Welcome to SFU.ca.
You have reached this page because we have detected you have a browser that is not supported by our web site and its stylesheets. We are happy to bring you here a text version of the SFU site. It offers you all the site's links and info, but without the graphics.
You may be able to update your browser and take advantage of the full graphical website. This could be done FREE at one of the following links, depending on your computer and operating system.
Or you may simply continue with the text version.

FireFox (Recommended) http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/
Netscape http://browser.netscape.com
Opera http://www.opera.com/

*Macintosh OSX:*
FireFox (Recommended) http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/
Netscape http://browser.netscape.com
Opera http://www.opera.com/

*Macintosh OS 8.5-9.22:*
The only currently supported browser that we know of is iCAB. This is a free browser to download and try, but there is a cost to purchase it.

Liberal Arts Blog

SFU Continuing Studies

“Rooted in Faith: Religious Cultures of the Lower Mainland” Reflections

April 13th, 2015

Francine Chisholm

The course “Rooted in Faith:  Religious Cultures of the Lower Mainland” was an enriching experience and greatly enhanced my awareness of the historical depths from which the world religions emerge and are transformed over time.   The timelines supplied by the instructor were invaluable in terms of understanding the development of historical events that shaped the religious communities in the Lower Mainland.  I also appreciated the various summary tables offered for our consideration in the attempt to place a contextual framework that unified the overarching tenets that can be drawn to make connections across faith perspectives.  While we intuitively grasp that all religions to a certain extent are talking about the same codes of conduct, morality, and worship of a transcendent entity or force, I have not been conscious of the thematic consistencies across religious traditions.  The scope of the material for this course is immense yet I felt that I came away with greater knowledge of the origins, the principles and the developments across time of the faith traditions presented – to an extent where I could have a reasonable introduction with which to reach across into conversation with someone of these traditions.

While I was superficially aware of most of the religious cultures that were presented, I gained greater understanding of their sacred texts and beliefs.  I had little knowledge of the origins of schisms that had occurred within various traditions lending to the rise of the Eastern Orthodox or the Christian Reformist traditions for example. Furthermore, I knew nothing of the origins of the Zorastrian faith and the Persian civilization nor the various types of Buddhism prior to this course.

There is a diversity of religious traditions in my workplace.  I have a Catholic, a Hindu, a Chinese Buddhist, two spiritual but not religious, and two atheist colleagues.  As a result of this course, I have initiated some dialogue with these colleagues.  It was my Hindu colleague who informed me that I should take a tour of the Highway to Heaven in Richmond and visit the temples along No. 5 Road.  She also said that in her community they are already concluding that their religion will die out.  I am intrigued by the two colleagues who profess to be atheists as both have a keen sense of morality and an abundance of spirit and concern for the natural world realizing that I assume atheists to lack morality!  It would have been interesting to have had a discussion in class about the growing number of books on atheism and the people who prescribe to this ‘spiritual’ position.  Is it a survival, identity, or unity based worldview I ask myself? The categories do not fit easily.

I have found that the concept of pilgrimage seems to crosscut all of the boundaries between my colleagues and each of us can articulate the desire for some kind of journey that involves both an interior and a geographical aspect that holds the potential for being elevating or revelatory.  Yet I find a resistance to this appropriation into modern spiritual discourse of traditional religious practices where there is coherent beliefs and rituals.  This is why I have reservations about intercultural/faith initiatives as outlined in our last session being instrumental in effecting change.  While it appears that the future of organized religions is fraught with uncertainty given intermarriage and the rise of secular spirituality, I think something is lost when we begin to collapse attributes of various religions into amalgamations, however cohesive, of worship.  I think the integrity and complexity of the various religions whose practices require discipline and unique rituals are worth preserving.  In the absence of this diversity, we risk concrete practices organized around a community of faith and a liturgical year being replaced by relativism.  My bias is for boundaries that facilitate regulation of systems with dynamic synergistic relationships between discrete entities or traditions with their own distinctiveness.  I liken this to the peaceful coexistence presented to us by Medieval Spain and the reign of Akbar in India.

Atheists claim that religions are based on the fear of death and provide answers for the question of what happens when we die.  And yet, fundamentally, all organized religions in fact provide the community of practice with a healthy way to integrate death into life within structured rituals and beliefs that bind people together in faith.  I think of an age of spiritual relativism or avowed anti religion and I see the potential loss of sitting shiva or funeral Masses or funeral pyres as leaving humanity bereft of any respect for the sanctity of both life and/or death.  In fact, without distinct rituals based on a sound structure all passages in life will be left without meaningful acknowledgement.  We are hardwired through evolution for religious expression, ritual and community.  Indigenous peoples have practiced sacred rites of passage built into the Creator centered religions that connected individuals to their world. It is difficult to foresee how these essential elements will be incorporated into post modern life under ad hoc arrangements of spiritual complexes.  The contradiction of globalization and the internet is the increasing isolation and loneliness of our modern era.   The decline of organized religion as antidote to the human consciousness of aloneness does not bode well in this respect.

There are definitely benefits to dialogue and fellowship in intercultural initiatives in generating respect and inclusiveness towards a united response to the decimations of the land and the peoples of the world where the increasing inequality of capital is creating massive instability in our shared future.  It might be said that this instability is the impetus for rising fundamentalism in all religious traditions.  Who will hear the cry of the poor?

The hegemony of economics and materialism in the choices we are making in this emerging global civilization may well lead to a new totalitarianism.  I have young Millenials among my staff and they are largely abdicating from long held religious, political, and social traditions here in the West creating virtual communities and new models of citizenship.  The direction of change and consequences for the post modern socio-political contract is unpredictable.  Organized religion has been most frequently associated with governance for good or for harm and that link may at some point be broken.  In short, we do not know where we are headed.

Perhaps a forerunner lies in Fort McMurray where Shia and Sunni Muslims united to build a mosque because homeownership was more important than religious divisions in the community according to an article in the Globe and Mail this past weekend as cited by my boss.  Big box church trend moves into Muslim world?  Conversely, some among the Roman Catholic circles predict that, with the declining vocations to religious life, we will return to small, informal lay administered sacraments in the homes of the faithful akin to the early Christians.   Interfaith organizations are aligned in a vision of unity but I do not think we know whether religions as such are uniting or disintegrating.  We may find that increased interfaith/cultural dialogue and fellowship will enhance moderation and tolerance but I wonder at the mechanisms that will be brought to bear on fundamental sects within traditions.  We do not see the Islamic community bringing an outcry and sanctions to bear on ISIS as a distortion of that faith for example.

I look forward to reading Karen Armstrong’s books which were cited in this course addressing cross cultural similarities and differences in religious traditions.   I have come away with more questions than answers as a result of the presentations offered which is a measure of the value of the instructor and the material.   How will morality be transferred to new generations in a world of “spiritual but not religious” communities?  If organized religions decline over time, how will we define the sacred?  Further, would the concept of “interiority” as a different way to view the soul hold weight in understanding the mechanism by which any religious/spiritual tradition or system creates meaning for human beings?  If organized religions unite into a global religion over time, what will be the governance model and how would it relate to the political and economic bodies of the world?  Will a “new age spirituality” inform values and ethics for the social contract?  If so, will there be collective forms develop into entirely new organized churches or will there be only locally formed groups with no clerical presence as in the Bah’ai faith?  What will be our sacred text?

I agree with Paul Hawken’s thesis in Blessed Unrest that the worldview of the Indigenous peoples that all is sacred and the land cannot be separated from human activity could save us.  This could heal our fundamental disconnect.  In my mind, we cannot divorce the environment from religious/spiritual practices.  This may be the organizing principle within which interfaith initiatives can cultivate meaningful collaboration and be an effective change agent.  Traditional organized religions outside of Christianity and Indigenous Circles have largely neglected this critical piece to date, no?   I heard the Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church, Mark McDonald, speak on the reframing of rituals and scripture that Christian Indigenous churches are undertaking in the attempt to reconcile the two cultures.  Again, I wonder if this kind of hybrid will alter the integrity of both originating traditions.  We also now see a “pan” Indigenous religion in North America that the people call “traditional” and yet is actually an integration of practices from many of the Nations.  For example, the northern Cree now include the Plains Sioux sun dance ceremony into what they understand as “traditional medicine”.  We heard how the Coastal Salish peoples also have incorporated the medicine wheel teachings from the Plains Nations into their religious doctrine.

By way of conclusion, I offer the following vignette to capture the roots of many of the preceding reflection:   I am a practicing Roman Catholic who had “fallen away” in my teenage years and returned to the church five years ago.  My atheist cousin calls me “an anachronism”.  Recently, we went to see the film “Citizenfour” about the whistle-blowing courage of Edward Snowden on the surveillance tactics of the American government.  When the 29 year old Snowden declared that he was not motivated by self-interest in his exposure of the extent and nature of the surveillance but rather that he cared about others as much as himself in their right to privacy, I said to my cousin, “that’s the Gospel”.  Edward Snowden is now in hiding somewhere in South America to avoid treason charges in the US.

Francine A. Chisholm is enrolled in the 55+ Liberal Arts program at SFU.  She continues to work full time for the federal government and takes courses that enrich her spiritual practice.  Writing is integral to that practice.  Thank you for being the reader.

The Fun of Scholarship

April 10th, 2015

David Maxwell’s terrific class on The Archeology of the American Southwest is a must-see for anyone planning a trip to the area.  It is full of precise explanations of multiple cultures in the area, accompanied by excellent visuals.
He opened class with the fine distinction between an archeologist (who studies the remains of human construction) and an anthropologist who draws conclusions from objects made or altered by humans and can also study “living” cultures.  The fields obviously overlap heavily.  Of course,  anthropologists don’t have to wait until centuries have gone by to do their work.  There are actual digs for the 1930’s looking for objects from that period from which to understand it better.
So, here is a cartoon for the anthropologist enthusiasts among us, that comes straight out of Maxwell’s class.  I LOVE how everyone is running away to protect their “artifacts” from the ruthless analysis of the anthropologist, especially when, if the villagers succeed in hiding them, the anthropologists will completely misunderstand their culture. 

For more information on David Maxwell see his instructor page.

Diana Cruchley, passionate learner, used to attend random classes at university as an undergraduate just because she “heard the prof was good.” A former District Administrator in Langley, Diana is an award winning educator and an author who gives workshops for teachers (and seniors) across British Columbia, Alberta and in the United States.

Popular Culture and Philosophy – Strange Bedfellows?

April 7th, 2015

Minds and Bodies – Exploring Forms of Consciousness with Jonathan Katz, opened with Descartes’ attempt to define the mind vs. the brain. A brain, he said, has mass, a location, edges, and is public in that it can be touched.  A mind, on the other hand, as far as we know, has no mass, no identifiable measurable location, no “edges”, and is private in that it can’t directly interact with the environment.  If dreams seem real, how do I know that I’m not always in a dream, or that I am not a figment of some super-being dream?

So, at this point, 21st Century person that I am, what pops into my mind?  Movies of course.  There is The Matrix, where all humanity is “dreaming” in a shared simulation.  What about Pleasantville where the town’s residents do not know they are a part of a reality show?  There is even Paycheck, where Ben Affleck has had a contract to reverse-engineer a product in exchange for the erasure of his 3 years of work, and must try to reconstruct his life through clues he has left himself.

Popular culture mining philosophy? Who knew?

For more courses by Jonathan see his page: Jonathan Katz

Diana Cruchley, passionate learner, used to attend random classes at university as an undergraduate just because she “heard the prof was good.” A former District Administrator in Langley, Diana is an award winning educator and an author who gives workshops for teachers (and seniors) across British Columbia, Alberta and in the United States.

Is this Loneliest City? Not if we can help it!

March 24th, 2015

Yep, the Vancouver Foundation nailed it:  This is a damn tough city in which to make friends, to get connected, or even to find someone to go for coffee with.

In fact, try and get someone to look you in the eye and say ‘good morning’ in the elevator!  Vancouver may score high for livability, pretty views and green-ness, but when it comes to being welcoming, friendly and engaged,  we’re  just slightly better than Baghdad.

The people at the Vancouver Foundation had a hunch Vancouverites were getting ever more disconnected, detached, uncaring and unengaged.   Volunteers were harder and harder  to find.  People weren’t showing up to community events.  In fact, they hardly even bothered to vote.

The Foundation had a hunch, but needed proof to back it up, so they commissioned a study to measure the seriousness of the problem..

And when they released the results in June, 2012, it was a shocker.

The extent of those feelings of isolation, loneliness and disconnected – of not feeling valued or welcomed –  was truly profound.

But that survey got people thinking.   And that’s a Good Thing.

It got people – admittedly out of guilt, but that’s okay – looking for ways to be more inclusive.  To invite and  welcome others into their circle.  To engage people in the community, people who may have been standing alone and unnoticed on the sidelines.

Here at SFU, in the 55+ program, that survey got us thinking, too.

Talking to other seniors in the program, we realized that many of us are alone, perhaps for the first time in our lives.  Many of us are now retired, so don’t have an instant, no-effort-at-all group of co-workers to socialize with.  Many have left long-time homes in the ‘burbs, and downsized, moving into a tower downtown, a tower of transients and absentee owners..  .

Yes, it’s tough to be a senior alone, especially in a city of self-absorbed, tech-obsessed young people.

So we’re  trying to engage  the seniors we see at classes.   Small things, like going for coffee or a drink after class.  Going for lunch in the downstairs Food Court; or better still, in a nearby restaurant.   Or organizing special programs and social events of interest to people of our ‘vintage’.

We’ve even formed a group we call the SFU Seniors’ Lifelong Learners Society, a group that does things as much fun as going on a day-long cruise, and as thought-provoking as hosting a discussion group on terrorism.   We’d love to have you join us. Just pick up a membership application form from the welcome table at the start of every semester.

We’re not doing anything earth-shaking, but it’s a start.  And people are responding.

One woman told me she’d been taking classes at SFU for four years, and this was the first time she’d been invited to join a group of classmates for lunch.

So if you get invited to go for coffee after class with someone whose name you don’t know, but whom you vaguely recognize, say yes.  Then invite one or two others to join you.  That’s how new connections are made, new friendship circles are formed, and isolation becomes participation.

And if you know anyone involved with the Vancouver Foundation, say thank you.   They’ve really started something good.

Tricia has written everything from ad copy to annual reports, from websites to speeches, and from film scripts to here’s-to-you toasts. She moved here from Calgary six years ago, and has been taking classes at SFU ever since. She’s now thinking of starting another business: ghost-writing family “legacy” biographies.

Philosophy? Jokes? Time for the Unexpected

March 17th, 2015
Here’s a great philosophy joke from Jonathan Katz’s Minds and Bodies – Exploring Forms of Consciousness.
I’ve never imagined myself saying philosophy and joke in the same sentence.
It seems in a first year philosophy class they were discussing one of the basic Mind/Body questions.  Is our life just a dream?  Are we in the dream of some kind of superbeing?  Is it our own dream? Do we really exist? A student became very stressed by the question and vanished for several days.  When he reappeared he obviously hadn’t been sleeping, he was disheveled and distraught.
Student;  Professor, I can’t stand it.  Do I exist or not?
Professor:  Who wants to know?
Ta da!

Diana Cruchley, passionate learner, used to attend random classes at university as an undergraduate just because she “heard the prof was good.” A former District Administrator in Langley, Diana is an award winning educator and an author who gives workshops for teachers (and seniors) across British Columbia, Alberta and in the United States.

Want Something Done? Ask a Busy Person

March 9th, 2015

My first mpression of Dean Gingrich’s class, “Reigniting Self and Community” is that this is going to be different from any SFU 55+ course I have taken so far. There are about 16 of us, sitting in a rectangle around the screen. Week 1 is going to be “Who are we?” It turns out that “we” are the over 55’s in a city that in 6 years will be 38.6% over 55. While retirement brings a 40% drop in income, some of us are better educated and healthier seniors likely to live to be 85 and actually have money left when we die. Some of this is good news. So, the issue for each of us can be, “what will be the meaning behind this third of my life?” We are going to become aware in the next 5 weeks of community services and how they work as more and more services are delegated to non-profits that must find ways to sustain themselves. We are even each going to visit one later and report. One of life’s mantras if, “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” We go around the room and discover what busy people we already are – volunteering, serving on strata councils and in charities, but seeking a great match between personal growth and socializing and using our skills. It’s heartwarming to be here – let’s see what the next 5 weeks brings.

Diana Cruchley, passionate learner, used to attend random classes at university as an undergraduate just because she “heard the prof was good.” A former District Administrator in Langley, Diana is an award winning educator and an author who gives workshops for teachers (and seniors) across British Columbia, Alberta and in the United States.

Inter War Europe Course Provokes Thoughts for Today

March 2nd, 2015

Benito Mussolini--dictator of Italy

“Those who would give up essential freedom to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety” (Benjamin Franklin).

This could be a motto for the times we live in today, but certainly was a motto for the inter-war Years in Europe. (Well, not that Europe deserved what would happen to them, but that they gave up a lot for temporary safety.)
Sebastian Huebel, our instructor for Inter-War Europe, has pointed out the three “characters” in conflict in those critical 1917-1939 years:  Fascists, Communists, and Liberal Democracy.
It is the Liberal Democracy definition that catches my ear:
•  representative government
•  rule of law
•  separation of powers
•  individual human rights (free press, opinion, assembly, religion, ownership of property, and economic pursuits).
What caused Liberal Democracy to be under attack from Fascists and Communists?  More importantly, why did informed people deliberately vote in the Fascists?
The answer for Italy was:
•  Times were perilous in an economy in disarray after the war.
•  The governments changed continuously (especially in Italy) and so seemed unable to solve any problems
•  The people were quite new to liberal democracy and consciously, deliberately voted to dismantle it.
In our time too, we are feeling insecure.  We face issues such as a precarious economy, the Middle East, Ukraine, terrorist attacks, ISIS, etc.  It’s easy to say, “maybe we can have less freedom of speech, less freedom of assembly, less freedom of the press, less freedom of religion if it brings us security.  After all ‘I’m not doing anything wrong.’ “ A tea-party group would certainly agree.  It was a slippery slope in the Interwar Years.  We just have to hope it’s not a slippery slope now.
This is going to be a thought-provoking course.

Diana Cruchley, passionate learner, used to attend random classes at university as an undergraduate just because she “heard the prof was good.” A former District Administrator in Langley, Diana is an award winning educator and an author who gives workshops for teachers (and seniors) across British Columbia, Alberta and in the United States.

Connecting With History through SFU Liberal Arts

February 24th, 2015

Taking a variety of classes in the 55+ program has kept my aging brain in working order. Another positive has been connecting the facts learned with the reality/history discovered in my travels.

For example, while visiting my nieces in Amsterdam, I was able to see the replica of a Dutch East India Company’s ship from the 18th century (which was discussed in the course on South Africa).

Earlier, in Norway, I saw archaeological remains of the Viking ships in the museum in Oslo (talked about in the Underwater Archaeology class).

While seeing my family for Christmas in Portugal, we happened upon a costume museum in São Brás de Alportel. Because of the knowledge gained from Ivan Sayer’s classes, I could appreciate better the clothing (from the late 19th century) worn by the farm people of the day in that area.

And when my niece used her 3D printer to replicate a tool and some thimbles, it brought me back to my classes in both Biomedical Electronics and Nanotechnology.

Having the background knowledge made my real life experiences so much more meaningful. Thanks, SFU!

Sue has had an illustrious 42-year teaching career and is now embarking on a journey as a student in our Liberal Arts and Adults 55+ courses. SFU courses have led to many explorations for Robinson; “SFU just opened me back up to all sorts of things,” she says.

Ever Worried About Your Brain? Try This!

February 17th, 2015

So you once put the car keys in the fridge? Or you once found an ice-cream carton melted in the car? Don’t panic. Your brain will still astonish you. I was sitting in Signs of the Scribes: The Story of Writing with Rapti Dietrich (who is really good and was talking at the time about Extinct Scripts). Anyway, one of her visuals in her Powerpoint included an ABC using all letter forms that companies use in their advertising. I was intrigued, and went on-line at home to find it. Here it is:

So far, I can easily identify C, D, G, I, K, M, V, and Y. I don’t want to take away your own fun – but why not submit, to the blog, your list of what those letters and special fonts/ iconic images stand for? This could be an ugly reflection on a material world, an example of brilliant mental manipulation by the company, OR, and here’s what I’m voting for, a tribute to the brilliance of our brains.

Diana Cruchley, passionate learner, used to attend random classes at university as an undergraduate just because she “heard the prof was good.” A former District Administrator in Langley, Diana is an award winning educator and an author who gives workshops for teachers (and seniors) across British Columbia, Alberta and in the United States.

The Angels of Paradise Lost

February 6th, 2015

There is a kind of endorphin rush in the room of Charles Carroll’s, “Milton’s Masterpiece: Paradise Lost,” as a large group of adults sit with a text in front of them. We are settling in for a 6-week examination, with readings, of a single work. When Charles mentions that, at Milton conferences, scholars “come to blows” over Milton’s meanings, we know we are in for something great.

Charles is reading sample lines in Book I and Beelzebub’s name appears. I am intrigued. Has Milton made these names up? Is that where we know them from? Are they in the Bible themselves? So I check. Bless Google. It turns out that the Bible only mentions 3 angels – Satan, Gabriel (the Annunciation), and Michael, who appears in both the Old and New Testament. Milton, on the other hand, includes 7 additional angels in Hell (Bellzebub, Belial, Mamon, Mulciber, Moloch, and Death) and 3 additional angels in Heaven (Raphael, Uril, and Abdiel).

I guess when you are planning to “justify God’s ways to man” you have to have a set of characters with differing views. Where did Milton get these names? More research is needed. This is going to be a fun course.

Diana Cruchley, passionate learner, used to attend random classes at university as an undergraduate just because she “heard the prof was good.” A former District Administrator in Langley, Diana is an award winning educator and an author who gives workshops for teachers (and seniors) across British Columbia, Alberta and in the United States.