News Story

Exploring Identity and Common Ground in an Age of Transition

The 2019 Our Whole Society (OWS) conference brought together civic leaders, academics, public servants, students, religious leaders, lawyers and engaged citizens to explore the changing role of religion in Canadian society. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a sponsor of and active participant at the April 28–30 event. Nineteen Church public affairs representatives from across Canada engaged in the conference.

OWS is a biennial conference organized by the Canadian Interfaith Conversation (CIC). Previously held at McGill University (2013), University of British Columbia (2015) and St. Paul University (2017), the 2019 conference was held in partnership with the University of Toronto Multi-Faith Centre. Keynote, plenary and workshop speakers focussed on three sub-themes: (1) “Rethinking Identity,” (2) “Extremism and Polarization” and (3) “Technology Values and Society.”

CIC advocates for religion in a pluralistic society and actively promotes harmony and religious insight amongst religions and religious communities. The OWS conference extends the reach of CIC beyond its 41 participants to facilitate a wider and more diverse conversation. The conference’s intent is for participants to explore together how to bridge the religious and secular divide in order to build a more whole society.

Lecture and keynote speakers included Dr. David Novak, University of Toronto; Dr. Mary Jo Leddy, founder of Romero House (housing and services for refugees); the Honourable Bob Rae, University of Toronto and special envoy to Myanmar; Dr. Solange Lefebvre, University of Montreal; and Dr. Michael Ruse, Florida State University. These and other program speakers contributed valuable research, insight, experience, diversity and perspective to the conference.

Drs. Eric and Catherine Jarvis of McGill University and public affairs co-directors for the Montreal–Ottawa region of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints directed the workshop “Addressing Religious Intolerance in Daily Life” in collaboration with Dr. Alice Chan of the Centre for Civic Religious Literacy. “Conversations that help people recognize and address religious intolerance are essential in combatting prejudice and misunderstanding,” shared Catherine. “We all need to find better ways to work with, support and understand our neighbours.”

Dr. Geoffrey Cameron, chair of the OWS committee and national director of public affairs for the Bahá’í Community of Canada, summarized, “We have now engaged hundreds of people across the country in a different way of thinking and talking about the role of religion in society, which opens up a space for an exploratory conversation about how we can learn from each other. We need to discover how to benefit from Canada’s religious traditions as sources of insight that can contribute, in a variety of ways, towards building a society that is more unified amidst its diversity.”

Sandra Pallin, national director of public affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and member of the OWS steering committee, agrees: “One of the basic tenets of our faith is to claim the privilege of worshipping according to the dictates of our own conscience and allowing all others that same privilege (see Articles of Faith 1:11). Our Whole Society’s objectives are consistent with our beliefs that we can, and must, continue to explore new ways of living together respectfully and inclusively. Our national and religious success depends on it. It was Christ who admonished, ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another’ (John 13:35). OWS provides us with the opportunity to both contribute and learn from each other.”

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