Lecture series


November 26, 2020, 1:30 PM EST (UTC -5).

Dr Florian Zemmin, Leipzig University, will speak on:

The Secular in Middle East and Islamicate History

Hosted on Zoom: https://mcgill.zoom.us/s/83909416415 Passcode 870227

The Keenan Chair of Interfaith Studies and the James McGill Professor of Islamic Philosophy are collaborating in a reflection on religion, Islam, and cosmopolitanism associated with McGill’s academic tradition of Islamic Studies, and epitomized by scholars such as Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Fazlur Rahman, and Toshihiko Izutsu. In preparation for the Keenan Conference on World Religions and Globalization, to be held in Montreal in Spring 2022, we are hosting an online lecture series titled ReOrienting the Global Study of Religion: History, Theory, and Society.

While the study of the Islamosphere has stimulated a critical reconceptualization of the notion of religion, we would like to extend this reflection to how religious concepts have been embedded in broader views of history and society, including the Western colonial construction of the “Middle East” as the cradle not just of Islam but of all Abrahamic religions. Some of the lectures will contribute to such reflections also through the foil of the interdisciplinary legacy of Ibn Khaldun, a champion of non-Western thought and precursor of social theory.

The second speaker in the series will be Florian Zemmin, Leipzig University. The title of the lecture, which will be followed by a Q&A, is The Secular in Middle East and Islamicate History. The lecture is based on a chapter that Dr Zemmin is contributing to The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of the Middle East in course of publication (both online and in print) with Oxford University Press, edited by Armando Salvatore, Sari Hanafi, and Kieko Obuse. Sari Hanafi will serve as a discussant of the lecture.

Abstract: Islam is all too frequently regarded as the other of secular (Western) modernity. Sometimes this perception extends to Middle Eastern societies, for which Islam allegedly plays a constitutive role. However, secularity, the difference between religion and the secular, has been shaping modern societies in the Middle East too. Moreover, recent scholarship has highlighted patterns of secularity both within modern Islamic thought and in Islamicate history.

The lecture first establishes the factual secularity of modern Middle Eastern societies, focusing on the relation between religion and politics. Moving from structures to ideas, it then shows how modern Islamic thought conceptualized secularity. Examples from Islamicate history will make clear that secularity in the Middle East was not the exclusive product of colonial modernity, but drew also on earlier distinctions between religion and the secular.

Florian Zemmin is Senior Researcher at the Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences “Multiple Secularities - Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities,” Leipzig University. He is the author of Modernity in Islamic Tradition. The Concept of ‘Society’ in the Journal al-Manar (Cairo, 1898–1940) (De Gruyter, 2018) and co-editor of Working with A Secular Age: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Charles Taylor's Master Narrative (De Gruyter, 2016) and Islam in der Moderne, Moderne im Islam. Eine Festschrift für Reinhard Schulze zum 65. Geburtstag (Brill, 2018).



Birks Annual Lecture Series

An annual series was established in 1950 through the generosity of the late William M. Birks. The lectures are given by distinguished visitors, usually in late September or early October. The first lecturer was the Right Reverend Leslie Hunter. More recent lecturers have included Huston Smith, Northrop Frye, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Gregory Baum, Jurgen Moltmann, Robert McFee Brown, Krister Stendahl, James Barr, Charles J. Adams, John H. Hick, Jon Levenson, David Little, Azim Nanji, Paul Griffiths, Bernadette J. Brooten, Harvey G. Cox, John S. Hawley, Gabriel Vahanian, Oliver O'Donovan, Jan Assmann, Donald Lopez, Rémi Brague, David Fergusson, John J. Collins, David Shulman, Talal Asad, Robert L. Wilken, Jens Schroter and Rachel Fell McDermott.

Public lecture, The Worlds that Translation Opens, by Professor Rachel Fell McDermott, Professor and Chair of the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures, Barnard College, Columbia University
Creating and Translating a Giant: The Curious Journeys of Omar Khayyam, Tuesday, October 8 at 5:30 p.m.
Translating and Creating a Genre: The Legacy of Muslim Devotional Singing in Two Bengals, Wednesday, October 9 at 5:30 p.m.


Public lecture, The Formation of the Christian Bible: Current Trends and New Perspectives, by Professor Jens Schoter, Chair of Exegesis and Theology of the New Testament and New Testament Apocrypha at the Humboldt-Universitat of Berlin
The Emergence of the New Testament Canon: "Canonical" and "Apocryphal" Writings in Early Christianity, Wednesday, September 26 at 5:30 p.m.
The Septuagint, Jewish Writings, and the 'Old Testament': Authoritative Writings in Second Temple Judaism and the Formation of the Christian Bible, Thursday, September 27 at 5:30 p.m.


Public lecture, Christian Origins of Religious Freedom, by Professor Robert Louis Wilken, Professor Emeritus of the History of Christianity, University of Virginia
Endowed with Freedom, Tuesday, October 3 at 5:30 p.m.
Liberty in the Things of God, Wednesday, October 4 at 5:30 p.m.


Public lecture by Professor Talal Asad, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center
Reflections on Secularization and Christianity, Tuesday, November 1 at 5:30 p.m.
Thinking about Translation, Paideia and Secularization, Wednesday, November 2 at 3:30 p.m.


Public lecture by Professor David Shulman, Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Kudiyattam: The Last Living Sanskrit Theater in the World, Tuesday, October 13
The Making of a Grisly Goddess, Wednesday, October 14
Poster; link to youtube video of October 13 lecture; link to youtube video of October 14 lecture.


Public lecture by Professor John J. Collins, Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation, Yale Divinity School
Torah and Jewish Identity in Second Temple Judaism, Tuesday, October 21
Non-Mosaid forms of Judaism in the Second Temple Period, Wednesday, October 22
Poster; link to youtube video of October 21 lecture; link to youtube video of October 22 lecture


Public lecture by Professor David Fergusson, October 15 and 16
The Theology of Providence: Perspectives and Problems
View video recording of the two lectures: Providence in Christian Tradition: theoretical and practical challenges; Re-envisioning Providence Today


Public lecture by Professor Rémi Brague, October 9
The Question Atheism Can't Answer; Remi Brague at McGill; youtube


Public lecture series given by Professor Donald Lopez, September 26 and 27
Buddhism among the Religions


Public lectures by Professor Jan Assmann, October 12 and 13
Lecture audio podcast: October 12; October 13


Public Lecture by Dr. Olivier O'Donovan, October 14 and 15
Faith and Society

G. Campbell Wadsworth Lectures

The G. Campbell Wadsworth memorial Lecture series was established in 1997 by the Estate of Dr. G. Campbell Wadsworth. A series of lectures on the life and works of John Calvin is organized on a bi-annual basis. The first G. Campbell Wadsworth memorial Lecture was presented by Professor Alan J. Torrance; the second, by Professor Colin Gunton; the third by Professor John Webster; the fourth by Professor Joan Lockwood O'Donovan.

Reverend Wadsworth was Minister of the Montreal West United Church for many years, a keen student of the history and doctrine of the Reformation, and an active member of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.


Wadsworth Memorial Calvin Lecture by Dr. Richard Rex, September 9
The Reformation in England and France: Tales of the Unexpected


Wadsworth Memorial Calvin Lecture by Dr. Elsie McKee, March 21
Calvin the Biblical Theologian


Wadsworth Memorial Calvin Lecture by Professor Bruce Gordon, February 15
Scripture and Church: Calvin, Servetus and Castellio


Public Lecture by Dr. Joan Lockwood O'Donovan, October 13
Faith and Society: Human Dignity and Human Justice

Islamic Encounters Series


Repoliticizing the Silk Road: China in Islamic Political Thought Geographical Imagination, by Dr. Kaveh Hemmat, Benedictine University.

Women of the Empire from Zoroastrianism to Islam, by Dr. Fatemeh Sadeghi, McGill University.

The Problem of 'Human Natue' in Greek and Islamic Thought, by Dr. Michael Nafi, John Abbott College.

In the Aftermath of the Revolution: Islam, Translation, and the 'Outside', by Dr. Milad Odabaei, McGill University.

Dreaming at the Threshold of the Law: An Islamic Liturgy of of Healing, by Dr. Stefania Pandolfo, University of California, Berkeley.

Magic of Warlords: Imperial Occult Science in the Early Modern Persian Cosmopolis, by Dr. Matthew Melvin-Koushki, University of South Carolina.

Muslim Initiatives in International Interreligious Dialogue, Dr. Patrice Brodeur, Université de Montréal.


Islam, Science and the Gender of Reason, by Dr. Alireza Doostdar, University of Chicago.

Rethinking the Jewish-Muslim Past in the Twentieth Century Maghrib through music, by Dr. Christopher Silver, McGill University.

For Love of the Prophet: The Art of Islamic State-Making in Sudan, by Dr. Noah Salomon, Carleton College.

New perspectives on Christian philosophers in medieval Islamic Baghdad, by Dr. Damien Janos, Université de Montréal and Dr. Robert Wisnovsky, McGill University.

Mawlana Rumi's Spiritual Legacy within World Civilizations, by Dr. Bilal Kuspinar, Necmettin Ebakan University, Turkey.

Miraly Pluralism Lecture Series

Established in 2019 in support of a Lecture Series to explore issues of pluralism and diversity in secular societies. It will provide an opportunity for international scholar to engage in and develop studies and dialogue in Religious Studies and Arts, and may also draw on other disciplines, such as Law, Medicine, as appropriate in the thematic of a given year.

Religion, Politics, and Society Lecture Series

Public lecture by Professor Ateş Altinordu, Sabanci University, Istanbul. Politics and Unbelief in Turkey. Friday, May 17, 2019 from 10:00–11:30.

Public lecture by Professor Ateş Altinordu, Sabanci University, Istanbul.
The Political Incorporation of Anti-System Religious Parties: The Case of Turkish Political Islam. Wednesday, November 16, 2016 from 11:30–13:00.

ReOrienting the Global Study of Religion


Upcoming lectures

November 26, 2020

01:30 PM Eastern Time (UTC-5)

Title: The Secular in Middle East and Islamicate History

Speaker: Florian Zemmin, University of Leipzig


January 7, 2021

01:30 PM Eastern Time (UTC-5)

Speaker: Dyala Hamzah, Université de Montréal

Title: Nineteenth-Century Sufis, Statesmen and Salafis on Ibn Khaldun


Past lecture

October 28, 2020

01:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Speaker: Fitzroy Morrissey, All Souls College, University of Oxford

Title: Ibn Khaldūn on Sufism: Mysticism through the Lens of History, Philosophy, and Law


The nature of Ibn Khaldun’s relationship to Sufism, the mystical dimension of Islam, is a complex and much-debated issue. The great North African historian and philosopher of history has variously been described as a critic of the Sufis, an admirer of Sufism, or even a Sufi himself. Through a close look at Ibn Khaldun’s discussion of Sufism in the Muqaddimah and other relevant sources, this talk aims to shed further light on the issue.

Placing Ibn Khaldun’s treatment of Sufism in the context of his wider intellectual project, we shall consider how his views on Sufism tie into his famous philosophy of history and other essential aspects of his thought. In this way, the talk aims to elucidate not only Ibn Khaldun’s relationship to mysticism, but also his thought more generally.

Fitzroy Morrissey is a Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford. A specialist in Sufism and Islamic intellectual history, he is the author of Sufism and the Perfect Human (Routledge, 2020) and Sufism and the Scriptures (I.B. Tauris, forthcoming).

Video; Poster

Registration form

Seymour David Steinman Memorial Lecture


Established in 2019, in memory of Seymour David Stienman, BA 1959, BCL 1964 to establish and annual lecture series. The annual Lectures will focus on comtemporary social and moral/ethical problems that fall within the intersection of the following disciplines and fields: religious studies, ethics, law, politics, and public policy.

The first lectures series took place in the Fall 2019, From Hate to Tolerance: The Prevention of Extremism, Violence, Anti-Semitism & Religious Discrimination; Video, Poster

South Asian Religions Distinguished Lectureship

The South Asian Religions Distinguished Lectureship was established in 2009 to complement the strong undergraduate and graduate programs on South Asia in the School of Religious Studies at McGill, and to encourage public understanding of South Asian religions. It has been made possible through the generosity of Professor Robert Stevenson, Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill from 1966 to 1991.


Emilia Bachrach, Assistant Professor of Religion, Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies, Oberlin Colgate and Conservatory, Thursday, April 26, 2018 at 4:00 p.m. Birks Heritage Chapel, 3520 University Street, 2nd Floor.
Religious Reading and Women's Leadership in Contemporary Western India


Padma Kaimal, Professor of Art and Art History, Colgate University, Friday, March 20, 2015 at 5:30 p.m. Birks Heritage Chapel, 3520 University Street, 2nd Floor.
Scattered Goddesses: Travels with the Yoginis

Rachel Dwyer, Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema, SOAS, University of London, Friday, March 28
Remover of Obstacles: The Persistence of the Mythological Genre in Hindi Cinema


Joanne Punzo Waghorne, Professor of Religion, Syracuse University, Friday, March 9
Gods in the High-Rise: Hindu Gurus About it All


Sumathi Ramaswamy, Professor of History, Duke University, Friday, March 11
A Historian Among the Goddesses of Modern India; Brochure


Philip Lutgendorf Professor of Hindi and Modern Indian Studies, University of Iowa, Friday, March 5
Mira: Cinematic Citations of a Radical Woman Saint

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