2023-2024 Series 2 - Religion: The Big Questions

October 26 to December 7, 2023 

Please note the program changes as of Oct. 21 in the schedule below.

Join us for the return of this popular series! Together we will investigate the big questions religion asks and attempts to answer.

We’ll discuss religiosity, secularism, and how religion intersects with liberalism and Western democracies, and we’ll examine the many ways religion influences our understanding of sexuality, economics, history, psychology, and sociology.

The series draws from more than 20 years of studying and teaching.

Series Coordinators:

Ellen Lewis and Leslie Garnett

Lecturer - Brian Carwana

Brian is the executive director of Encounter World Religions. He speaks on religious inclusion in the workplace and runs a Discovery Week every July exploring 11 religions in one rich week. He has a PhD from the University of Toronto and blogs at ReligionsGeek.com.

Change of Program for Lecture 1, Oct. 26 in Light of the Current Situation in the Middle East:   Background on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

For the first lecture in this series, Brian has agreed to change the subject to Background on the Israeli/Palestinian ConflictHis extensive knowledge and writings on the Middle East and its nations allow him to provide us with a knowledgeable and unbiased historical background and recent events that have led to the current situation. He says "Our goal will simply be to gain some context to better understand the struggles and hopes of these two peoples."

There will still be the same number of lectures in the series (7 including this change). The first 6 of the original 7 will each be presented a week later. The correct new dates are shown below. We're very pleased that Brian has been flexible enough to speak on an important current event suggested by several of you "suggestions for future lectures" recently. We think you'll agree that it's an important topic that relates well to this series.

The Axial Age: As the World Turns

  • Date: Thursday Nov. 2, 2023  10:00 AM - 12:00 PM 
  • Location: Bayshore Community Centre, Owen Sound

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

  • Date: Thursday Nov. 9, 2023  10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
  • Location: Bayshore Community Centre, Owen Sound

 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?

  • Date: Thursday, Nov.16 , 2023   10:00 AM -12:00 PM
  • Location: Bayshore Community Centre, Owen Sound

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

  • Date: Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023   10:00 AM -12:00 PM
  • Location: Bayshore Community Centre, Owen Sound

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

  • Date: Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023   10:00 AM -12:00 PM
  • Location: Bayshore Community Centre, Owen Sound

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.


Family Values Politics

  • Date: Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023   10:00 AM -12:00 PM
  • Location: Bayshore Community Centre, Owen Sound

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.