Bridging the Religious Divide

2015 Our Whole Society

Date: March 22-24, 2015

Location: 800 Robson Street, UBC Robson Square

About this event

What does it mean to build a “whole society”? What is the purpose of secularism, and what are its limits? How can we re-conceptualize the role of religion in Canadian public life? What is the role of religion and spirituality in cultural reconciliation?

We invite you to join us and our distinguished speakers, moderators, and guests as we explore these and other timely questions at our second annual conference, following on “Bridging the Secular Divide: Religion and Canadian Public Discourse,” held at McGill University in 2013. “Our Whole Society” is sponsored by The Laurier Institution and organized by a national inter-faith leadership committee. It will take place from March 22-24, 2015, at the University of British Columbia’s Robson Square complex in downtown Vancouver.

Read the Our Whole Society concept paper for a fuller exploration of the conference’s theme.



Dr. John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College

Douglas Todd, award-winning journalist at the Vancouver Sun

Dr. Marie Wilson, Commissioner with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Dr. Clifford Orwin, Professor of Jewish political thought at the University of Toronto

Doug White, Director, Center for Pre-Confederation Treaties and Reconciliation, Vancouver Island University Former Chief, Snuneymuxw First Nation

Ranno Dr Lisa Grushcow, Senior Rabbi, Template Emanu-Ei-Beth Sholom, Montreal

Balpreet Singh Bopari, Legal Counsel World Sikh Organization of Canada



SUNDAY, March 22, 2015

Time: 7:00-7:30pm
Session: Opening
Description: Conference welcome

  • The Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton – General-Secretary, Canadian Council of Churches
  • Farid Rohani – Chair, The Laurier Institution

Time: 7:30-9:00pm
Description: Reconciling religion, secularism and the common good
Religion and secularism are often spoken about as a dichotomy. For instance, one is religious or one is secular, or the secular is public and the religious is private. But how do we define secularism and the secular? Is it possible to reconcile religion and secularism? Are there limits to secularism? What does religion contribute to the common good? How might we re-conceptualize the role of religion in Canadian public life?

  • Chair: Farid Rohani – Chair, The Laurier Institution
  • Speaker: Prof. John G. Stackhouse – Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology and Culture, Regent College
  • Speaker: Rabbi Dr. Lisa Grushcow – Senior Rabbi, Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, Montreal


Time: 9:00-9:30am
Session: Multi-faith prayers
Description: Opening, Welcome and outline vision of the conference

  • The Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton – Chair, Conference Steering Committee
  • Geoffrey Cameron – Chair, Conference Program Committee

Time: 9:30-10:45am
Session: PLENARY 1: Building our whole society
Description: From its inception as a country, Canada been made up of diverse peoples, cultures and religions. The process of building relations and understanding between Aboriginal and settler, French and English, newcomer and native-born, are at the heart of our collective narrative. Religion and spiritual diversity has also been a part of this story. How can religion and spirituality inform this process of building unity amidst diversity? What does religion offer to the promotion of reconciliation and mutual understanding amongst Canada’s diverse population?

  • Chair: Bruce Clemenger – President, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
  • Speaker: Dr. Marie Wilson – Commissioner, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
  • Speaker: Rabbi Dr. Yosef Wosk – former Director, Interdisciplinary Programs, Department of Continuing Studies, Simon Fraser University.
  • Speaker: The Rev Dr. James Christie – Professor of Whole World Ecumenism and Dialogue Theology, University of Winnipeg


Time: 11:15-12:30pm
Session: WORKSHOP 1.1: Youth and the spirit of social change
Description: Youth are often at the forefront of movements for social change. How do young people think about the relationship between their views on moral, ethical and spiritual issues and their motivation to contribute to social change? What is the connection between their beliefs and actions? What does it take to motivate and inspire youth to contribute to the betterment of the world?

  • Facilitator: Salima Ebrahim – Board member, Inspirit Foundation; Executive Director, Banff Forum
  • Speaker: Eric Farr – Inspirit Foundation
  • Speaker: Christine Boyle – Director, Spirited Social Change


Session: WORKSHOP 1.2: Walking the path of reconciliation
Description:  Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has helped to promote a national conversation about how to reckon with the past and build a common future together. How do we promote mutual respect and understanding between Canada’s Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people? How can we overcome the negative forces of paternalism and prejudice? What changes do we need to make to the structures of governance and the use of material resources in order to redress past injustices and social inequalities? These are questions that we ask ourselves as citizens of a country that seeks reconciliation.

  • Facilitator: George E. Lafond – Treaty Commissioner, Saskatchewan
  • Speaker: Jessica Bolduc – Coordinator, 4Rs Initiative
  • Speaker: Sukhvinder Vinning – Through Our Eyes Project


Time: 1:30-2:45pm
Session: PLENARY 2: Religious pluralism in a secular society
Description: It is often assumed that a secular society has no need for religion in its public affairs, and that faith ought to be left to the private lives of individuals. And yet, Canadian public discourse is increasingly preoccupied with the role of religion in society. Can we have a public sphere that leaves room for religious language or symbols? How do we avoid creating barriers to participation in Canadian society that divide people and generate resentment and hostility? How can we create appropriate space for religion in public discourse, in a society that is increasingly diverse?

  • Chair: Salima Ebrahim – Board member, Inspirit Foundation; Executive Director, Banff Forum
  • Speaker: Balpreet Singh – Legal Counsel, World Sikh Organization – Canada
  • Speaker: Prof. Shawn Flynn – Assistant Professor of Religion and Theology; Director of Theology Programs, St Mark’s College (TBC)
  • Speaker: Prof. Paul Bramadat – Director, Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, University of Victoria


Time: 3:00-4:15am
Session: WORKSHOP 2.1: Building community in our cities
Description: More than 80% of Canadians live in cities, and 35% live in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Our cities are incredibly diverse. What can we learn from initiatives aimed at building community in our cities? How do we avoid social separation and inward-looking communities, so that everyone is participating in the life of society? What are religious communities learning about promoting good citizenship?

  • Facilitator: TBC
  • Speaker: Ginger Gosnell-Myers – Board member, Inspirit Foundation; Aboriginal City Planner, City of Vancouver
  • Speaker: Naveen Girn – Board member, Laurier Institution; Project manager, 100th anniversary of the Komagata Maru


Session: WORKSHOP 2.2: The value and limits of religious accommodation
Description: Debates over ‘reasonable accommodation’ have raised questions about the extent of religious toleration in Canadian society. What is the value of religious accommodation, in a society as diverse as ours? What are its limits? How should these limits be justified?
Facilitator: The Hon. Victor Goldbloom – Former CEO, Canadian Council of Christians and Jews; former Commissioner of Official Languages

  • Speaker: Balpreet Singh – Legal Counsel, World Sikh Organization – Canada
  • Speaker: Anita Bromberg – Executive Director, Canadian Race Relations Foundation


Time: 4:30-6:00pm
Session: PLENARY 3: The challenge of the ‘post-secular’ in Canada
Description:  Jürgen Habermas describes the persistence of religious belief and communities as signifying a ‘post-secular society’. The persistence of religion in advanced modern societies challenges citizens of different religious and secular backgrounds to communicate in new ways. How can we learn to talk together about the issues of the day without marginalizing religious or secular voices?

  • Chair: The Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton – General Secretary, Canadian Council of Churches
  • Speaker: Prof. Clifford Orwin – Professor of Political Science, Classics and Jewish Studies, University of Toronto; distinguished
  • fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
  • Speaker: Dr. Andrew Bennett – Canadian Ambassador of Religious Freedom


Time: 8:30-9:00am
Session: Multifaith Prayers – Opening
Description: Welcome and overview of the second day of the conference

  • The Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton – Chair, Conference Steering Committee
  • Geoffrey Cameron – Chair, Conference Program Committee

Time: 9:00-10:15am
Session: PLENARY 4: Secularism in Canada: Freedom of religion, or freedom from religion?
Description: Secularism promotes peaceful coexistence by ensuring that no religious group dominates civic affairs, and it safeguards religion from government interference. What does secularism look like in Canada? What are the benefits and limits of secularism, and its relationship to religious freedom? How do we navigate these limits to promote a more vibrant society and engaged citizenry?

  • Chair: Prof. Kevin Flatt – Associate Professor of History,
  • Director of Research, Redeemer University College (TBC)
  • Speaker: Doug Todd – Award-winning writer on ethics, spirituality and diversity, Vancouver Sun
  • Speaker: Dr. Paul Marshall – Senior Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute
  • Speaker: Alia Hogben – Executive Director, Canadian Council of Muslim Women


Time: 10:30-11:45am
Session: WORKSHOP 4.1: Religion and the Canadian newsroom
Description: Canada’s media landscape is undergoing rapid change, and so is the coverage of religion. Are journalists sufficiently ‘literate’ in religion? How does religion, and religious diversity get represented in the press? How are religious communities using (new and old) media to enter the public sphere?
Facilitator: Dr. Jack Jedwab – Executive Vice-President, Association for Canadian Studies and Canadian Institute for Identities and Migration

  • Speaker: Doug Todd – Award-winning writer on ethics, spirituality and diversity, Vancouver Sun
  • Speaker: Dr. Suresh Kurl – Columnist


Session: WORKSHOP 4.2: Religious freedom in a secular society: The way forward
Description: The concept of religious freedom has been central to the development of modern democratic societies, and yet it continues to be a lightning rod for public debate. How can we introduce more civility and mutual respect into these debates? Are there perspectives that can be reconciled?

  • Facilitator: Prof. John Dyck – Assistant Professor of Political Studies, Trinity Western University
  • Speaker: Alia Hogben – Executive Director, Canadian Council of Muslim Women
  • Speaker: Dr. Gerald Filson – Director of Public Affairs, Baha’i Community of Canada; Chair, Canadian Interfaith Conversation


Time: 1:00-2:15pm
Session: PLENARY 5: The future of interfaith in Canada
Description: The interfaith movement in Canada has deep roots at the local and provincial levels, but it has been more modest in its achievements at the national level. Why is this the case? Is the framework of ‘interfaith dialogue’ still relevant to the needs of Canadian society? Do we need to have a new conversation about the role of religion in society? What would this look like?

  • Chair: Aileen Van Ginkel – Vice-President, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
  • Speaker: Andrea Nemtin – CEO, Inspirit Foundation
  • Speaker: Imam Dr. Zijad Delic – Author, Canadian Islam: Belonging and Loyalty
  • Speaker: Rabbi Dr. Robert Daum – Advisor, UBC Office of Vice President, Students; Board member, Laurier Institution



Time: 2:30-3:45pm
Session: WORKSHOP 5.1: Doing interfaith in a secular age
Description: Our secular age, as Charles Taylor describes it, is one where religion is optional – it is no longer assumed that one is or ought to be religious. Our perspective and concerns become limited to the world as we observe it. How can interfaith dialogue get out of this ‘immanent’ frame to bring back the language of the spiritual and the sacred to public discourse? How do secular perspectives get incorporated into interfaith dialogue?

  • Facilitator: Dr. Harry O. Maier – Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Studies, Vancouver School of Theology (TBC)
  • Speaker: Jordana Shani – Managing Director, Hillel BC
  • Speaker: Dr. Justin K.H. Tse – SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington


Session: WORKSHOP 5.2: Interfaith in action: Working for social justice
Description: The goal of social justice is one pursued by religious and secular organizations alike. How are their approaches to social justice different? How are they alike? What opportunities are there for collaboration across religious-secular lines?

  • Facilitator: Danny Richmond – Project Manager, Inspirit Foundation
  • Speaker: Prof. Ronald A. Kuipers – Director, Centre for Philosophy Religion and Social Ethics, Institute for Christian Studies
  • Speaker: Gugan Sidhu – Abbotsford Community Services


Time: 4:00-5:00pm
Session: PLENARY 6: Recognizing our oneness: Reconciliation as the challenge of our time

  • Chair: Prof. Paul Rowe – Associate Professor and Coordinator of Political and International Studies, Trinity Western University
  • Speaker: Doug White – Interim Director, Centre for Pre-Confederation Treaties and Reconciliation, Vancouver Island University

Closing remarks

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