communications sectors leading teams in challenging, goal-oriented environments. She is an officiant, well known for intuitive listening and her ability to create safe and sacred spaces for processing and dialogue. Michelle excels in bringing diverse groups of people together to achieve a common goal.

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Sheikh Imran Ally (Advisor)


Imran Ally is the resident Imam at the Toronto and Region Islamic Congregation (TARIC), a position he has held for more than 20 years, a lengthy tenure that is quite unique in Canada. Imran absolutely loves his profession and has a passion for Muslims learning, experiencing and implementing the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah in their lives. In typical addresses in Muslim gatherings, Imran highlights the nurturing quality and importance of the role of the Imam in the community.

Imran’s passion for community engagement extends outside the mosque. He serves as a law enforcement chaplain for first responders across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). He is also actively involved in interfaith activities and highly sought after for multifaith events.

Further, Imran is passionate about spending time with his favourite people in the world: his wife Kameeza and children Musa, Yusuf, and Sauleh. The Ally family has been living in Brampton, Ontario since 2008.

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Dr. Shari Golberg (Advisor)


Shari Golberg has a PhD in Religion from the University of Toronto and an MA in Religious Studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Shari has taught numerous courses on gender and religiosity in both community-based and academic settings. Shari founded Shema & Iqra': The Jewish-Muslim Text Project, a grassroots initiative that brought communities of Muslims and Jews together using classical religious texts as a springboard for dialogue to explore issues of mutual concern. She also directed Blood, Milk, and Tears, a course and arts collective that explored the relationship between art, gender, embodiment, and identity in Jewish and Muslim texts and communities. Shari worked for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, organizing and facilitating workshops helping diversity and inclusion champions think about inclusion issues regarding faith in their workplaces and communities. Shari currently works as a Team Lead for the Ontario government in areas of policy and anti-Black racism.

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