Religion: The Big Questions

In this brand new series, we will investigate big questions: religiosity, secularism, and how religion intersects with liberalism and Western democracies. Big questions invite us to examine many angles and so, at different times, we will learn about sexuality, economics, history, psychology, and sociology. The series draws a fair bit on Brian’s PhD studies which he has mercifully completed (his wife deserves your applause), but has real relevance for understanding American politics, large social trends, and how Western societies work.

Register for one evening, a few, or the whole series! Registration at bottom. 

The Axial Age: As the World Turns (Tues June 1, 7pm)

Do you know anyone who follows the religion of ancient Egypt? Or of ancient Mesopotamia? Likely not. And yet, in a short 500 year period around 2,500 yrs ago, the world exploded with new religious and philosophical systems that have reshaped our world – Jewish monotheism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Greek philosophy all emerged and altered our globe. Scholars call this revolution of religious and philosophical thought the Axial Age. We will explore what happened in this pivotal era and why.

We're All Protestants! How the Protestant Reformation Birthed the Modern West (Tues June 8, 7pm)

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-shattering event changed so much of how Europeans saw themselves and society. The Reformation upended society in ways both intended and unforeseen.

What Drives Religiosity? (Tues June 15, 7pm)

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.

American Exceptionalism? (Tues June 22, 7pm)

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 so unique about the American religious culture and what accounts for their “exceptional” status.

Feeling God is Real (Tues June 29, 7pm)

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.

Liberalism & the Secular State: A Dissertation in an Hour (Tues July 6, 7pm)

I worked on my PhD for a decade but perhaps learned the most in the 72 hours before defending my thesis, thanks to a series of penetrating questions by the external examiner. My work examined evangelical politics in Canada, asking how and if liberal democracies can accommodate some forms of conservative religion. I’ll share his questions as we discuss individualism, emotions and reasoning, and what this all has to say about liberal politics.

Family Values Politics (Tues July 13, 7pm)

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.


"Brian is an outstanding presenter with an unequalled depth of knowledge, a respectful perspective, and a warm and humorous style. Our audiences literally can't get enough of him."

Sandy Leppan, Mississauga Lifelong Learning

© 2016 by Encounter World Religions Centre.

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