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Public Lectures

Canadian Mennonite University presents a number of annual lecture series, including:


The J.J. Thiessen Lectures

Founded in 1978 by Canadian Mennonite Bible College, the J. J. Thiessen Lectures are named in honour of a founder and long-time chairperson of the CMBC Board. The lectures seek to bring to the Canadian Mennonite University community something of his breadth of vision for the church.


Crude Awakenings: The Faith, Politics, and Crises of Oil in America’s Century

October 20-21, 2015
with Dr. Darren Dochuk, Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame

Oil has always enchanted Americans, and inspired them to think about their society’s future in sacred terms. Extracted from the earth in mysterious ways, often with the help of spiritualist devices and prayer, oil was at its origins imagined as the divinely sanctioned lifeblood of a modernizing nation. America’s powerbrokers and rank-and-file together ascribed a special status to this abundant material, and in turn used its wealth to construct and legitimate imposing corporate and church institutions, missionary organizations, and an expansive petro-state. Indeed, the concept of the “American Century,” commonly used to describe this nation’s hundred-year ascendancy, is itself a product of petroleum and religion’s arresting reciprocity. When missionary son and magazine publisher Henry Luce coined the term in 1941, he did so fully aware of how his fellow citizens drew special assurance from oil’s seemingly divine potentials, and attached them to a politics of exceptionalism. Luce also knew that as much as oil was America’s blessing and the source of its leadership in the world, it was also a burden that came with costs to the nation and its people, and the land they inhabited. 

Following Luce’s lead, but with an eye to wider and longer trends, and a continental terrain centered by the United States but also encompassing Canada, these lectures will explore some of the ways that religion and oil together shaped existence for modern North Americans at the moment of their heightening authority in the twentieth century. It will pay particular attention to evangelical Protestants who, in disproportionate degrees, inhabited and worked America’s oil patches, weathered the violent disruptions of life on these boom-bust terrains, and theologized and politicized their encounter with soil and its subsurface wealth and all that this seemed to promise them, on earth and in heaven. Each of the three lectures will focus on a particularly momentous flashpoint in the life of North American oil and evangelicalism and pause for reflection on what this moment meant long-term for matters of faith and society in the twentieth century. In the process of tracking the chronology of God and black gold in the modern era, the lectures will also raise questions and curiosities pertaining to evangelicalism’s relationship to capitalism and globalization, energy and environment, notions of time and broad interests in politics.

♦ Lecture One – Blood of the Earth: Evangelicalism's First Encounters with Black Gold

Tuesday, October 20 (11:00 AM, CMU Chapel, 600 Shaftesbury Blvd.)

This lecture will explore the earliest rumblings of oil in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and follow the journeys of some of petroleum’s first wildcatters—those who chased subsurface wealth from western Pennsylvania to Texas and Southern California, Southern Ontario to Russia and Indonesia. Drawing on the illustrative life stories of oil titans like Lyman Stewart and Lady Dundonald and diaries of oil drillers who left their farms in Ontario to travel to oil patches around the world, we will explore the relationship of evangelical Protestantism to processes of resource extraction and economic progress, modern technologies, and mechanisms of a new capitalism. With special focus on Lyman Stewart, it will also consider the effects of these dynamics on the “fight for the fundamentals,” struggles between competing theologies and economic outlooks, and theologically informed corporate leaders, that ruptured Protestantism and petroleum in the first decades of the twentieth century.         

♦ Lecture Two – Carbon Democracies: World Wars and the Rise of Wildcat Christianity

Tuesday, October 20 (7:30 PM, CMU Chapel, 600 Shaftesbury Blvd.)

This lecture will chart the rise of the North American West’s independent oil companies and the philosophy of wildcat Christianity, which gained traction amid the crises of the Depression, World War II, and early Cold War. Its purview will be wide, and offer a glimpse at the range of ambitions that shaped large oil companies (those with Rockefeller connections, for instance) as they expanded into the Middle East, South America, and other oil zones of the world. Henry Luce’s charge for American oilmen to take the lead in spreading Christian democracy was but one manifestation of this confidence. But the lecture will focus particularly on the coalescence of evangelical-minded citizens, church leaders, and politicians such as evangelist Billy Graham and Alberta Premier Ernest Manning, all of whom occupied the oil-rich areas of Alberta and the American Southwest, and grew close in their transnational understanding of region and environment, imperatives for evangelization and urgencies of time, and quest to advance their own sense of Christian democracy before their dispensation of abundance expired.      

♦ Lecture Three – Power Shifts: Fuel and Family Values in the Age of Evangelicalism

Wednesday, October 21 (11:00 AM, CMU Chapel, 600 Shaftesbury Blvd.)

Moving through the heart of the 1960s and 1970s, with some conclusions in our current moment, this lecture will track the final steps that oil patch evangelicals followed to gain political power. Tapping the behind-the-scenes activities of men like Ernest Manning, Billy Graham, and J. Howard Pew, whose work helped bring to fruition such momentous petroleum ventures as the Great Canadian Oil Sands in Fort McMurray, Alberta, it will revaluate the “culture wars” of the period as a struggle between competing visions of fuel as well as family values. Much has been written, of course, about the conservative-liberal tensions that sparked these culture wars and led to the Republican Right’s capture of the White House in 1980. In this closing talk, we will fold issues of energy and environmentalism into the mix, measure evangelicalism’s abiding connections to the oil sector and their impact on the religious movement’s political success, and revisit the Reagan Revolution as a process long in the making and still much in effect. The lecture will conclude with a glimpse at more recent manifestations of evangelicalism’s relationship to crude oil, and the internal and external pressures of a new generation that have begun to undermine it in this new millennium, with America’s Century now past. 


Previous J.J. Thiessen Lectures

Past annual J.J. Thiessen Lectures published by CMU Press.

2014: Dr. John Swinton, Professor and Chair in Divinity and Religious Studies, University of Aberdeen, Scotland
Topic: Becoming Friends of Time: Disability, Timefulness and Gentle Discipleship

2013: Dr. P. Travis Kroeker, Professor of Religious Studies, McMaster University
Topic: Mennonites and Mammon: Economies of Desire in a Post-Christian World

2012: Dr. Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Helen H. P. Manson Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Princeton Theological Seminary
Topic: From Powerlessness to Praise in Paul's Letter to the Romans

2011: Dr. Peter Widdicombe, McMaster University
Topic: Scripture and the Christian Imagination: Text, Doctrine, and Artistic Representation in the Early Church and Beyond

2010: Dr. Belden Lane, Saint Louis University 
Topic: From Desert Christians to Mountain Refugees: Fierce Landscapes and Counter-Cultural Spirituality

2009: Dr. Peter Ochs, Edgar Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies, University of Virginia
Topic: The Free Church and Israel's Covenant

2008: Dr. Mark Noll, Professor of History, University of Notre Dame
Topic: A Yankee Looks North: Toward an Appreciation and Assessment of the History of Christianity in Canada.

2007: Dr. Ellen Davis, Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, Duke Divinity School
Topic: Live Long on the Land: Food and Farming from a Biblical Perspective.

2006: Dr. Joel J. Shuman, King's College, Wilkes-Barre, PA
Topic: To Live is to Worship: Bioethics and the Body of Christ

2005: Dr. Paul J. Griffiths, Schmitt Professor of Catholic Studies at University of Illinois at Chicago
Topic: The Vice of Curiosity: Towards a Theology of Intellectual Appetite

2000: Dr. William P. Brown, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary
Topic: God and the Imagination: A Primer to Reading the Psalms in an Age of Pluralism

1999: Dr. T.D. Regehr, Professor of History, University of Saskatchewan
Topic: Peace, Order & Good Government: Mennonites & Politics in Canada

1998: Dr. Eugene H. Peterson, Professor of Spiritual Theology, Regent College
Topic: Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places

1997: Dr. Richard B. Hayes, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament, Duke Divinity School
Topic: New Testament Ethics: The Story Retold

1993: Dr. Phyllis A. Bird, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Topic: Feminism and the Bible

1990: Dr. Werner O. Packull, Mennonite Archives of Ontario, Conrad Grabel University College
Topic: Rereading Anabaptist Beginnings


Proclaiming the Claims of Christ Lecture Series

This lecture series has been offered at CMU since 2007. The series addresses the various dimensions of Christian apologetics (theory, evangelism, Gospel and society, singularity of Christ in a multi-cultural context, etc.).


Previous Lectures

Click to listen to audio recordings of past Proclaiming the Claims of Christ Lecture Series.

2011: Cancelled

2012: The Unique Gift of Christ, Dr. Benne Jordan-Trexler Professor of Relgion Emeritus and Director of the Center for Religion and Society at Roanoke College, Salem, Virginia.

2010: Proclaiming the Unique Claims of Christ; Negotiating the Christian-Muslim Interface

2009: Being a Christian in the public media, radio broadcaster, and media commentator Michael Coren

2008: Proclaiming Christ in a Post-Christian World, John Stackhouse, Regent College. 

2007: Joe Boot, evangelist, apologist, author and the executive director of Ravi Zacharias Ministries in Canada.


John and Margaret Friesen Lectures

The John and Margaret Friesen Lectures in Anabaptist/Mennonite Studies are co-sponsored by Canadian Mennonite University, the Mennonite Heritage Centre, and the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies. The inaugural lectures in November 2002 were delivered by Dr. Abraham Friesen (Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara), the generous donor who initiated the lecture series.


'Come Watch This Spider’: Animals, Mennonites and the Modern World

Dr. Royden Loewen, Chair in Mennonite Studies and Professor of History at the University of Winnipeg

This lecture considers how Mennonites have imagined the animal kingdom over the last 150 years. It focuses in particular on the ethical dimensions of animal-human relations among Canadian Mennonites. Often overlooked, their rich literary traditions are filled with references to inter-species relationships. Their diaries, memoirs, and novels suggest a relationship that changed significantly over time. A fundamental respect for the animal during pre-industrial times of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was followed by an objectification and commodification of the animal during the mid to late 20th century as Mennonites embraced the 'modern' world. By the turn of the 20th century some writers from the edges of Mennonite society began to confront the very idea of animal subjugation. By writing the animal into the history of Canadian Mennonites, a fuller understanding of the nature of modern world can be achieved. To study animal-human relations is also to study human history more fully.

All are welcome and admission is free.

Reception to follow.

Date: Tuesday March 17, 7:00 PM
Location: Marpeck Commons (2299 Grant Ave.)

news release

Previous Lectures

2009: Mennonite Women in Canadian History: Birth, Food, and War
Lecturer: Marlene Epp of Conrad Grebel University College.

2008: Church and ethnicity: The Mennonite Experience in Paraguay
Lecturer: Alfred Neufeld, Dean of the School of Theology of the Protestant University of Paraguay.

2007: Mennonite Identity in the 21st Century
Lecturer: John D. Roth.

2006: Sacred Spaces, Sacred Places: Mennonite Architecture in Russia and Canada
Presenters: Rudy Friesen, Harold Funk, Roland Sawatsky.

2005: Recovering A Heritage: The Mennonite Experience in Poland and Prussia
Peter Klassen, Professor Emeritus of History, California State University, Fresno.


Winter Lecture Series

The CMU Winter Lectures is an annual public lecture series that seeks to highlight the arts, science, humanities, and interdisciplinary studies at CMU and to foster dialogue between these disciplines and the Christian faith.

Previous Lectures

Click to listen to audio recordings of past Winter Lecture Series.

2012 and 2013: Cancelled

January 25-26, 2011: Dr. Romand Coles, McAllister Chair in Community, Culture, & Environment at Northern Arizona University. Resonance, Receptivity and Radical Reformation

January 26-27, 2010: Vern Redekop, Associate Professor of Conflict Studies at Saint Paul University in Ottawa. Topic: Paradoxes of Reconciliation

January 26-27, 2009: Dr. Norman Wirzba, Research Professor of Theology, Ecology and Rural Life, Duke Divinity School. Topic: Placing Our Faith in a Placeless World?

January 29-30, 2008: Erica Grimm Vance, Assistant Professor and Visual Arts Coordinator, Trinity Western University. Topic: Art, Beauty and Christian Theology.

2007: Robert Russell, Professor of Theology and Science, Graduate Theological Union, and Director for the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. Topic: Cosmology, Evolution and Resurrection Hope.

January 30-31 2006: Alvin Dueck, Evelyn and Frank Freed Professor of the Integration of Psychology and Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary—Topic: Psychology and Theology.


Rev. Dr. David Widdicombe Lecture

To Sow the Wind: An Argument Against the War on Terror and Other Bad Ideas
Just War theory has received a lot of attention in recent times but the results have been mixed. It is no longer a tradition of thought designed to place strict restraints upon the use of force in the necessary use of force in restraint of evil. Under the pressure of humanitarian interventionism, theories that democracies do not fight wars against each other, American (and Western) exceptionalism, supposed states of emergency, and other ideological adventures upon the turbulent seas of the international order, the tradition has lost its profound Augustinian political skepticism and moral realism. This lecture will ask whether the restraint of force wasn't always a better (foundational) idea than the pursuit of justice in the just war tradition, a tradition that once thought war tragically endemic and sometimes justified, but never simply unambiguously just.

Rev. Dr. Widdicombe is the Rector of Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church in Winnipeg.

Date: Thursday, February 26, 7:00 PM–8:30 PM
Location: Marpeck Commons, 2299 Grant Ave. 

news release

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