May 16th, 2012 | Posted by: Chris Stedman
Hey there! Sorry for being a bit absent lately, but things have been very busy — the academic year is wrapping up at Harvard and we’re gearing up for a big summer, planning and preparing for a year unlike any we’ve seen before. In addition to all that, I just submitted my final line edits for Faitheist to Beacon Press! So this post got slightly delayed in the hubbub of a busy month.
Last month I visited Australia for nearly 2 weeks of speaking engagements, timed to coincide with the Global Atheist Convention (the largest atheist conference ever)… and man, was I busy! I went from Sydney to Canberra to Melbourne and was scheduled with obligations for most of the trip — in fact, I was so booked that I didn’t even get to see a koala, kangaroo, platypus, or Natalie Imbruglia! (I made this joke a couple of times during my visit, but Australians didn’t seem to find it so funny. What they didn’t realize is that I was only half-joking about wanting to see Natalie Imbruglia. I mean c’mon, I grew up in the 90s! This is how I feel…)
Okay, all jokes aside, I had an amazing time in Oz. It was an incredible opportunity to travel around the world’s largest island / smallest continent, meet and learn from so many different people, and discuss how the intersection of interfaith and atheism plays out down under. I still have many thoughts about the trip, which I may try to distill further at some point down the road, but here’s a roundup of what went down (along with some media).
Before I go on, I need to give a huge shoutout and express my heartfelt gratitude to all of the wonderful folks the Rationalist Society of Australia, InterAction, Humanist Society of Victoria, Global Atheist Convention, Atheist Foundation of Australia, Freethought Student Alliance, and Embiggen Books, all of whom made it possible for me to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Road Less Traveled Panel with PZ Myers & Leslie Cannold
(Global Atheist Convention Official Finge event)
This panel discussion on whether atheists and the religious can work together for the common good – a conversation between me, hugely popular atheist blogger PZ Myers, and Australian public intellectual Leslie Cannold – was perhaps the most anticipated part of my Australian itinerary. It was talked up in the blogosphere as a ‘showdown’ between me and PZ (here’s PZ himself framing it as such).
Despite that hype, I think it ended up being a pretty insightful chat. But I know a lot of people want to listen to hear what went down when the moderator (Meredith Doig) asked PZ and I about how PZ has called me things like a “soppy interfaith wanker” (among other, erm, pleasantries) on his blog, how I responded when he said I “sucked,” or what happened when I challenged PZ directly about whether his characterizations of interfaith are based in any kind of actual experience or observation. So whether you want to listen for the thoughtful discussion, or for the moments that got the audience all riled up… You can stream or download the audio below on soundcloud, or here on the Rationalist Society of Australia’s website. Rumor has it that video from this event will eventually see the light of day, too.
Anyway, I strongly encourage you to listen to the audio above! All in all, I really enjoyed this event — I confess I had been a bit nervous as I’m still pretty new at all of this and it was my first public discussion with someone who has been extremely critical of my work (and critical of me as a person, too), but I had fun with it and I really appreciated the opportunity to have a, y’know… dialogue.
Update: Video from the event has gone online. It is embedded below, in case you skeptics wanted proof that we were actually all under the same roof. Also, now you can see that I wore my best tie and that I gesture with my hands a lot when speaking.
Wheeler Centre speech (Global Atheist Convention Official Fringe event)
I loved speaking at the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing, and Ideas as a part of their awesome Lunchbox/Sopabox speaker series. For this event, which was also a part of the Global Atheist Convention’s official Fringe lineup, I was asked to talk for exactly 20 minutes (as opposed to my usual 45 or so). This challenged me to really get my ideas across in a condensed, concise way. (I find that very difficult! haha) I really enjoyed myself — there were some great questions during the Q&A and meaningful discussion after. In addition to streaming the video above, you can also download the audio here (to save the file, hit control and click, then select save) or the video here (do the same).
I did a few other speaking engagements while down under. I spoke at the first conference for the Freethought Student Alliance who (much like the Secular Student Alliance or the Center for Inquiry On Campus) coordinates, connects, and empowers atheist, agnostic, skeptic, humanist, and nonreligious Australian students. I talked about the ins and outs of interfaith work and facilitated break-out sessions to discuss how to reach out to religious campus groups. All in all, it was an amazing one day conference that brought together students from campus groups all over Australia — in addition to mine, it also featured keynotes Lyz Liddell of the Secular Student Alliance and Debbie Goddard of the Center for Inquiry On Campus — and I was honored to be a part of it. I also did a speaking event in Canberra co-hosted by the fabulous folks from the ANU League of Godlessness, Canberra Atheist Church, & Canberra Atheist Meetup Group (they also very kindly surprised me with a birthday dinner and cake to celebrate turning 25!) and facilitated a discussion for a fantastic organization called InterAction (Australia’s interfaith youth social action organization) called “Some of my best friends are atheists.” (More on those events below.)
Radio interview on Sunday Night Safran
Sunday Night Safran is a popular program that airs on Triple J, a national, government-funded Australian radio station intended to appeal to folks between the ages of 18 and 30. I was interviewed on the show the weekend of the Global Atheist Convention, appearing after Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s mother. You can click here to download the full episode through iTunes. Also,the Australian Broadcasting Corporation selected my interview from this show to be highlighted in their “Best Of” series — if you click here, you can go to that site and listen to or download an excerpt of my interview.
Crosslight and Canberra Times features
Crosslight wrote two stories referencing my visit. The first was a thorough, very interesting article on the Global Atheist Convention featuring interviews with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and — of all people – me. I really appreciate that they decided to include my perspective alongside the perspectives of such prominent atheists. Portions of my interview appear at both the beginning and at the end of the piece — click here to check it out. Additionally, they wrote a story on my event with InterAction, which can be found here. And while I was in Canberra, the Australian capital city’s largest newspaper interviewed me for a feature story called “Losing My Religion,” in which I talk about how I got into this work. You can click here if you’d like to read it.
Other radio interviews: JOY 94.9, 4ZZZ FM, Manthropolgy, & Token Skeptic
I did a few other radio interviews while in Oz. I appeared on JOY 94.9′s The Spirit Room — a radio show focused on LGBTQ identity and religion — for their entire hour. JOY 94.9 is pretty special as it is a 24-hour LGBTQ radio station featuring all original content (one of only a handful in the world). I had such a great time; especially because the hosts invited me to pick out a few songs that I find meaningful to play on the air. (Spoiler: I chose songs by Brother Ali, Okkervil River, and John Grant — listen to the program if you want to hear my reasoning for choosing them!) You can click here to stream the episode (or control, click, and select save to download it).
I also did an interview with Jayson Daniel Cooke of Brisbane’s 4ZZZ FM — click here for their story on it and to stream or download the interview, or click here to download the MP3 directly. During my visit I also got to sit down with Australian comedian Simon Taylor for over an hour for a lengthy episode of his show Manthropology — we talked about my work and how I got into it (I shared a bunch of stories), but also about what it means to be a young man in the world today. Click here to download it through iTunes, or go here to download from the web. Finally, I did a 30 minute interview with the Token Skeptic podcast, hosted by Kylie Sturgess, right before I left for Australia where I talked about Faitheist, “confrontationalism versus accommodationism,” interfaith work and atheism, The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, and more. You can click here to get it through iTunes, or here to get it from the Token Skeptic site. I had such a fantastic time talking with all of these folks!
Some very quick thoughts on the Global Atheist Convention
The Global Atheist Convention was, for the most part, a fabulous experience. I was particularly inspired by Jason Ball, a young guy who is doing a lot around atheism and interfaith dialogue in Australia. Other speakers that really impressed me included Leslie Cannold (besides appearing on the panel alongside me and PZ, she spoke eloquently at the convention about the separation of church and state and the many problems Australia faces regarding church-state protection), Marion Maddox (a brilliant academic on religion and politics), Sam Harris (who spoke powerfully about death and mindfulness and led the conference in a guided mindfulness meditation – easily the biggest curveball of the weekend), Eugenie Scott (who is just always so wise), Daniel Dennett (who I find to be as bizarrely funny as he is thought-provoking), and many others. There were a few things that put a bad taste in my mouth (which I addressed in my blog post to Sam Harris a couple of weeks ago), but all in all it was such a treat to be a part of this historic event.
That’s it from me for now — I may write some more on the trip if I get the chance, but for now it’s back to work. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this in the comments. Thanks for reading, friends!