Lecture series goes virtual, draws major headliners


- Tara Sharpe

Edugyan (Credit: Tamara Poppitt Exclusive) and Chomsky (Credit: Uli Deck/dpa)

It occurred to UVic linguistics professor Martha McGinnis early in the pandemic that COVID-related closures might finally afford an opportunity to bring fellow linguist and renowned public activist Noam Chomsky to campus—at least virtually speaking.

Thanks to McGinnis, Chomsky who now lives in Arizona will present a free virtual talk next month for a series of talks which have been connected to UVic for the past two decades and were launched during the same period McGinnis attended MIT. She met with Chomsky every couple of weeks in the mid 1990s when he was on the dissertation committee for her PhD.

I always wanted to invite Noam Chomsky here, but it’s hard for him to travel to all the places people want him to travel to.
—Martha McGinnis, UVic linguistics professor and member of the JAH lecture series planning committee

As soon as McGinnis realized everyone was “connecting online through the pandemic,” she acted fast. As a result, Chomsky is presenting the third talk (Feb. 2 at 11 a.m.) in the long-running lecture series.

McGinnis has noted before that linguists aren't necessarily polyglots: “We study languages like scientists study bees; but it doesn't mean scientists fly like bees.” And Chomsky isn’t an expert in religion.

“But he is an expert on society,” McGinnis points out.

“And he’s very good at pinning down the clear-eyed view of what the real issues are that transcend the politics of the rhetoric.”

The 2020/21 lectures are exploring some of society’s most pressing questions about systemic racism, economic inequity and the climate crisis.

Annual series goes virtual

For more than two decades, the John Albert Hall lecture series, a joint initiative of UVic’s Centre for Studies in Religion and Society (CSRS) and the Anglican Diocese of Islands and Inlets of British Columbia, has featured prominent thinkers speaking on topics related to the changing role of religion in contemporary society.

And last year it was reinvented, like so much else right now, by going virtual.

Those of us on the planning committee spent plenty of time talking through how to continue a series that has brought some major public intellectuals to Victoria. We asked how we might survive a perfect storm while having a conversation about the storm itself. We wanted to bring people together to talk about how traditional religions, emergent spiritualities and other forms of imagination can inform conversations that seem more urgent now than ever.
UVic history and religious studies scholar Paul Bramadat, director of the CSRS and co-chair of the planning committee

The series, “Values for a New World,” runs through March 2021. It launched Dec. 3 with internationally acclaimed author and writing alumna Esi Edugyan (BA ’99) in conversation with Tim Lilburn, poet, essayist and faculty member of UVic’s Department of Writing. Nearly 400 people tuned in to the inaugural talk.

The prominent group of forthcoming speakers also includes public theologian Miroslav Volf from Yale University (Jan. 7); Canadian political scientist and well-known author Thomas Homer-Dixon (Feb. 23); and Linda Woodhead, professor of religion from Lancaster University (March 4). The series wraps up March 16 at 11 a.m. with a panel discussion of all five speakers, moderated by Bramadat.

McGinnis, who’s been on the series planning committee for more than two years, will be thrilled to see her wish fully realized on Feb. 2, with Chomsky presenting his talk to our local community – and well beyond. She adds, “His political talks tend to centre on common themes, with two recurring ones being the threat of climate change and the threat of nuclear war. He has always sounded the alarm on these things.”

Update: the Chomsky event on Feb. 2 set a record with just over 3,000 live participants and, two weeks later, almost 1,000 views on Vimeo with 1,500 more on YouTube and counting.

The event with Homer-Dixon is rescheduled to March 2. There are two more talks for the popular series this season: March 4 and 16.

Later in March, Chomsky will also present a live-streamed public Lansdowne Lecture on linguistics and cognitive science, sponsored by UVic’s Faculty of Humanities.

More on the annual series


In this story

Keywords: arts, Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, society, philosophy, climate, administrative

People: Paul Bramadat, Esi Edugyan, Martha McGinnis

Publication: The Ring

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