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Beaver Valley Association for Lifelong Learning

FALL SERIES: Religion - The Big Questions? - Brian Carwana

FALL SERIES: Religion - The Big Questions? - Brian Carwana

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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 about religions, including Brian’s PhD studies, and has real relevance for understanding American politics, large social trends, and how Western societies work. Prepare to be entertained by these engaging and enlightening talks.

Session One: October 22, 2024

The Axial Age: As the World Turns 

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.

Session Two: October 29, 2024

We're All Protestants! How the Protestant Reformation Birthed the Modern West

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.

Session Three: November 5, 2024

What Drives Religiosity? 

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.

Session Four: November 12, 2024

American Exceptionalism?

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.

Session Five: November 19, 2024

Feeling God is Real 

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.

Session Six: November 26 2024

Family Values Politics 

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 Carwana - Biography

Brian is the Executive Director of Encounter World Religions. His career started in strategy consulting and venture capital before he discovered a passion for learning about the fascinating world of religion.

For twenty years, he has studied numerous traditions, fostered relationships with religious leaders and communities, and taken thousands of people annually to places of worship. In addition to this experiential education, Brian has a PhD in religion and politics from the University of Toronto.

Given his deep familiarity with ethno-religious communities, Brian has been invited to speak in a range of work environments from health care and education to policing in both Canada and the USA. He speaks on religious diversity, on our misunderstandings regarding religion, and offers Beyond Diversity talks that actually educate staff about different traditions to create religious literacy in the workplace and make religiously committed employees feel seen and valued.

Brian has an honours business degree and acquired his PhD in religion from the University of Toronto.

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