Virtual Lectures via Zoom Webinar

Spring Series  2021

Brian Carwana

Brian Carwana

Religion, Secularism and Liberalism

Presented by Brian Carwana
Tuesdays, April 6 to June 1, 2021
10:00 AM to 12:00 noon

** No lecture Tuesday, 20 April 2021 **

To be offered as virtual lectures via Zoom Webinar

Registration will begin on Monday, February 22 and tickets will be on sale until Sunday, April 4, 2021. After April 4, it will not be possible to register for individual lectures or a partial lecture series. Please note that you need buy only one ticket at $40 per household.

In this series, we will investigate big questions: religiosity, secularism, and how religion intersects with liberalism and Western democracies. Big questions require many angles and so, at different times, we will learn about sexuality, economics, history, psychology and sociology.

The series draws on Brian’s PhD studies and should have real relevance for understanding American politics, large social trends, and how Western societies work.

April 6, 2021 – The Axial Age

In a short 500-year period about 2,500 years ago, the major religious systems – Jewish monotheism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Greek philosophy – were all born. We still live with these outlooks dominating the way we look at the world (and no system from before then is dominant). Why is this and what happened during this pivotal period?

April 13, 2021 – 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-shaking event changed so much of how Europeans saw themselves and society. The Reformation upended society in ways both intended and unforeseen.

April 20, 2021             **NO LECTURE THIS WEEK**

April 27, 2021 – 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.

May 4, 2021 – 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 unique about our neighbour to the south and what accounts for its “exceptional” status.

May 11, 2021 – 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.

May 18, 2021 – Liberalism and the Secular State – A dissertation in an hour (?)

In the last 72 hours before defending my thesis, a series of penetrating questions by the external examiner (an academic from outside the university) made me realize the full potential of my project. I want to share that with you here. We will discuss individualism, emotions and reasoning, and what this all has to say about liberal politics.

May 23, 2021 – 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.

June 1, 2021 – Some Lessons from 20 Years of Studying Religions

For 20 years, I have had the privilege not only of studying and teaching about religions, but of visiting religious communities, taking part in their rituals and bringing others to places of worship to meet leaders and experience some sense of lived religion. In this talk, I will try to share with you some of the things I think I have learned. I hope you enjoy it.

Brian Carwana (the “Religions Geek”) is the Executive Director of Encounter World Religions. Brian left a business career to follow a passion for studying the world’s religions. He speaks to thousands of people annually in North America, including NGOs, health care workers, police forces, educators, and the public. Brian is a sought-after expert in religious traditions and in religious and cultural diversity.

Brian has taught at the University of Toronto, been a guest speaker at universities in Canada and the United States, and brings thousands to Hindu temples, Jewish synagogues, Rasta shops and Islamic mosques (among many others) and has deep and long-term relationships with religious leaders.

Encounter’s programs have reached more than 200,000 people and the Centre was recognized as a Gift of Service to the World by the Parliament of World Religions.

Brian has his PhD from the University of Toronto. You can explore his weekly blog at or follow him on Twitter @ReligionsGeek.

Olivier Courteaux

Olivier Courteaux

Propaganda: Mass Manipulation Through the Ages

Presented by Olivier Courteaux
Wednesdays, April 7 to May 26, 2021
10:00 AM to 12:00 noon

To be offered as virtual lectures via Zoom Webinar

Registration will begin on Monday, February 22 and tickets will be on sale until Sunday, April 4, 2021. After April 4, it will not be possible to register for individual lectures or a partial lecture series. Please note that you need buy only one ticket at $40 per household.

“Fake news,” “alternative realities,” “disinformation” and lies, not to mention conspiracy theories: more than ever, our world appears to be the instigator as well as the victim of mass information. Propaganda, the attempt by some to shape the thoughts and feelings of others, did not disappear with the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. Fuelled by the digital revolution and social media, propaganda is increasingly present in our lives.

This lecture series will look at the techniques of mass persuasion from ancient times to today.

April 7, 2021 – Introduction: a few preconceived notions about propaganda

Propaganda is the daughter of democracy. The totalitarian regimes of the 20th century and their use of propaganda on a scale never seen before gave the word its pejorative connotation. Propaganda as an organized effort to propagate beliefs and specific ideas first emerged in Ancient Greece. If the French Revolution paved the way for modern political propaganda, the democracies at war between 1914 and 1918 invented mass propaganda. The totalitarian regimes only followed in their footsteps.

April 14, 2021 – Influencing the masses: WWI and techniques of mass manipulation

The Great War gave birth to mass propaganda. As the conflict turned into a bloody stalemate, governments at war set up the first official propaganda services in history. The British learned quickly and became masters in the art of mass manipulation. The techniques of persuasion they developed proved so effective that Hitler and Goebbels later claimed that a significant part of their own propaganda technique was modelled after British propaganda.

April 21, 2021 – Public relations, marketing and advertising: creating a consumer society

Modern propaganda owes a great deal to advertising and its close relatives, marketing and public relations. Advertising was born in the U.S. in the 1920s. A look at the new techniques of economic manipulation and how they became an unescapable cultural phenomenon.

April 28, 2021 – The 20th century: the golden age of political propaganda

In 1939, Russian émigré scientist Sergei Chakhotin popularized the expression “rape of the masses,” which describes the techniques of persuasion used by political propagandists. A look at the techniques used in 1930s Germany and the Soviet Union, techniques based on the study of crowd psychology: individuals react differently in a group.

May 5, 2021 – The power of photography and film

During the interwar period (1919-1939), the propagandists discovered the value of the photographic image. Meanwhile, films from a mass entertainment industry revealed the extent of its propagandist potential between 1914 and 1918. In this lecture we will look at some of the most powerful images and films, the “best instruments of propaganda” until the U.S. “war on terror.”

May 12, 2021 – Television: persuasion and disinformation

“The medium is the message,” wrote Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan in 1964. For most of the second half of the 20th century, television remained the main support to propaganda. Why? Because television, by associating image and comment, simplifies the messages it conveys to the public.

May 19, 2021 – Donald Trump: the “truth disruptor-in-chief”

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 paved the way to a new age of propaganda and, above all, our perception of the truth. His victory appears to be the result of a strategy of conquest based on scandal and provocation. “If you are different or scandalous, the media will write about you,” he declared in 1987. We will look at techniques of disinformation, “fake news” and “alternative realities” under Trump.

May 26, 2021 – Political propaganda and the internet

The digital revolution has had a deep impact on the methods and techniques of propaganda, as well as on mass manipulation. Today, more and more people get their news from Facebook, a phenomenon that greatly contributes to the extreme polarization of our societies. A look at the digital revolution and how it is reshaping politics.

Olivier Courteaux received his B.A. in history, M.A. in war and conflict studies and Ph.D. in contemporary international relations from the University of Paris-Sorbonne.

He has lectured at various Canadian universities, including Ryerson and the Royal Military College of Canada.

He is the author of The War on Terror: the Canadian Dilemma (2009), Canada Between Vichy and Free France, 1940-1945 (2013) and Quatre journées qui ébranlèrent le Québec on Charles de Gaulle’s famous 1967 “Vive le Québec Libre” (2017). He is working on his latest book, The Empress Eugenie at Suez, 1869: France and Egypt during the Second Empire.

Dr. Courteaux is currently hosting a virtual historical journey through Spain at Hot Docs’ Curious Minds speaker series.