Clay Routledge

Every major public survey paints a bleak picture for the future of religion in the United States. Americans decreasingly view religion as important to daily life, identify as religious, and attend church. Young adults in particular are abandoning the pews. Though these trends reveal changing attitudes and behaviors related to traditional religious identities and beliefs, they say little about the religious minds of Americans or humans more broadly. A growing body of behavioral science research suggests that many common views about the nature of religion, religious trends, and even distinctions between believers and atheists are wrong. Most people, including many who do not perceive themselves as religious, engage in religious-like thinking, particularly when grappling with existential questions and fears. Thinking about religion in new ways may help reduce conflict between believers and nonbelievers as well as counter the threat of irrational and anti-science ideas and beliefs in religious and secular culture.

Dr. Clay Routledge is an author, behavioral scientist, consultant, public speaker, and professor. He studies basic psychological motives and cognitive processes and how these motives processes influence wellbeing, physical health, cultural belief systems, and intergroup relations. He has published over 90 scholarly papers, co-edited two books on existential psychology, and authored the book Nostalgia: A Psychological Resource. He was also the lead writer for the TED-Ed animated lesson Why Do We Feel Nostalgia? His new book Supernatural: Death, Meaning and the Power of the Invisible World will be released in 2018. Dr. Routledge’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, John Templeton Foundation, and Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. You can find out more about Dr. Clay Routledge at clayroutledge.com.

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy will discuss the widely-misunderstood and controversial world of “GMO.” From what GMO is to what it isn’t, this talk will explore the good and the bad of this nebulous term, why it’s so divisive, and offer a critical look at movements that oppose these technologies.

Kavin is an author and public speaker covering science, health, medicine, agriculture, food, parenting and their intersection. She is a proud Science Mom, and is featured in the new documentary (sciencemomsdoc.com) about moms seeking to raise their children with facts rather than the fear and hype so common in the parenting world today.

Fred Heeren

Is there any sense in which we live in a special time?  I argue that out of the 4.5 billion years of this planet’s history, this generation lives in the tiny slice of geological history when a species finally became aware of how it got here, and became aware of its own unique role to become either the defender of life on this planet, or its destroyer.  With this awareness comes something science can’t measure: responsibility.  Many doubt we have such power or responsibility—and an examination of the universe’s timeline, from primeval point of energy to people, does appear difficult to believe—until we look more closely at how science has revealed each step.  Why are we finally finding out all this just now?  Weren’t ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, or Babylonians just as intelligent as we are?  We’ll take a look at how women and men finally made the requisite discoveries—combining leaps into the unknown with the application of scientific methodology—to answer the big questions about how we got here.  I’ll also note, more controversially, the curious “trajectory” our cosmic history has taken, with steps that build upon one another as if to produce life and mind.

Fred Heeren is a science journalist and the founder of Day Star Research (evolutionstory.com). He has written for The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Scientific American, Smithsonian, New Scientist, ScienceNOW, and the journal Nature.  His work has also appeared in the college textbooks Understanding Human Origins and McGraw-Hill’s Physical Anthropology

Heeren specialized in big bang cosmology during his first decade of science writing, when he interviewed Nobel prize-winning astrophysicists, NASA team leaders, and theoretical physicists.  He frequently writes and speaks about the big bang theory, the history of the universe, the evolution of dinosaurs and humans, and the relationship (or lack of relationship) between science and faith. For his research, has traveled to fossil sites in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America, covering breaking discoveries in both dinosaur and hominid evolution.

Christopher S. Rogan

In 2012 the CMS and ATLAS experiments operating at the CERN Large Hadron Collider made a big announcement — the discovery of the Higgs Boson, the elusive particle for which physicists had been searching for 50 years and the final missing piece of physics’ Standard Model. But what does it mean to “discover” a particle? How do we know it is “real”? What are the implications of the existence of the Higgs Boson for our Universe? This talk tells the story of one of the biggest scientific hunts of our lifetimes, where it started, where it’s taken us, and where we’re going next.

Dr. Chris Rogan is an Assistant Professor of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Kansas. He earned his B.A. from Princeton University and Ph.D. from Caltech. He served as a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows, focusing on research using the ATLAS experiment at the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC). His work with the LHC used the events recorded by particle detectors to look for evidence of new physics, beyond the particles and forces included in the Standard Model (SM) of particle physics. His research looks for new, undiscovered particles, forces, and symmetries which are detectable at the energy scales only accessible to the LHC, including the identity of Dark Matter, the huge differences in the strengths of fundamental forces and sub-atomic particle masses, and the matter/antimatter asymmetry that characterizes our physical world.

K. Christopher Beard

The evolutionary history of humans and other primates is often perceived as reflecting a steady, orthogenetic “ladder of progress” from primitive mammals toward modern humans. Recent advances in the fields of paleontology and comparative genomics show how quaint this classic portrayal actually is. The nearest living relatives of primates are some of the most specialized mammals on Earth, not the primitive tree shrew-like creatures we have been led to believe. Furthermore, random (or even miraculous) events have constrained major episodes of primate and human evolution. Coming to grips with our evolutionary history opens the door to more rational and scientific perspectives about humanity’s place in nature, with potential implications ranging from animal rights to the current biodiversity crisis.

Dr. Beard is a Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and KU. His research focuses on reconstructing the origin and early evolution of the order Primates and its major clades. He is especially interested in documenting how changes in the Earth’s physical environment have impacted the evolution of early primates and other mammals.

Paul Mirecki

Today Americans have reached a point where deliberate ignorance is actually seen as a virtue. The current rise of unfounded claims about “fake news” and the popular charges that “facts are the enemies of the people” or that “my personal opinions are as good as your proven facts” are constantly encountered in the media. This talk will discuss these authoritarian claims and how they expose their own inherent weaknesses, with some suggestions on how to counter this dangerous trend.

Paul Mirecki joined the University of Kansas in 1989. He earned his Th.D. at Harvard Divinity School in the field of Christian origins. His research and teaching focus on religion in the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean. He has edited Greek and Coptic manuscripts in museums in Chicago, Ann Arbor, Berlin, London and Oxford focusing on scribalism and ritual. He has edited and co-authored seven scholarly books and numerous articles. He has traveled extensively throughout Greece studying religious archeological sites with a focus on Samothrace island. For several years Paul was the faculty adviser for the student group KUSOMA – Kansas University Society of Open-minded Atheists and Agnostics.

Paulyn CartWright

CRISPR is a new technology that enables scientists to target and alter genes. The application of CRISPR to animals has the potential to revolutionize biology and medicine. Here I will talk about how CRISPR works, explain why it is so easy and inexpensive to use and discuss its application to my own research on jellyfish evolution.

Dr. Paulyn Cartwright is an Associate Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas. Her research focuses on understanding evolutionary patterns and developmental processes in medusozoans.

Abigail Barefoot

In 2017, one feminist organization, Women’s Liberation Front (WOLF) partnered with conservative Christian women to form the Hands Across the Aisle Coalition, a bi-partisan group of women actively working to limit the civil rights of the trans* community. While not the first time feminists and the religious right have worked together to push a public policy agenda, the coalition raises the question: What is it about trans women that is so threatening that it causes two radically different groups to overcome their differences to form an alliance against trans* civil rights? I argue that both groups use symbolic representations of “women” to uphold their beliefs and gain support for their political agendas, and that the category of trans* threatens that image. Hands Across the Aisle de-legitimizes trans women’s identity through denying them civil rights, allowing the category of women to remain stable for both parties.

Abigail Barefoot is a doctoral student in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas. Her research explores the role of affect in constructing frameworks of harm, justice, and healing within activist communities. As both a cisgender scholar and an activist, Abigail works to  promote trans* inclusion within the field of Women’s Studies and beyond.

Normalizing Dissent Panel

Armin Navabi

Armin Navabi is a former Muslim from Iran and the founder of the Atheist Republic (a non-profit organization dedicated to offering a safe community for atheists around the world) and the author of the bestselling book “Why There Is No God: Simple Responses to 20 Common Arguments for the Existence of God”.. Armin was born and raised in the Islamic Republic of Iran and was indoctrinated thoroughly in the Muslim tradition. After almost losing his life in the pursuit of God’s grace, the devastation of that event motivated him to seek a better understanding of the nature and concept of God and religious belief. Armin’s journey led him to leave Islam and to become an atheist.

Sarah Haider

Sarah is an American writer, speaker, and activist. Born in Pakistan and raised in Texas, Sarah spent her early youth as a practicing Shia Muslim. In her late-teens, she began to read the Quran critically and left religion soon after.

In 2013, she co-founded Ex-Muslims of North America, where she advocates for the acceptance of religious dissent and works to create local support communities for those who have left Islam.

In addition to atheism, Sarah is particularly passionate about civil liberties and women’s rights.

Ghada Ibrahim

Ghada is a Saudi national that grew up in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Her family is a fundamentalist Shia muslim family. Ghada was a practicing Muslim until researching women’s role in Islam and reading on theology and jurisprudence. She left Islam in 2011, while studying engineering in the United States.