Weekly Programs


One of the College’s most popular activities has been a series of weekly talks held at the Faculty Club during the academic year. The presenters are often Fellows reporting on their recent work, but outside speakers are also invited. The topics are wide-ranging and cover a broad spectrum of disciplines and subjects. The format calls for an approximately one-hour talk followed by a coffee break and then a discussion period. The talks are usually recorded and made available as either streaming or downloadable podcasts. The discussion sessions, which are often very lively, are not recorded. The sessions are so popular that seating is limited and Fellows are given priority although others are welcome if space permits.


Past Weekly Talks


Online event on Zoom – SENIOR COLLEGE DISCUSSION, Wednesday, August 19, 2020 at 2pm, Title:  “Is Relativism a Good Argument for Human Rights? Speaker: Nadia Khouri @ Online via Zoom
Aug 19 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Senior College Talk. This event is online via Zoom. If you did not receive an invitation, then please contact the administrator at senior.college@utoronto.ca.

 SC Talk: Wednesday, August 19 at 2-4pm

Title:  “Is Relativism a Good Argument for Human Rights?

Speaker: Nadia Khouri

Abstract: In all multicultural societies people are required to be sensitive to other people’s customs. Relativism, they are told, is the proper non-judgemental approach to peaceful coexistence between people of different cultural practices and values. Throughout the 20th century most anthropologists, following the guidelines established by anthropologist Ruth Benedict, have argued that it is necessary to suspend moral judgements – of good and bad, right and wrong – as ethnocentric biases that cloud our understanding of the practices and mores of cultures different from our own. There are no universal norms, they held, there are only different cultural norms. Under cultural relativism, societies are viewed as monolithic formations with their own separate traditions and values. This view has contributed to create separate forms of essentialisms for how culture and moral judgements about it should be understood. Philosopher Mary Midgley called it “moral isolationism.”

In open societies such as Canada, a country built by immigrants from around the world, multiculturalism was enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in section 27 as a defining national right aimed at procuring a sense of common belonging for all. It was not enough to explore diversity, one had to welcome and celebrate it as an instrument of inclusion in the great Canadian family. On the other hand, section 28 specifies that “Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.” Coming immediately after section 27, section 28 means to be a check on excessive culturalism by reaffirming the universal principles of equal rights (section 15) and freedoms (section 2) invested in persons rather than in collective formations.

Multiculturalism proved to be hugely successful as a public policy against discrimination in the workplace. Increasingly, yet, situations arose where cultural relativism entered into conflict with Canada’s and other open societies’ commitment to human rights, particularly where women and children are concerned. This was revealed to the public when high profile “cultural defence” cases used some patriarchal cultural practices as mitigating factors in sexual assault of women and children while “cultural defence” would not apply had the offenders been members of mainstream society. Cases such as these have put tolerance to the test, and raised questions about the racism of lower expectations regarding the status of women and children in some cultures. Why women? What are the implied biases in such expectations? Are they compatible with universal human rights?


Dr. Nadia Khouri is Scholar in Residence, Humanities and Philosophy Department, Dawson College. From 1995 to 2000 Nadia wrote columns for Cité libre, the political magazine co-founded in the 1950s by the late Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Her articles focused on Canadian bilingualism and multiculturalism, the creation of Nunavut, and the impact of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on national identity. She is the author of Le Biologique et le social and Qui a peur de Mordecai Richler?, co-author of American Dream and editor of Discours et mythes de l’ethnicité. She is currently working on a project entitled “The Philosophy of Happiness from Plato to the United Nations World Happiness Project.”

Please register at: https://forms.office.com/Pages/ResponsePage.aspx?id=JsKqeAMvTUuQN7RtVsVSEKo-DHaj3xRAluk2q6EEM7NUREFSUDZKT1VEWDFMVzhOWEZJR1lYMkZWUS4u

The deadline to register is Monday, August 17 at noon. The Zoom link will be sent to registrants only.

Online event on Zoom – Meet your Colleague (Presentation followed by Discussion), Thursday August 20 at 2:00-4:00pm. @ Online via Zoom
Aug 20 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm

SENIOR COLLEGE DISCUSSION. This event is online via Zoom. If you did not receive an invitation, then please contact the administrator at senior.college@utoronto.ca.

Meet your colleague: Michael and Linda Hutcheon

Topic:“How (and why) a physician and a literary theorist collaborate on…opera (and stay married)”


The deadline to register is Tuesday, August 18 at noon.The Zoom link will be sent to registrants only.