Thursday, April 18, 2019

Lectures Spring and Summer 2019

From world maps where Greenland appears larger than Africa to historical maps that show European claims to the world but leave off its actual indigenous occupants, to Google Earth which shows different political boundaries to different users depending on what country they're in, maps distort our picture of the world around us. We'll look at how maps convey different worldviews both accidentally and deliberately.  

From nuclear war and superplagues to asteroids and alien invasions, popular culture continues to obsess about the idea of the world's destruction. We're look at the first mythological predictions of the end and see how the popularity of apocalyptic writing influenced Judaism, Christianity, and the Western world ever since.

Magna Carta, the great charter issued by King John of England in 1215, is often cited as a core, foundational document of modern democracy. By contrast, John who is regarded as one of England's worst kings (there has never been a John II) had no intention whatsoever of making monarchy constitutional. We'll look at what John and his nobles thought they were signing up for with Magna Carta.

Of books included in the canon of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, the Book of Daniel was the last to be written. By putting visions into the words of characters who lived centuries earlier, the book's authors were able to "predict" events that had already occurred in order to give credibility to additional predictions about the immediate future. Will look at the consequences of the inclusion of this kind of literary prophecy for adherents of Abrahamic faiths who have read such predictions literally.

The Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars fought between 1455 and 1487 by English nobles seeking to control the crown, have been cited as the inspiration for the fictional wars in "A Game of Thrones." As the popular HBO series concludes, we'll look at the actual Wars of the Roses and the lessons they have for our own time.

The United States is often compared with ancient Rome. Washington DC's monumental architecture was modeled on Rome's and the architects of the US Constitution looked to the constitution of the Roman Republic for inspiration. How did ancient Rome's constitution work and why did the Republic ultimately fall under the sway of Roman Emperors?  

In the Book of Deuteronomy, a god divides humanity “according to the number of the gods,” granting Israel to Yahweh, who later will ride through the clouds defeating the old gods and forces of old. The origins of the God of Israel are still uncertain and scholarly opinion remains divided. We will look at the available Biblical and extra-Biblical sources to trace the evolution of a typical Near-Eastern warrior god who throughout the centuries displaced or absorbed older gods and their attributes, ultimately becoming the only true God, creator of the cosmos. 

Noah’s Ark remains one of the best known stories of the Bible. We’ll look at the many flood stories that predate Genesis by centuries and millennia. While some people still read the story literally and imagine it is history, others look for a kernel of historic truth around which these legends grew. We’ll examine these theories and the thesis that the flood story is entirely mythic.

The world’s religions have complex and often troubling relationships with the institution of slavery. Although some Christians fought for abolition of the slave trade based on their faith, others used the Bible to justify keeping other humans as property. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam arose in an era of slave societies. We’ll look at their long, complex, and often unfortunate relationships with the institution.

Long before modern science confirmed the individuals are naturally born with different sexual orientations, people were aware of homosexuality and created different cultural responses to the phenomenon. We’ll look at how homosexuality was understood in ancient Greece and Rome and the ways some expressions were received with acceptance while others were met with intolerance in Antiquity.

Modern people use the word “Gothic” to describe a kind of architecture from the Middle Ages, even though it has nothing to do with the barbarian Goths. When the architecture was new nine centuries ago, it was called “modern” and it represented something very new. Although people of the Modern Era disparaged their immediate predecessors with terms like “Medieval” and “Gothic,” the Middle Ages were anything but backward. In fact, they anticipated the Modern Era which followed.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Lectures Winter 2018-19

Topics for the lectures during the Winter 2018-19 season in our Tuesday History, Theology, and Philosophy Meetup.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

September and October Lectures

Topics for the lectures this September in our Tuesday History, Theology, and Philosophy Meetup.

The centuries following the renewed 1492 contact between the world's eastern and western hemispheres were devastating for the indigenous peoples of the Americas whose population was continually decimated by imported diseases for which they lacked immunity.  By the early 19th century, so few indigenous people remained that European Americans doubted they could have ever built the massive number of earthworks that covered the North American landscape. Instead they created a myth that the mounds must have been built by a lost civilized race that was ultimately exterminated by the American Indians.  The most successful telling of this myth is found in Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon.  We will look at how the myth of the moundbuilders evolved and its continuing consequences.

The art of the theater died out in the West with the fall of the Roman Empire.  But in the unlikely setting of Germany in the 10th century, a remarkable woman revived both comedy and drama.  Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim was a secular canoness (a member of a religious community living a monastic life) who read the ancient Roman playwrights Plautus and Terrance and used them as models for her own plays. Produced for the edification and entertainment of her fellow sisters, Hrotsvitha's comedies featured the exploits of saintly heroines humiliating their lecherous pagan captors.  We'll read from Hrotsvitha's work (some of the humor is still funny today!) and look at her context and legacy.

Is pleasure good?  Shouldn't pain be avoided?  We'll explore the ancient Greek philosophy of Epicurus, caricatured in antiquity and today as “eat, drink, and be merry.”  Following up on our lectures on the Greco-Roman moral philosophy — Platonism, Stoicism, Cynicism — we'll consider the great rival of these more accepted schools: Epicureanism.  Epicureans were connected with atomist theory and atheism, both of which were reviled in antiquity but have been revived and reconsidered in modern times. We'll sweep past some modern misconceptions and take a deeper look at the teachings of Epicurus and his successors.

"Truth isn't truth!" Rudy Giuliani recently asserted in defense of his client Donald Trump.  In an era when so many people are insisting the anything they believe or say is just as valid as anything anyone else might say, society sometimes seems to have lost track of basic rules of logic. Our presentation tonight will offer a refresher course, mapping out common logical errors from the law of non-contradiction (which Giuliani lost track of) to old favorites like “post hoc ergo propter hoc.” 

Jesus of Nazareth famously advised "if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also" and taught his followers to "love your enemies."  In the first centuries AD, Christians frequently questioned whether the role of soldier was compatible with their faith.  Although the Emperor Constantine converted after winning a battle under the symbol of the cross, he delayed his baptism until his deathbed to wipe away the sins incurred as head of the Roman army. By the Middle Ages, however, Popes called upon Christian knights to attack the enemies of the faith: Muslims, pagans, Cathars, and Christian heretics alike. In the modern era European Empires brutally conquered and colonized much of the world hand-in-hand with Christian missionaries.  How did Christianity get from point A to B and C and where do we find ourselves today?

"No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!" is a hilarious Monty Python sketch that proves the adage that comedy = tragedy + time. In its time in early modern Spain, the Inquisition was infamous for its activities against Spanish Jews, Muslims, Christian converts from both groups, as well as heretics, Protestants, and other perceived enemies of the Spanish crown.  There is no doubt the the persecution, expulsions, torture, trial and execution of members of these groups resulted in horrific tragedy and suffering.  But we will also look at the extent to which some of the reported atrocities of the Inquisition may have been exaggerated by Protestants as part of a program of anti-Catholic polemics. 

Roman, Germanic, Celtic, and Norse paganism was deeply rooted in European customs, including holiday festivals. In honor of Halloween we'll consider how our present-day customs echo practices in the Medieval Celtic holiday of Samhain. We'll also look at other pagan legacies that were Christianized and ultimately secularized to form our contemporary calendar of holidays in Canada. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Beyond the Walls (2nd Half of 2018)

We will stream monthly our Beyond the Walls inclusive church service on Thursday nights at 9:00 pm Eastern time with the following themes and dates.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Lecture Schedule for Later Summer

July 24, Tues (7:30 pm): Satirizing Socrates: Ancient Comedy's Take on Philosophy. We will look at the portrait of Socrates and the critical stereotype of ancient philosophers presented in Aristophanes' comic masterpiece, The Clouds.  First staged in 423 bc in Socrates' own lifetime, the play is regarded as the first extent "comedy of ideas."  It's critique of philosophers is scathing and best of all, the play remains funny today.

July 31, Tues (7:30 pm): The Overflowing Cup: Islamic Mysticism and the Poetry of Rūmī. In a follow up to our April 17 presentation on the mysticism of the Sufis, Shaheen Bagha will continue our exploration of Islamic mysticism with a focus on the works of poet, theologian, scholar and theologian Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī.

August 7, Tues (7:30 pm): Pope Joan: Real and Imagined Scandals of the Medieval Papacy. According to a popular tale, a clever woman once secretly ascended St. Peter's throne and ruled as "Pope Joan."  While this tale is a myth, the Medieval papacy devolved into even more interesting scandals which set the stage for the Gregorian Reform movement.  We will look at the low point of Europe's oldest monarchy and its amazing rebound in the later Middle Ages.

August 14, Tues (7:30 pm): Akhenaten and Egyptian Monotheism. Fourteen hundred years before Christ, the Pharaoh Amenhotep IV rejected the old gods of Egypt and introduced the worship of one God above all: Atun. Although he was able to promulgate a new henotheist (possibly even monotheist) religion during his lifetime, after his death the traditionalists won out, reversed his reforms, and deleted his name from the king lists.  We'll look at this remarkably early innovation and its echoes in later monotheistic religion.

August 21, Tues (7:30 pm): The Wall of Jericho: From Rubble to Epic. We'll look at the violent conquest of Canaan described in the Bible not as a historical account but as Ancient Israel's national epic. Combining different traditions, this story gave meaning to the difficult circumstances Israel faced from the last decades before the exile to Babylon to the resettling of the Holy Land under Persian rule. We'll compare this narrative with contradicting accounts found in the Bible and other historical, archaeological, and mythological sources.

August 28, Tues (7:30 pm): The Crusades Seen from the Muslim Perspective. We will recount the history of Medieval holy wars in the Middle East and Mediterranean using Muslim sources in order to reconstruct an alternate picture of the era.  Can we draw lessons from these past conflicts for the 21st century world?

September 4, Tues (7:30 pm): The Myth of the Mound Builders. The centuries following the renewed 1492 contact between the world's eastern and western hemispheres were devastating for the indigenous peoples of the Americas whose population was continually decimated by imported diseases for which they lacked immunity.  By the early 19th century, so few indigenous people remained that European Americans doubted they could have ever built the massive number of earthworks that covered the North American landscape. Instead they created a myth that the mounds must have been built by a lost civilized race that was ultimately exterminated by the American Indians.  The most successful telling of this myth is found in Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon.  We will look at how the myth of the moundbuilders evolved and its continuing consequences.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Summer 2018 Lecture Topics

May 1, Tues (7:30 pm):  Philosophy Before Socrates. Socrates, his student Plato, and Plato's student Aristotle are often credited with founding Western philosophy. Nevertheless, even great thinkers do not emerge ex nihilo, but rather are born into an existing context and paradigm that the build from, respond to, and react against.  We'll look at the Pre-Socratic philosophers and how their ideas created the ground from which Socrates' own thought emerged.

May 8, Tues (7:30 pm):  Paganism in the Bible. We will look at indications in the Old Testament that the dominant religion of the elites and commoners was predominantly pagan during the First Temple Period.

May 15, Tues (7:30 pm): Movie Night: "Defending Your Life". Meryl Streep and Albert Brooks star in a philosophical comedy about the meaning of life.  We'll watch the movie together and share thoughts on this topic.

May 22, Tues (7:30 pm): Reanimating Soul:  Discovering Aristotle's Brain. Aristotle is the most influential philosopher in the Western intellectual tradition. Our guest lecturer, Dr. Michael Adam Ferguson of Harvard Medical School unfolds the prescience of Aristotle's genius as illuminated by contemporary neural imaging. Attendees are invited to consider seriously the reanimation of soul by science.

May 29, Tues (7:30 pm):  The Great Schism: Greek East vs. Latin West. We'll look at the breakdown in the relationship between the churches of Rome and Constantinople, which included petty personality conflicts, diverging political interests, and a few fundamental disagreements.  We'll also look at how and why the rift has never been healed despite repeated attempts for the past 1,000 years.  

June 12, Tues (7:30 pm):  Ptolemaic Cosmology. For 2,000 years prior to Copernicus, astronomers believed that the Earth was at the center of a cosmos, surrounded by a series of celestial spheres.  We'll consider how the Ptolemaic system worked (and didn't work), why it proved so durable, and why the Catholic Church remained invested in the system even after scientists like Galileo began to argue in favor of heliocentrism. 

June 19, Tues (7:30 pm):  Homosexuality and the Bible. In honor of Toronto Pride, we will take a look of what the Bible does and doesn't have to say about homosexuality.  In contrast to the claims of many Evangelical Christians, the component texts of the Bible do not condemn same-sex orientation.  We'll look at how verses from Sodom and Gomorrah to Leviticus to Paul are routinely misread.

June 26, Tues (7:30 pm):  The Avesta and Zarathustra. Zoroastrianism is often cited as the first world religion, whose ideas heavily influenced Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  We'll take a close look at Zoroastrianism's earliest book of scripture, the Gathas — 17 hymns in the Avesta attributed to Zarathustra (also known as Zoroaster).  We'll consider how the Gathas differed from the earlier Persian paganism and how they influenced the Bible.

July 3, Tues (7:30 pm):  Was Machiavelli Machiavellian?  Humanist politician and philosopher Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli has been called the first modern man and the father of political science.  His book The Prince, is among the most influential books in the Western canon and has given rise to our adjective "Machiavellian" to describe unscrupulous politicians. We'll look closely at The Prince and Machiavelli's other writings to consider his political philosophy and to ask whether the author himself was "Machiavellian". 

July 17, Tues (7:30 pm):  Revisiting the Apocrypha. During the Reformation, Martin Luther and Protestant Christians argued that everyone should be able to read the Bible in his or her own language, instead of keeping the texts the responsibility of clergy trained in Latin.  When they went back to the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament, they realized that the Latin Christian Bible included a number of books that Jews did not consider scripture.  The Reformers stripped these books from the canon, calling them the "Apocrypha" or hidden books.  We'll take a look at these books that the Reformers hid away and consider why they made it into the early Christian canon and not the Jewish canon.