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Artists and scholars come together to restory Canada, reflecting on religion and public memory ahead of its 150th anniversary

Author Margaret Atwood and poet George Elliott Clarke featured in public conversations at the National Gallery and University of Ottawa

Celebrated author and University of Toronto (U of T) alumnus Margaret Atwood and U of T professor and poet George Elliott Clarke will join other renowned artists and scholars to challenge and re-narrate the history of Canada in its sesquicentennial year. In two separate public events, Atwood and Clarke, together with artist Kent Monkman, cellist Cris Derksen, and environmentalist Leah Kostamo will take the stage to perform or present their work that pushes for new ways of imagining what Canada means.

Restorying Canada: Religion and Public Memory is a three-day conference gathering scholars from across Canada and beyond to examine the ways the role of religion has been remembered and forgotten in stories of Canada.

Two public events anchor the conference:

  • Decolonizing the Canon on Thursday, May 18 at the National Gallery of Canada features Clarke — Canada’s Poet Laureate and the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature in the Department of English at U of T — Juno Award-nominated Cree-Mennonite cellist Cris Derksen, and internationally renowned visual artist Kent Monkman. Each artist will work from their genre to challenge what it means and feels like to remember the country’s history, and re-narrate and resist the colonial story of Canada.
  • On Friday, May 19, at the University of Ottawa a conversation between Atwood and Christian environmental activist Leah Kostamo on the topic The Future of Religion in Canada: Utopia or Dystopia? explores the rich, complex portrayal of religion as a powerful, yet ambiguous force with the potential to both renew and shatter – bringing liberation and oppression, hope and fear. While Atwood’s writing across five decades — including the now televised The Handmaid’s Tale — explores the past, present and dys/utopian future of religion in Canada, Kostamo provides a counter example of religious commitments to environmental restoration through a lens of Christianity.

Tickets for Decolonizing the Canon and The Future of Religion in Canada: Utopia or Dystopia? are $18 for adults and $12 for students, plus taxes, for each event.

“The public events offer a curated provocation to the conference proceedings,” said Pamela Klassen of the Department for the Study of Religion at U of T, who co-organized the conference with Emma Anderson at the University of Ottawa, and Hillary Kaell at Concordia University. “We’re in a time when Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale is being revitalized on screen, while its warnings about threats to women’s freedom are coming true in legislatures and houses of congress around the world.

“My hope is that audiences will gain a deeper understanding of how religion has shaped the ways we imagine and inhabit the nation of Canada, at a moment when reconciliation, decolonization, nation-to-nation relations with Indigenous nations, and the spectre of new kinds of religious prejudice are all in play,” said Klassen.