This course shows how the study of religion can help us understand what is going on in the world today, from the amazing changes around women and religion to the rise of religious extremism.


January 12:  The Pope, the Poor, and the Planet

In July 2015, Pope Francis 1 created an international stir with his encyclical on the ecological crisis, Laudato si.  He connects the exploitation of the earth’s resources and ecological degradation to the global dominance of what he calls “the tyranny of money”, a culture that promotes violence against the poor and the planet.  Is the pope a Marxist, a tree-hugger?

David Seljak is Professor (and former Chair) of Religious Studies at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo.  He is the editor of a theological journal, The Ecumenist: A Journal of Theology, Culture and Society, published by Novalis.  Back by popular demand, this is Prof. Seljak’s fourth series of thought-provoking lectures for GTLLI.


January 19:  Being Muslim Today:  Facing Fear, Betrayal, and Discrimination

Today Islam faces challenges from outsiders and insiders.  In the midst of fear, hatred, misunderstanding, misrepresentation, discrimination and betrayal, Muslims believe that their faith is as relevant today as ever. This lecture discusses the challenges that Islam faces and how Muslims are responding to them.

Timothy Gianotti is Associate Professor in the Studies in Islam program at Renison University College, Waterloo.  He served as Director of Islamic Studies at the American Islamic College in Chicago.  He is the Founder & Principal Teacher of the Islamic Institute for Spiritual Formation in Toronto and the author of two books.

January 26: Canadian Jihadis

This lecture will examine why some Canadian Muslim youth travel abroad to join violent organizations, such as ISIS.  Also discussed will be the Canadian government’s attempts to understand what is happening and to stop the migration of new fighters.

 Amarnath Amarasingam is a Senior Research Fellow at the UK-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a Fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, and he co-directs a University of Waterloo-based study of Western foreign fighters.  He has written extensively on radicalization, terrorism, diaspora politics, and post-war reconstruction.


February 2: The Globalization of Addiction as Spiritual Crisis

Canadian psychologist Bruce Alexander defined the globalization of addiction as a result of widespread ‘poverty of the spirit’.  Meanwhile, Pope Francis defines the despair and unhappiness of modern society as a spiritual crisis.  This lecture will outline how each sees the suffering created by conditions in the modern world as a spiritual crisis.

David Seljak  (see above)


February 9:  What are They Saying about Jesus Today?

What is the latest research telling us about the historical Jesus?   What have we learned from recent discoveries in archaeology and developments in anthropology?  How do new ways of understanding Jesus help us to respond to questions of injustice today?

Alicia Batten, PhD, is an associate professor of Religious Studies and Theology at Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo.  Her research focuses on the New Testament and the social history of early Christianity.  She is also interested in the changing ways in which the Bible is interpreted through the centuries.


February 16: Women and the World’s Religions

What does gender mean for our experience of religion, and what does religion mean for our ideas about gender?  We will focus on both historical and contemporary issues within a number of the world’s religious traditions, such as Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.  These will include notions of inclusion and exclusion in rituals, leadership, and identity.

Doris Jakobsh is Professor in Religious Studies at the University of Waterloo.  She has published a number of books as author (e.g. Sikhism and Women) and edited a two-volume textbook on Eastern and Western Religions from a Canadian Perspective. She teaches extensively on wider issues surrounding religion and gender.