Humanist Community

The Humanists of Minnesota offers an increasing variety of programming for our members and friends. Our goal is to provide many opportunities for social connection, ethical development, educational inquiry, societal critique and cultural pursuits in a supportive community that celebrates life in the here and now.

The Irresponsible Pursuit of Paradise

Jim Bowyer, Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis


Under the banner of environmental protection, barriers of all kinds have been erected to discourage domestic raw material extraction. But because raw materials obviously must come from somewhere, when extraction is obstructed in one region this activity and all associated impacts are simply shifted to some other region – often magnifying environmental impacts in the process.

A collision of global trends – including explosive global economic expansion and resource consumption, relentless population growth, and rising environmental impacts of raw material procurement – substantially increase the urgency of finding a solution to the raw materials procurement problem. Now there is concern among the economic elite – traditionally the dominant consumers of minerals and raw materials of all kinds – about prospects for future access to raw materials.

All of this raises questions: Is current environmental and resource policy ethical? Sustainable? Is the best global strategy to largely ignore resource concerns and simply invest heavily in military preparedness so as to prevail in resource conflicts? What is the downside risk of ignoring global equity concerns?

Dr. Bowyer is Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering. He is President of Bowyer & Associates, Inc. – a consulting firm focused on helping organizations improve environmental performance, and Director of the Responsible Materials Program in Dovetail Partners, Inc. – a nonprofit that provides authoritative information about the impacts and trade-offs of environmental decisions, including consumption choices, land use, and policy alternatives.

Bowyer is author of two books (one through 5 editions), six book chapters, and over 400 scientific articles. His latest book – The Irresponsible Pursuit of Paradise – was released in late 2016. He has published widely on the topics of life cycle assessment, carbon tracking and reporting, bioenergy, green building standards, and environmental policy and is a frequent speaker nationally and internationally on these topics.


Putting Refugees First

Leah Jaslow, American Refugee Committee
Saturday, March 18th, 2017 @ 10am
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis


Please join us as we welcome Leah Jaslow, Donor Services – Engagement Assistance, from the American Refugee Committee (ARC) to our monthly meeting. She will discuss how ARC is using a human-centered design approach to help refugees survive conflict and crisis and rebuild lives of dignity, health, security and self-sufficiency. At a time when the world is witnessing the worst refugee crisis since WWII, we know there is much work to be done. In the face of this tragedy, refugees know best what they need and ARC is listening to them.

Come learn how ARC is bringing humanity back to the core of humanitarian work. You will hear about the innovative projects ARC staff has implemented around the world. From co-creating relief efforts with members of the Somali Diaspora to creating change with relatively few resources 365 days of the year, ARC chooses to focus on the abundance in our world and the belief that anything is possible.

More than 35 years ago, Chicago businessman Neal Ball started the American Refugee Committee. He recruited a volunteer relief team who deployed to the Thai-Cambodian border. Ever since then, ARC has worked to provide opportunities and expertise to refugees, displaced people and host communities. ARC is committed to the delivery of programs that ensure measurable quality and lasting impact for the people it serves.


Animal Ethics and Naturalism

Prof. Jeff Johnson, St. Catherine University
Saturday, February 18th, 2017 @ 10am
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

Darwin Day has become an important event within the humanist community in the past couple of decades.  While the actual day to commemorate Darwin’s birth--February 12th -- will already have past, we traditionally pay tribute to Darwin at our February chapter meetings. We’ll have door-prizes (win a Darwin bobble-head!) and hear a thought-provoking talk on animal ethics and naturalism by philosophy professor Jeff Johnson from St. Catherine University.

In this talk, Dr. Johnson will explore ways in how naturalistic ethics leads us to reexamine our relationship with nonhuman animals. He will discuss a few of the prominent positions and arguments secular philosophers have offered on both sides of the ethical issue of eating animals, and will critically examine some of the common defenses offered in favor of eating animals.

Dr. Johnson teaches a wide range of courses, including Ethics, Food Ethics, Environmental Ethics, Biomedical Ethics, Logic and interdisciplinary courses with colleagues on Animal Ethics, Asian Philosophy and Effective Altruism. His main aim in teaching is to help students see how philosophy connects with their lives outside the classroom.

Dr. Johnson is co-president of the Society for the Study of Ethics and Animals, the program committee chair for the North American Wittgenstein Society, and the faculty advisor for the St. Kate's student group Advocating for Animals. Dr. Johnson is on the board of Compassionate Action for Animals and he’s a member of the Humane Society of the United States Minnesota State Council where he focuses on farm animal issues.


Cuba and Its People: What's on the other side of that door?

Prof. August Nimtz, University of Minnesota
Nancy Albrecht, annual visitor to Cuba
Saturday, January 21st, 2017 @ 10am
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

Ever since President Obama started the process of restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, Americans have been abuzz with finding out more about that isolated island country just off our shores. We are pleased to have two distinguished and knowledgeable speakers to talk about this important topic for our January Chapter Meeting.    

Professor Nimtz will provide an overview of Cuban-American relations since the Cuban Revolution of 1959. He will discuss the efforts under Barack Obama and Raúl Castro to begin the process of restoring diplomatic relations, and the normalization of other relationships, between the two countries. Professor Nimtz will also touch on what the death of Fidel Castro and the election of Donald Trump could mean for this relationship going forward.   

Nancy Albrecht is a member of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.  She was able to travel to Cuba on the first trip that Plymouth took to Cuba in 2005 on a religious visa.  She has traveled to Cuba every year since then and stays for three to four weeks.  About seven years ago, she started a knitting project with women of Iglesia Bautista Emanuel (church) in Ciego de Avila, Cuba. Nancy's talk will be about the changes she has seen in Cuba since 2005.

August Nimtz, Jr. is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. He started as an instructor at the University in 1971. Professor Nimtz's areas of specialty are Comparative Politics, African American and African Studies. He has also taught courses on the Cuban revolution.    Nancy Albrecht is a retired medical social worker. The last ten years of her career she worked as a hospice social worker.  She lives in south Minneapolis and has two adopted adult daughters who are originally from Bogota, Colombia. 


What Does Peace Mean to You?

John Noltner -- Photographer, Peace Activist and Storyteller
Saturday, December 17th, 2016 @ 10am
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

With the holiday season upon us, it is time to reflect on what "Peace-on-Earth" means to us and to people around the world. For our December chapter meeting, join us in welcoming author and photographer John Noltner who is uniquely qualified in helping us explore this topic.

For several years John has been traveling around the country and world asking people the simple question, "What does peace mean to you?" The result has been the publication of the award-winning book A Peace of My Mind. This project combines photographs and personal stories of the meaning of peace. He has included the voices of Holocaust survivors, homeless individuals, political refugees and others. Ella Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, wrote in the forward to his book: "John Noltner takes us on a unique journey filled with revelations of courage and commitment, resilience and hope. It is a beautiful journey that speaks to our innermost being. It touches us in a way that allows us to see the world from a different perspective. Perhaps it will inspire us to become peacemakers."

John Noltner is an author and photographer in Minneapolis. With images and words as his medium, John has been telling stories for 20 years for magazines, Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations. His work has appeared in National Geographic, Traveler, Midwest Living and other publications, He has national and international commercial clients and his book, A Peace of My Mind, has received both regional and national awards.


LGBTQIA—Getting to an Inclusive Gender Model

Stef Wilencheck, University of Minnesota
Saturday, November 19th, 2016 @ 10am
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

Why are LGBTQIA* communities marginalized in our society? How can we better understand and talk about gender and sexual identities from a place of inclusivity?

At our next chapter meeting, Stef Wilencheck of the Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life at the University of Minnesota will discuss how identities like sex, gender and sexual orientation are constructed in our society and how these social constructions impact all of us. Through the use of a learning tool called the Butterfly Model, Stef will increase our knowledge of systems of sex, gender, and sexual orientation, help us understand sex and gender stereotypes and their impacts on the LGBTQIA* community, and learn where and how we can help eliminate barriers in our communities.

*Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex Asexual


Stef Wilenchek (they/them/theirs) is currently the Director of the Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life (formerly the GLBTA Programs Office) at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Most recently, Stef was the Assistant Director of Gender and Sexual Orientation Initiatives at Hamline University for two years. Previously, they were the director of the GLBTQ Resource Center for six and half years at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Stef has worked over a decade with college students on social justice issues, advocacy and support. Stef has a Master of Education degree from Kent State University and a Bachelor of Science degree from Baldwin Wallace College in Ohio. Stef loves swimming, telling stories with their kiddo, playing musical instruments and dancing whenever possible. 


The Future of Humanism: New Voices for the 21st Century

All-day Conference
Saturday, Oct. 15th, 2016, 10am--5pm
(doors open at 9am for registration)
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

This month our regular chapter meeting is being enfolded into an all-day conference on The Future of Humanism.  The conference is free but registration through Eventbrite is required. Childcare and youth activities are available (see below for details).

Guest Speakers

Anthony Pinn, Rice University, Religion and Humanities, AHA Board member (Writing God’s Obituary)

Phil Zuckerman, Pitzer College, Sociology and Secular Studies (Living the Secular Life)

Chris Stedman, Yale University, Humanist Chaplain (Faithiest)

William Hart, Macalester College, Religious Studies—African-American Religion, Ethics and Politics

Sonita Sarker, Macalester College, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and English


Stephanie Zvan, Producer of AHA’s Humanist Hour Podcast, blogs at Almost Diamonds

David Breeden, Senior Minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, blogs at Quest for Meaning

Humanists of Minnesota, the American Humanist Association (AHA), the Humanist Institute and Black Freethinkers of Minnesota are collaborating with First Unitarian Society (FUS) which is celebrating 100 years of humanism as a congregation with the installation of their first humanist minister, John Dietrich, in 1916. While Unitarian humanism—religion without god—remained central to FUS throughout the 20th century and became a subgroup within the larger Unitarian Universalist Association, secular humanism came into its own with the growing “unchurched” demographic of the mid-20th century and the rise of the “nones” in the late 20th century.  

This conference will consider what the 21st century portends for the contemporary humanist movement as it continues to adapt to the changing social and cultural realities of our time. The morning’s plenary session will feature a distinguished panel of scholars and authors from around the country who will each lead break-out sessions in the afternoon. 

A buffet lunch will be served mid-day.  The event will conclude with a wine and cheese reception and book signings with the various guest authors.  Please register for this free event at Eventbrite to reserve your spot—especially if you are staying through lunch. The conference is being promoted through many groups and Eventbrite creates a single RSVP list.

While the conference is free, donations to cover costs are encouraged and welcomed—especially for lunch and refreshments.  Childcare will be provided upon request for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers. Camp Quest will provide morning programming for youth. Please RSVP through the separate Meet-up posts for elementary age kids and teens.  A supervised game room will be available in the afternoon for kids and teens.  


The Culture of Wall Street and Income Inequality

Prof. Karen Ho, University of Minnesota
Saturday, Sept. 17th, 2016 @ 10am
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

When economists like Thomas Piketty and unemployed, debt-written millennials from "Occupy Wall Street" converge on critiques of “the 1 percent,” it signals that discontent with inequality has reached a boiling point. The United States has witnessed a massive transfer of income to the wealthy few, engineered in large part by the financial industry. Professor Ho will begin this talk by exploring the role of finance and Wall Street culture in helping to engender the new economy of inequality. For example, through reframing the very purpose of corporations so that they are no longer sites of stable production and employment, the middle classes have experienced decline in the past 30 years. She will then explore in general some of the reasons why the richest 1 percent in the US has captured nearly 60 percent of any income gains from 1977 to 2007. It can come as no surprise that this rampant and amply-documented surge in inequality, accompanied by frighteningly limited upward mobility, has triggered opposition by increasing numbers of people who are now living precariously.

Karen Ho is an associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.  Her research centers on the problem of understanding and representing financial markets, places that are resistant to cultural analysis and often disavow various attempts to locate or describe them.  Her primary interest is the anthropology of economy with a focus on the culture of finance and the creation of socio-economic inequality. Her ethnography, Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street (Duke University    Press, 2009) was based on three years of fieldwork among investment bankers and major financial institutions. Recent publications include Corporate Nostalgia: Managerial Capitalism from a Contemporary Perspective” (Corporations and Citizenship. Urban, Greg, ed., 2014), and “Gens: A Feminist Manifesto for the Study of Capitalism" (co-authored, Theorizing the Contemporary Series, Cultural Anthropology Online, March 30, 2015, Her latest book project attempts to excavate an alternative cultural history of financial risk through the ethno-historic investigation of three central sites – corporations, investment practices, and investment funds – from the mid-twentieth century until the present moment.


2016 Summer Freethought Picnics

Sundays, Noon--3pm
June 12th--sponsored by Camp Quest Minnesota at Columbia Park
July 17th--sponsored by Humanists of Minnesota at Minnehaha Falls, Wabun Picnic Area, Shelter B
August 21st--sponsored by Minnesota Atheists at Columbia Park

During the summer, the MN freethought community welcomes all our families and friends to three monthly picnics.  Whether you attend one of our groups regularly or just want to get better acquainted with like-minded folks in a relaxed and social atmosphere, do join us: Humanists of MN, Camp Quest families, the U of MN campus freethought group (CASH) and MN Atheists.  

The picnic is potluck and will go on rain or shine.  Bring a dish to share along with your own beverage.  Plates and utensils will be available, but to reduce waste, feel free to bring your own re-usable items. 


Grassroots Humanism: Strengthening our Community, Growing the Movement

Annual Membership Meeting
May 21, 2016 @10:00am
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis


This month, you will be one of our featured speakers! We won’t have the customary honorarium for you, but we will provide a free lunch. Please don’t disappoint by not showing up! It will be our loss--and yours too—if we do not have input from a good share of our members (and followers) at this our annual membership meeting. We are an all-volunteer, democratically-run, grassroots organization. The ongoing support and engagement of all the dedicated members who built and maintained this community for so many years is essential. And for the vitality and future of the organization, our newer members are needed to step forward to help strengthen and grow our movement with your fresh ideas and additional energy. Like, no pressure, or anything. J

The good news is that the time is ripe for humanist community to flourish. More and more people are leaving religion behind. According to the latest Pew research, 23% of the adult population is religiously unaffiliated (comprising the “nones”) and within that group only 27% feel certain that God exists. And secular millennials are increasing at even higher rates.

Also, we have a solid foundation on which to build. Humanists of Minnesota has a sound organizational structure in place, modest but accessible financial resources, ever-increasing Meet-up and Facebook outreach, dedicated event leaders and many committed volunteers.

So come to our May meeting and learn the details of what has been happening this past year and some of our plans for next program year. Come share your ideas for strengthening our community—how this group can better represent your interests and meet your needs. Come explore how you can get more involved to promote our values and extend our reach . Come deepen your connection with fellow humanists and engage in small group brainstorming sessions. And of course come enjoy a free lunch and good camaraderie all around!


Minnesota on the Move for Climate Action

J. Drake Hamilton, Science Policy Director, Fresh Energy
April 16, 2016 @ 10:00am
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

The global climate crisis is in the news every day and there is no question that countries need to take action now.  People all over the world are experiencing huge changes that are affecting their environment and daily lives.  Last fall President Obama invited Minnesota's own J. Drake Hamilton, the Science Policy Director of Fresh Energy, to the White House to discuss clean energy solutions.  In December 2015, 196 countries were represented at the Paris Climate Summit and Hamilton was there representing Fresh Energy. 

At our April meeting Hamilton will present Minnesota’s best opportunities to address climate change in 2016.  She will discuss the Clean Power Plan which brings the first restrictions to carbon pollution from power plants and update us on renewable energy initiatives in Minnesota.  She is a gifted speaker and expert on climate change solutions at the state and national levels.  Her responsibilities include scientific analysis and policy development of clean energy solutions to global warming that will maximize economic opportunities for the Midwest.  She is invited to give more than 50 presentations each year to businesses and civic organizations and frequently appears on television, Minnesota Public Radio and business press as well as the Washington Post, the New York Times, and newspapers all across Minnesota. 

Hamilton earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in physical geography at Dartmouth College and the University of Minnesota with emphasis on climatology and water resources.  She was an assistant professor at George Washington University and was awarded an international leaders fellowship from the European Union and used the award to study climate policy solutions.  Currently she serves on the board of directors of the United States Climate Action Network.  The Minneapolis – Saint Paul Magazine named J. one of 100 influential people “who make things happen.”  And last but not least, J. is an organic gardener and grows peaches, pears and plums that have won blue ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair.


Work-life Balance: An Evolving Discussion

Benjamin Stafford, University of Minnesota
PhD student and researcher, Carlson School of Management 
March 19th, 2016 @ 10:00am
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis


“It’s true hard work never killed anyone but I figure why take the chance?” - Ronald Reagan, former U.S. President

“There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.” – Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric

Today’s workers and employers face increasingly complex demands, and both have roles in fostering work-life balance. The evolving nature of work, workers, and job arrangements have the potential to impact society in many ways. At the March chapter meeting, Benjamin Stafford, a PhD Student and researcher at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, will provide some perspectives on a topic common to all--the nature and role of work in our lives! 

So why spend Saturday morning talking about work?  Benjamin’s presentation will provide background and pose questions about how we can think about, and act toward, fostering a healthy work-life balance.  First, the discussion will take aim at a history of how work and life have been conceptualized.  Second, he will briefly take a look at how modern work/life balance is being researched in academia and practiced in organizations.  Third, he will discuss the effects of evolving nature of work on balancing work in life, including debates surrounding living wages, and the rise of the self-employed service ‘gig’ economy (think Über).  Lastly, he will pose the question of what work-life balance and career transitions may mean for those later in their careers (or even in semi-retirement).  Expect challenging questions, illuminating information, and more than a touch of humor.  (Let's just say it won't be too much work...)

Benjamin Stafford is a PhD Student in Business Administration at the University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management, where he studies work and organizations.  Benjamin holds a BA in Business Administration and masters degrees in Labor and Human Resources, and Public Policy and Management from The Ohio State University.  His research interests include leadership and social networks in organizations, and energy policy.


Darwin's Time Machine: New Horizons in Natural Selection

Prof. Michael Travisano, University of Minnesota
February 20th, 2016 @ 10:00am
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

Darwin Day has become an important event within the humanist community in the past couple of decades.  While the actual day to commemorate Darwin’s birth--February 12th -- will already have past, we traditionally pay tribute to Darwin at our February chapter meetings. We’ll have door-prizes (win a Darwin bobble-head!) and hear a fascinating talk on evolution.

Since before Darwin, central questions in evolution have involved origins: the origin of species, life, humanity. Traditional evolutionary approaches have looked back to answer these questions: how did things happen millions to billions of years ago? A new complementary approach has attracted much attention that looks forward. Instead of attempting to see into a potentially unknowable past, experimental evolutionists start anew with microbial populations. Using viruses, bacteria and yeast, we directly investigate the evolution and adaptation of populations over hundred to thousands of generations. 

Many fascinating topics in evolutionary biology can be observed as they occur such as transitions in adaptation, the evolution of biological complexity and the evolution of new species. Ambiguity in the evolutionary process is greatly reduced, so that the causes and consequences of adaptation can be disentangled. Our most recent advance is the evolution of multicellular organisms, the foundation for all visible life and its biological diversity. Despite a century of conjecture suggesting that the evolution of such biological complexity occurs gradually, it can readily evolve under the right conditions in the laboratory. 

Michael Travisano studied Astrophysics as an undergraduate at Columbia University but, seeing limited prospects for understanding the origins of life, shifted eventually to evolutionary biology.  He received a PhD with Rich Lenski at Michigan State U, followed by post-docs in Japan and Oxford. Before coming to Minnesota in 2007, Travisano was on the faculty at the University of Houston.


Higher Education: What's Right and What's Wrong with It?

Prof. Jerry Smith, University of Northern Iowa
January 16th, 2016 @ 10:00am
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

The brightest students from around the world come to study at our colleges and universities, so ours must be the best, right?  But troubles lurk, whether or not we want to look at them.  At our January 16th meeting, Dr. Jerry Smith, long-time Humanist of Minnesota member and Professor of Management at Northern Iowa University, will give us an insider's perspective on these important institutions.   

He will identify some of the major problems universities face, the causes of these problems, and some possible remedies.  First, a look at the “usual suspects” blamed for rising costs in higher education—for instance, excessive spending on administration, facilities, and athletics.  This presentation will look more closely at students and faculty, the key educational players.  How does student preparation and motivation affect their performance?  Are faculty teaching and research responsibilities properly balanced?  Beginning with a discussion of these and other issues he will then turn to how the problems in American higher education should be addressed. 

Bring your questions.  This is a subject we can all sink our teeth into, and one in which we all have a stake, because both public and private schools of higher ed all receive public funds, and together they turn out many of the nation's future leaders.  Are these students learning to think logically and to express themselves clearly?  To solve problems?  To lead?  To research?  To invent?  To give back to society?  Or is the primary focus on getting a job and making a pile of money?  What should the purpose of higher education be?  

Gerald F. (Jerry) Smith, professor of management at the University of Northern Iowa, received his PhD in Decision Sciences from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  At UNI, Dr. Smith’s primary teaching responsibilities involve the teaching of critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making to business students.  His research has focused on managerial problem solving, critical thinking, and the challenges of teaching people how to think effectively.  An active member of the Humanists of Minnesota, Jerry delivers thinking skills instruction through Humanists of MN Meetups and is co-organizer of the popular D-Cubed monthly events.


Aid in Dying: Has California's New Law Settled the Debate?

Janet Conn, Compassion and Choices, President of MN Chapter
November 21st, 2015 @ 10:00am
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis


It's not as sexy as same-sex marriage, but the right to die is rolling across this country, and with a mighty roar, it's coming to the Minnesota legislature.  Are you ready to support it?  Work against it?  Hibernate while others decide for you?

At our next chapter meeting, Janet Conn, President of Compassion and Choices will teach us what Aid in Dying is and is not.  Is it the same thing as euthanasia? Is it suicide?  The "Death with Dignity Act" has been in effect in Oregon for 18 years and similar laws have been passed in several states since then. The latest state to pass such a law is California.

Yet the debate is still far from settled and these laws remain controversial. The supporters of these laws believe opponents are at best, misinformed, and at worst, paranoid and acting from unwarranted religious conviction. The presentation at our November chapter meeting will attempt to shed some light on this issue for Minnesota residents.

Whether you're in a generation that's making end-of-life plans, or a millennial who might end up caring for one of your parents, you need to know about this.  Come and help work through the issues in humanistic fashion—supporting the democratic process and putting into practice our critical thinking and moral reasoning skills.

Janet Conn is a Minneapolis native but matriculated in the Boston area where she received a Masters degree in Social Work and a second Masters degree in Accounting.  Returning to Minneapolis, she was a financial and operations manager for many years. Since her retirement in 2005, Janet has been President of the Minnesota chapter of Compassion and Choices, a national non-profit advocacy organization promoting improved care and expanded choice at end of life. 


Somalis in Search of Security: New Challenges and Opportunities

Professor Cawo Abdi, University of Minnesota
October 17th, 2015 @ 10:00am
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

This month we welcome Professor Abdi to give a presentation on Somali migration to three regions of the world--United Arab Emirates, South Africa and the USA. By comparing these three case studies, she will show how refugees and migrants develop distinct adaptive responses in each social context. The studies also underscore the local-global convergence of why people move across borders, rarely a simple matter of push and pull forces, but rather the complicated culmination of a search for citizenship, security and belonging. Within each diasporic destination, the socio-economic and political status of diverse populations remains key to the processes of settlement and integration, and to the sense of belonging, or lack thereof. Within her talk, Prof. Abdi will give special attention to the Somali experience in Minnesota.

Cawo Abdi is an Associate Professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota and a Research Associate at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. Professor Abdi’s research areas are migration, family and gender relations, development, Africa and the Middle East. She has published on these topics in various periodicals and is the author of a book, "Elusive Jannah: The Somali Diaspora and a Borderless Muslim Identity," University of Minnesota Press, 2015.


Mental Illness: Make It O.k.

Sue Abderholden, Executive Director, NAMI Minnesota
September 19th, 2015 @ 10am
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

Do you think we've all outgrown our susceptibility to mental illness?  Guess again. People of all ages have diagnoses of mental illness. In fact, one in four people will be diagnosed with mental illness during their lifetime.  That means that nearly all of us have either had a mental illness, or know somebody who has.  These include several types of depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder, anxiety disorder, borderline personality, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and more.  

Our inaugural guest speaker of the program year is Sue Abderholden, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota (NAMI), the go-to person on mental illness issues in our state.Some of our own Humanist friends have family members who struggle very hard with these mental illnesses or have health challenges of their own. Perhaps you'll hear from them also at our September chapter meeting because we're determined to "Make It OK" to talk about, to have, and to get treatment for mental illness.  In other words, let's stuff the stigma and be real. is a statewide media program to fight the stigma attached to these diseases.  It is a collaboration between Regions Hospital, NAMI, and some other community organizations.  Go to NAMI's website and watch some of the TPT programs featuring people who experience these brain diseases.  And why shouldn't it be OK? Nobody has done anything wrong, or has anything to be ashamed of. Having to carry that false burden of shame makes it so much harder for mentally ill people. Sue will help uncover some of our unconscious biases, help us clean up our language, teach us how to talk easily with someone who is ill, and maybe she'll even thank us for partnering with NAMI at the annual NAMI Walk.  Don't miss this stimulating and helpful program.  

Sue Abderholden received her BA from Macalester College and her MPH from the University of Minnesota.  Currently the Executive Director of the NAMI Minnesota, Sue has also worked for PACER Center, ARC and former U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone. 


Summer Freethought Potluck Picnics

Sundays, 11am-3pm
June 14th--sponsored by Camp Quest Minnesota and CASH (Camputs Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists)
July 19th--sponsored by Humanists of Minnesota
August 16th-sponsored by Minnesota Atheists
Wabun Picnic Area, Shelter B
4655 46th Ave. South
Minneapolis, MN

During the summer, the MN freethought community welcomes all our families and friends to three monthly picnics.  Whether you attend one of our groups regularly or just want to get better acquainted with like-minded folks in a relaxed and social atmosphere, do join us: Humanists of MN, Camp Quest families, the U of MN campus freethought group (CASH) and MN Atheists.  

This year we are at a new location at Wabun Picnic Area which is right next to Minnehaha Park along the Mississippi River (and near the Veterans Home).  Their modern picnic shelters include children's tables and sufficient electric outlets with close proximity to the bathrooms.  Also nearby are the wading pool, playground and Disc Golf. If you'd like, bring along other favorite lawn games for this all-ages event.

The picnic is potluck and will go on rain or shine.  Bring a dish to share along with your own beverage.  Plates and utensils will be available, but to reduce waste, feel free to bring your own re-usable items.


Growing our Community, Building the Movement

Audrey Kingstrom, President, Humanists of Minnesota
May 16th, 2015 @ 10am
Field Community School, Minneapolis, MN

Whatever your relationship to humanism and this organization, the Humanists of MN Board of Directors wants to hear from you! And offer you a complementary lunch for your input! So please join us for this meeting to share your ideas and learn more about some of our current projects--like solar power!

What are you hoping for in a humanist community?  How do you like our current activities, the meeting spaces we use, the speakers we recruit, the website we maintain, the newsletter you read?  What else would you like to see in this organization?  What kind of humanist presence do you think our region most needs?  How would you like to be more involved? 

Perhaps you’d like to know why we continually ask for your financial support. As stewards of our collective resources, we on the Board have the opportunity to showcase humanist values in the larger community—as through the Tubman solar garden initiative—a project you will specifically hear about at this meeting.  And what greater outreach could be done with additional resources—or how would our own community be strengthened with more robust funding?  Again, we want to hear from you.  


Precision Genome Engineering without Frankenstein Tomatoes

Prof. Dan Voytas, University of Minnesota
April 18th, 2015 @10am
Filed Community School, Minneapolis, MN

Plant agriculture is poised at a technological inflection point. Recent advances in genome engineering make it possible to precisely alter DNA sequences in living cells, providing unprecedented control over a plant’s genetic material. That's the news from our speaker for April, Dan Voytas, who is a Professor in the department of genetics, Cell Biology and Development at the University of MN and Director of the Center for Genome Engineering. 

Voytas asserts that potential future crops derived through genome engineering include those that better withstand pests, that have enhanced nutritional value, and that are able to grow on marginal lands. In many instances, crops with such traits will be created by altering only a few nucleotides among the billions that comprise plant genomes. As such, and with the appropriate regulatory structures in place, crops created through genome engineering might prove to be more acceptable to the public than plants that carry foreign DNA in their genomes. Public perception and the performance of the engineered crop varieties will determine the extent to which this powerful technology contributes towards securing the world’s food supply.

It will be a fascinating look at the developments in this field and should go a long way to clarifying what many have concerns about. Join us for a great talk and time to discuss it over lunch afterward.


Artificial Intelligence: A new beginning or the end of humankind

Prof. Maria Gini, University of Minnesota
March 21st, 2015 @ 10am
Field Community School, Minneapolis, MN

Artificial Intelligence has made big strides in the last few years and is reaching the point where it has the potential to impact society in major ways.  In the future intelligent systems and robots will likely become part of our daily lives in many ways, from helping us with routine tasks to handling dangerous jobs, or simply keeping us company. But they could also become able to make decisions that violate our ethical principles, take control of our lives, and disrupt society. In this talk Prof. Gini will explore the state of the art in intelligent systems and discuss future developments and open challenges.

Maria Gini is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota.  She specializes in robotics and Artificial Intelligence.  Specifically she studies decision making for autonomous agents in a variety of a applications, ranging from distributed methods for task allocation, robot exploration and teamwork.  She also works on agent-based economic predictions for supply-chain management, for which she won the 2012 INFORMS Design Science Award for with her Ph.D. student Wolf Ketter and colleagues. She is a Fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), a Distinguished Professor of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, and the winner of numerous University awards.


Understanding Warfare: An Evolutionary Approach

Prof. Michael Wilson, University of Minnesota
February 21st, 2015 @ 10am
Field Community School, Minneapolis, MN


Darwin Day has become an important event within the humanist community in the past couple of decades. The tradition within our organization in recent years has been to pay tribute to Darwin at our February chapter meeting--although the actual day to commemorate his birth, February 12th will aready have past.

Our guest speaker this year is evolutionary anthropologist Michael Wilson of the University of Minnesota. In his presentation, Prof. Wilson will highlight Darwin's contributions to evolutionary biology and how it provides the foundation for his work. Specifically, Wilson will address the topic of warfare, a nearly universal trait in human societies.

Many argue that warfare has shaped the evolution of human psychology and that it continues to influence the evolution of societies today. By some definitions, warfare is uniquely human; no other species engages in armed combat using manufactured weapons. But in other respects, human warfare bears much in common with intergroup aggression in a range of species, from ants to chimpanzees. Michael Wilson will discuss how an evolutionary perspective on warfare can help shed light on why people fight and what they can do to make war less likely to occur.

Michael Wilson is an Evolutionary Anthropologist who studies the behavior and ecology of primates to gain insights into the evolution of human behavior. Born in Minnesota, he studied at the University of Chicago, Cambridge University, and Harvard before returning to Minnesota for post-doctoral research. He is now an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota, with a joint appointment in the Departments of Anthropology and Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. He has studied baboons in Kenya and chimpanzees in Uganda and Tanzania, including three years as Field Director of the Jane Goodall Institute's Gombe Stream Research Centre in Tanzania.


What is the Commons and Why Does it Matter?

Jay Walljasper, Editor, The Commons
January 17th, 2015 @10am
Field Community School, Minneapolis, MN

Our January chapter meeting will feature Jay Walljasper, social theorist, speaker and writer on the "commons" movement. The term may be unfamiliar to some, but the idea has been around for centuries. The commons is a new use of an old word, meaning what we share—and it offers fresh hope for a saner, safer, more enjoyable future.

The commons refers to a wealth of valuable assets that belong to everyone. These range from clean air to wildlife preserves; the judicial system to the Internet; informal social networks that hold communities together to the genetic building blocks of life. Some are bestowed to us by nature; others are the product of cooperative human creativity. Certain elements of the commons are entirely new—think of Wikipedia. Others are centuries old—like colorful words and phrases from the planet's languages. Come learn about how this movement is changing the way we think about and function in the 21st century world.

Jay Walljasper is the editor of All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons (which was recently translated into Korean). He is editor of Commons Magazine at and a Senior Fellow, at On the Commons, a commons movement strategy center. He is also author of The Great Neighborhood Book and a Senior Fellow at Project for Public Spaces . He was editor of Utne Reader for many years and his writing has appeared in Mother Jones, The Nation, the New Statesman, Ode, Yes!, Huffington Post and Resurgence. He writes and speaks frequently about the commons, urban issues, politics, culture and travel.


Family Winter Exploration at Wood Lake

Haven Davis, Naturalist, Wood Lake Nature Center
December 20th, 2014 @ 10am
Wood Lake Nature Center, Richfield, MN


Our December chapter meeting will be held at Wood Lake Nature Center for a family-friendly exploration into changes in the natural world, across the seasons and through the years. While children explore the indoor exhibits, adults will hear a brief presentation from naturalist, Haven Davis, on the study of seasonal changes and what they can tell us about anthropogenic climate change. Then join Davis on an intergenerational hike to explore, learn, and play in the forest, prairie, and marsh.  Or alternatively, enjoy the beautiful view of the nature preserve from inside and participate in one of two small group discussions (see below).  If going on the hike, please dress for the weather and be prepared to be outside for at least 45 minutes.  Back inside we will enjoy hot chocolate around the fireplace followed by a catered lunch with pizza.

If staying inside, participate in a discussion of Haven’s presentation, "Tracking Climate Change through Phenology." She will have provided a brief introduction to phenology, given examples of how it is being used to track climate change around the world, and highlighted some notable phenological changes at Wood Lake and more generally in our region.  Participants can further discuss their own observations and share ideas on how to help moderate climate change or mitigate its effects. Facilitated by Mark Thoson.

Or, stay inside to discuss some alternative ways to celebrate the holidays from a humanist perspective, focusing on the cycle of the seasons.  Let’s consider some family -friendly ways to celebrate the real reason for the season—axial tilt.  Can we create new traditions that highlight our values of curiosity and respect for the natural world as well as compassion and conviviality at this bleakest time of year? Facilitated by Audrey Kingstrom.


Global Food Security:  Why increasing production is not enough

Professor William Moseley, Macalaster College
Field Community School, Mpls., MN


At this month's chapter meeting Prof. William Moseley will explore a number of food security issues through the lens of the 2007-2008 global food crisis as it played out in West Africa. High food prices in 2007 and 2008 touched off food riots around the world, with urban West Africa arguably suffering more of these disturbances than any other world region. From a global, inter-disciplinary perspective as a geographer, Moseley will address the interesting connection between this crisis and the first Green Revolution as well as neoliberal policy reform. Prior to becoming an academic, Moseley worked for the US Peace Corps, Save the Children UK, USAID, and the World Bank. He has a breadth of knowledge and experience from which to challenge our thinking about the role of technology in food security, the green revolution, global trade, private vs. public investment, subsidies and modernization.

William G. Moseley is a Professor and Chair of Geography, and Director of African Studies, at Macalester College. His research interests include tropical agriculture, food security, and environment and development policy. His field work is based in West and Southern Africa, having led to extended stays in Mali, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Niger, and Lesotho. He is the author of over 60 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. His most recent book is: An Introduction to Human-Environment Geography: Local Dynamics and Global Processes (2013). His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Fulbright-Hays Program. Dr. Moseley writes a regular column for Al jazeera English and has penned editorials for the New York Times, Washington Post and Minneapolis StarTribune.


Dynamic minds, brains, environments: Making creativity happen

Professor Wilma Koutstaal, University of MN
October 18th @ 10am
Field Community School,  Mpls.


What is creative and innovative thinking really all about?  How do we discover promising new ways of making, imagining, and adeptly moving toward our creative goals, whether working on our own or together with others? 

In this presentation, psychology professor Wilma Koutstaal will provide us with a science-grounded perspective for realizing our individual and collective creative goals. We’ll learn a unique 5-part “thinking framework” in which ideas continually form and re-form within the dynamic interplay of our minds, brains, and environments. 

We’ll see how optimizing our creativity as individuals and in teams or in organizations requires flexibly varying our degrees of mental control and our levels of abstraction.  We’ll emphasize that individual and collective creativity and change emerge from an ongoing process of “making and finding” in which we repeatedly cycle between what we intend to “make” and what our intended actions help us “find.”

Wilma Koutstaal is a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, with a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Harvard University.  Her research and teaching focuses on thinking, memory, and cognitive neuroscience.  She is the author of the award-winning The Agile Mind, published in 2012 with Oxford University Press.  Her forthcoming book, also with Oxford University Press, is Innovating Minds: A Thinking Framework for Creativity and Change.


Hope and Opportunity for Guatemalan Children

Shari Blindt
Executive Director, Common Hope
September 20, 2014 @ 10am
Field Community School, Minneapolis

Guatemala suffers from a level of inequality and widespread poverty that is extreme even within Latin America. This past year we have seen a surge of young people leave Central America to escape poverty and violence and/or re-unite with family members already in the U.S. seeking economic opportunity. But for the past 25 years, Common Hope, a service-oriented non-profit with offices in St. Paul and Antigua, has been creating opportunities in Guatemala for families and children to improve their lives through education, health care, housing and family development programs.

Join us at our chapter meeting to learn how Common Hope provides support to families who dream of an education for their children, and how this partnership removes barriers so they can persevere and achieve that dream. Today Common Hope serves more than 3,000 children from preschool through university in 26 different villages in Guatemala. Twice as likely to graduate from high school as their peers, Common Hope graduates will double their earning potential in their lifetime with a high school degree in hand. 

Our guest speaker is Shari Blindt, Executive Director of Common Hope since 2006 after spending 18 years in the marketing and client services industry. Shari’s involvement with Common Hope began shortly after the adoption of her two Guatemalan children, when she felt a strong need to give back to the people of Guatemala. She began volunteering both in the U.S. office and on the executive board’s marketing and fundraising committee. She has also led a volunteer team to Guatemala where she was able to directly participate in the services that Common Hope provides.


August Freethought Picnic

Sunday, August 17th, 2014
12 noon-3:00pm
Columbia Park Picnic Area
NE Minneapolis. MN


During the summer months, the MN freethought community holds a monthly picnic open to anyone who wants to hang out with us: Humanists of MN, Camp Quest families, the U of MN campus freethought group (CASH) and MN Atheists.  The picnic is on--rain or shine. (It's a big shelter.)

These are potluck picnics so bring some picnic food to share. The shelter area has electricity and a sink. You'll need to bring your own beverage, plate and utensils.  Also, if you have a picnic table cloth to share with your picnic mates for a more pleasant dining experience, all the better.

This is an all-ages event!  There will be lots of friendly people, a play area for the kids, lively discussions for the adults, plenty of room for group games, and maybe even a sing-a-long for the musically inclined.  (In July, the kids had a great time singing and dancing!)  For those of you who like to be physically active, bring a frisbee or other favorite lawn games.

The August picnic is sponsored by Minnesota Atheists.


July Freethought Picnic

Sunday, July 13th, 2014
12 noon-- 3:00pm
Columbia Park Picnic Area
NE Minneapolis, MN

The July picnic is sponsored by Humanists of Minnesota.June Freethought Picnic


June Freethought Picnic

Sunday, June 8th, 2014
12 noon-3:00pm
Columbia Park Picnic Area
NE Minneapolis, MN

The June picnic is sponsored by CASH (Campus Atheists, Skeptics & Humanists at the UofMN) and Camp Quest.


Solar for Everyone

Ken Bradley
CEO, Minnesota Community Solar
Saturday, May 17th @ 10am
Field Community School, Minneapolis


Our speaker, Ken Bradley, CEO of Minnesota Community Solar, will introduce us to one of the newest developments in renewal energy—solar gardens. Minnesota Community Solar is the first turnkey, sustainable model for community solar. It brings together all the partners and resources to develop community solar gardens (CSGs), producing clean, local energy and reducing global warming emissions. It uses Minnesota labor, manufactured products and financing whenever possible.

Community solar gardens make solar electricity available to those who can't put solar modules on their own property. Without CSGs, only 20% of all rate-payers are in a position to access solar energy due to site characteristics, lack of property ownership, cost, or legal restrictions. Community solar subscriptions are available to any business or person with an electric bill. Minnesota Community Solar offers a new, simpler way for more electricity consumers to access solar power. The growth of solar power in Minnesota is on the verge of a major expansion and Ken’s information will allow us all to examine this remarkable opportunity in depth.

As CEO of Minnesota Community Solar ( Ken is central to the business planning and development of the company. He has worked as director for several non-profit organizations leading various efforts to increase investments in renewable energy, energy-efficiency, and to reduce global warming pollution. He is also on the board of trustees for Minnesota Environmental Partnership and Minneapolis Community and Technical College.


Thorium Nuclear Power: Climate Solution for the 21st Century?

Dr. George Erickson
Editor, Lake Superior Freethinkers
Saturday, April 19th @ 10m
Field Community School, Minneapolis

As the planet warms and nations create expensive, short-sighted plans to “adapt” to catastrophic changes, why not eliminate one of the largest sources of CO2-caused climate change? Why not replace carbon-fueled and uranium power plants with thorium nuclear power?

In the first of our spring programs on energy policy, this month’s chapter meeting speaker is nuclear power advocate, George Erickson, author, lecturer, and long-time HofMN member. Erickson will make the case for thorium-powered molten salt reactors as more efficient and safe than traditional nuclear power and as essential to addressing the urgency of climate change. (Next month we will continue our focus on energy policy with a presentation about local solar power initiatives and options.)

The Industrial Revolution, the genie that delivered the Age of Hydrocarbons and its endless supply of marvels, also had a dark side – a world of melting ice caps, rising sea levels, resource wars, powerful storms, desiccating droughts and increasing acidity that threatens the ocean food chain. Erickson argues that in less than fifty years we can reverse these trends if we welcome the Age of Thorium. In 1959 the United States already had a design for a thorium-powered reactor that had proven advantages over uranium, but uranium won primarily because U-235 is great for making bombs. And because uranium won, we settled for an Edsel when we could have built a Porsche.

George Erickson is a retired dentist, former bush pilot, past president of the Humanists of MN and a former VP of the American Humanist Association. Hegrew up in Virginia, MN and returned to a lake home near there in 2002 where he currently writes the newsletter of the Lake Superior Freethinkers. As science buff and avid environmentalist, George is a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Thorium Energy Alliance and the Sierra Club.

Author of several books, including True North: Exploring the Great Wilderness by Bush Plane and Time Traveling with Science and the Saints, Dr. Erickson is a frequent lecturer on subjects that range from nuclear power to a lighthearted presentation about death and dying entitled Laughing at Death. For a complete listing of his writing and presentations, please view his website.


Ethical Decision-making in Advance Care Planning

Dr. Dorothy Vawter
Minnesota Center for Healh Care Ethics
Saturday, March 15th @ 10m
Field Community School, Minneapolis


As America’s most populous generation ages, the number of persons who will be suffering Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will skyrocket. In this presentation, medical ethicist, Dorothy Vawter, will delineate the unusual breadth of ethically challenging decisions that dementia poses for advance care planning. Many other common health conditions including heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes also warrant advance planning with difficult issues to contemplate. Specifically, those who wish to engage in comprehensive planning may want to provide direction and guidance on issues arising in the early, middle and late stages of their disease in addition to at the end-of-life. For example, the predictable sequence of key dementia-related decisions offers significant opportunities for advance planning by both individuals and their surrogate decision makers, including the specification of alternative substituted judgment models and whether to participate in research.

Vawter will consider several strategies for engaging in advance care planning for dementia and other medical conditions. Participants will be encouraged to think through their own disease-specific concerns. For instance, many dementia-related decisions are highly personal and subjective requiring explication of such things as what it means for the person to live well with dementia and how they wish their surrogates to weigh competing responsibilities to the patient, themselves, family and community—ethically weighty questions about which there is little agreement or shared expectations.

DOROTHY E. VAWTER, PHD, is the Associate Director of the Minnesota Center for Health Care Ethics and the lead ethicist for Fairview Health Services. She completed her doctoral studies in philosophy at Georgetown University and the Kennedy Institute of Ethics. In addition to holding appointments at several medical schools, she served on the staff of three federal commissions charged with developing policy recommendations on such matters as the protection of human research subjects, end-of-life decision-making and access to health care. She has co-edited two books and was lead author of the 2010 report, For the Good of Us All, a community-wide ethics project on rationing health care resources in a severe pandemic.


Brain Resilience and Emotional Trauma

Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos, University of MN
Field Community School, Minneapolis

If we cut our finger while preparing a meal, our body knows how to stop the bleeding and begin the process of repairing our skin. If we break a bone falling on the ice, our body can marshal all the resources necessary to rebuild the bone. But what if we experience a traumatic emotional event? What does our body do then? This is the fascinating area of study that our guest for February examines.

Come hear Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos, Director of the Brain Sciences Center, housed at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis. His exciting work with Lisa James and Brian Engdahl is chronicled in the publication JAMA Psychiatry entitled, “Neural Network Modulation by Trauma as a Marker of Resilience.” It details differences between the neuronal changes of patients with PTSD and control patients that also experienced trauma but are not diagnosed as having PTSD.

Besides providing an update on the activities of the Brain Sciences Center, Dr. Georgopoulos will discuss the following questions:

• How can we stay healthy in adverse conditions?
• What does rigidity of personality have to do with the effects of trauma?
• How might  personality differences manifest themselves in the brain?

 Dr Georgopoulos’ credentials include the following positions at the University of Minnesota:

• Regents Professor
• American Legion Brain Sciences Chair
• McKnight Presidential Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience
• Professor of Neuroscience, Neurology and Psychiatry
• Director, Center for Cognitive Sciences

This promises to be another exceptionally informative and stimulating conversation with one of the leaders in the field of brain research.  Please join us.


Campaign Finance and the Supreme Court

Jeremy Schroeder, Common Cause Minnesota
Saturday, January 18th, 2014 @10am
Field Community School, Minneapolis


The Supreme Court case of Citizens United v FEC in January of 2010 changed the world of political campaigns by allowing unfettered spending by special interests. This change seemed to come overnight, but the reality is that it has taken decades of little decisions and little shifts to the public narrative about campaign spending and politics in general to get here.

Our speaker, Jeremy Schroeder of Common Cause MN, will illuminate this path to Citizens United starting with the 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo which stated that money is political speech – and therefore constitutionally protected.  Schroeder will go on to examine when we as a society decided money raised and spent is the best means to determine fitness for public office.  Finally, he will look to the path forward to change course to a more equitable and inclusive system of electing our representatives.

Jeremy Schroeder is the Executive Director of Common Cause Minnesota and a board member of Amnesty International.  He has been leading targeted campaigns around issues like worker rights and human rights for over a decade.  As former executive director of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Mr. Schroeder successfully led the campaign to repeal the death penalty in that state.  Schroeder has an engineering degree from Marquette University and is a graduate of the University of the District of Columbia School of Law.



Wrestling with Christmas: Past and Present

Audrey Kingstrom, Humanists of Minnesota, Community Coordinator
Saturday, December 21st, 2013 @ 10am
Field Community School, Minneapolis

Is Christmas a religious holiday or a cultural one? Ask any social or cultural historian and invariably the answer will be “both.” But ask the proverbial man or woman on the street and you will get a variety of answers. The duplicity of the season is as old as Christmas itself--giving rise to its ever-turbulent history and our frequent modern debates. With its ubiquitous messaging and layers of meaning, Christmas presents a quandary for non-Christians. Some make their “peace” with the holiday, focusing on its cultural aspects, while others opt out altogether and urge fellow non-believers to do the same.

In this presentation, Audrey will review the origins of Christmas and its role in Western culture. She will recount its many transformations over the centuries as a season of timeless discontent. In addition, the contemporary secular holiday will be critiqued from a humanist perspective—teasing out its virtues and vices. But unlike some of her atheist and humanist peers, Audrey will not argue for an “abstinence only” approach to the season. Rather, she will advocate for yet another historical update of the winter holiday to meet the needs of our increasingly diverse society with ample room for an unabashed humanist celebration of Yule.

Audrey Kingstrom is a board member of Humanists of MN and serves as our Community Coordinator. A devout Christian in her youth, Audrey has spent much of her adult life wrestling with Christmas after she became an atheist. With masters degrees in theology and education, she became fascinated (if not obsessed) with the history of Christmas. For over a dozen years, Audrey has written and produced Midwinter Solstice Revels with fellow humanists at the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, where she is also a member.


How to Feed the World without Destroying the Planet

Emily Cassidy, Global Landscape Initiatve,University of MN
Saturday, November 16th, 2013 @ 10am
Field Community School, Minneapolis

Global demand for crops and land are increasing rapidly with changing diets and rising incomes around the world. How can we improve our ability to balance human needs with environmental stewardship and promote secure landscapes across the globe? At this month’s chapter meeting Emily Cassidy, research assistant in the Global Landscapes Initiative Lab at the University of MN, will illustrate several strategies to feeding a growing global population without destroying the environment. Focusing on her own research, Emily will talk about these various strategies that investigate the inefficiencies in the way we currently use croplands. She will also discuss the environmental impact of various diet preferences and review some of the latest research on food sourcing for more informed consumer decision-making. Although global environmental issues may be daunting, Emily will show how small changes in our diets can have significant impacts on reducing our environmental footprint.

Emily Cassidy is an environmental scientist, defending her master’s in natural resources science on November 18th–just a few days after our meeting. She is a graduate research assistant at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Her research focuses on the environmental impact of global food production. Her master’s thesis got media attention from NBC News, Scientific American, Science Daily, MPR, and others. It was also chosen as one of Environmental Research Letters ‘Research Highlights’.


Broken Justice:  Moving Beyond Punishment

Sarah Walker, MN Second Chance Coalition
Saturday, October 19, 2013 @ 10am
Field Community School, Minneapolis

Humanists of MN welcomes Sarah Walker, founder of the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition, as guest speaker at our October chapter meeting.  She will offer a historical and political perspective of mass imprisonment in the United States.  The United States now holds 25% of the world’s prison population despite constituting 4.5% of the world’s population.  Walker will offer an explanatory thesis of how the United States moved from a land of second chances to a state of perpetual punishment.  In particular, the presentation will discuss mass imprisonment as it relates to Minnesota, describe local and national efforts for reform and offer suggestions to fix the state of “Broken Justice.”

Childcare is available from 10am-noon.  Please indicate the age of your child (or children) you intend to bring when you RSVPthrough our Meet-up site so we can plan accordingly.  Thanks! 

Parking at Field School is available on site.  Enter the small lot from 4th Ave.  If it is filled, maneuver your car carefully around the yellow posts and the curb cut-out ramps to park in the adjacent playground.  As usual, a luncheon will follow the presentation; watch for a separate meet-up notice to RSVP.

Ms.  Walker served five years as the Chief Operating Officer at 180 Degrees, a local non-profit helping those caught in the criminal justice system turn their lives around. During her time there, she founded the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition.  Walker is a graduate of Carleton College and is currently completing her doctorate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. She brings extensive research experience to issues of politics, inequality, criminal justice reform and the role of philanthropic organizations in setting interest group agendas.

Walker’s public policy work has received many accolades. She was the recipient of the 2010 Minnesota Council of Non-Profits Statewide Advocacy Award, 2010 Hennepin County Bar Association Advancing Justice Award, 2010 and 2011 winner of the Politics in Minnesota’s Leaders in Public Policy Award and 2012 Minnesota Associations for Children’s Mental Health’s Outstanding Service Award for her work in Juvenile Justice. Most recently, Walker served as a board member and public spokesperson for Minnesota United for all Families.


America's War on Drugs: A Historical Perspective

Professor Patrick McNamara, University of MN
Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 @ 10am
Field Community School, Minneapolis

Join us for another engaging year of rational, social and ethical inquiry as our chapter meetings resume on third Saturday of each month.  As a growing organization, some changes are in store. Especially take note of our new location at Field Community School in south Minneapolis. Along with being a more spacious venue, it will give us the ability to offer childcare during our meetings. Please indicate with your RSVP through our Meet-up site if you are in need of childcare, along with the number of children and their ages, so we can plan accordingly. As usual, our meeting will be followed with a catered lunch.

Our inaugural speaker of the program year is history professor Patrick McNamara of the University of Minnesota. He will provide an overview of the long history of controlled substances throughout the Western Hemisphere. When and how did some drugs become a social problem? Why is cocaine illegal in the United States? Who is winning the war on drugs? In particular, McNamara will focus on the scope of the so-called “war on drugs” of the past 30 years including drug use, drug markets and the violence surrounding drugs.   Not surprisingly, as a historian, McNamara asserts that study of the past helps us understand the present context and imagine a different future regarding these complicated and controversial issues.

Patrick McNamara has been interested in drugs for a long time. While that interest has been primarily academic, he remains interested in the longer, hemispheric history of drug use by indigenous populations for ceremonies, the export and consumption of illegal drugs, and the effects of the “drug war” on populations throughout the Americas. As a historian of Mexico, he has watched a peaceful country fall into the abyss of unrestrained violence and destruction for the sake of a consumer drug market in the United States.



August Freethought Picnic

 Sunday, August 18th, 2013
12 noon-3pm
Columbia Park Picnic Area

During the summer months, the MN freethought community holds a monthly picnic open to anyone who wants to hang out!  Join us: humanists, agnostics, atheists, freethought families, and the U of MN campus freethought group. This is an all-ages event!  There will be lots of friendly people, a play area for the kids, lively discussions for the adults, and plenty of room to play frisbee etc.  Bring games, instruments etc.

These are potluck picnics so bring some picnic food to share. The shelter area has electricity and a sink. Don’t forget to bring your own beverage, plate and utensils.

The August picnic is is sponsored by Minnesota Atheists.


July Freethought Picnic

Sunday, July 2st, 2013
12 noon-3pm
Columbia Park Picnic Area
The July picnic is sponsored by Humanists of Minnesota.


June Freethought Picnic

Sunday,  June 9th, 2013
12 noon-3:00pm
Columbia Park Picnic Area

The June picnic is sponsored by CASH (Campus Atheists, Skeptics & Humanists at the UofMN)


Immigration Reform:  Battles, Bargains and Benefits

John Keller, Executive Director
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Saturday, May18th, 2013 @ 10am
Nokomis Community Center, Minneapolis

The political will for immigration reform is broadening across the country, but getting legislation through Congress will still require a herculean effort, tenacious negotiation and much compromise. At our upcoming chapter meeting John Keller, Executive Director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, will provide anupdate on the latest developments in the new immigration laws being proposed in Congress. He will also discuss the need for reform, the costs of doing nothing and the benefits of comprehensive reform. Keller, an advocate of policy based on human rights, compassion and pragmatism, will argue that the immigrant population is key to a vibrant economy in Minnesota. His office sees 20 to 25 new young undocumented clients a week seeking a path toward citizenship under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals memorandum issued by Obama last year. Join us to learn more about how you can weigh in with your legislators on this issue and how you can support immigrants in our own region.  

John Keller heads the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota whose mission is to provide quality immigration legal services, law-related education, and advocacy for Minnesota’s immigrant and refugee communities. Prior to his appointment as Executive Director in 2005, Keller was staff attorney at ILCM from 1998 to 2004. He also served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Minnesota Immigration Clinic from 2004-06, and as Vice Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Immigration Chapter. Keller graduated Cum Laude from Hamline School of Law in 1996 and received his B.A. in Latin American Studies and Spanish from the University of Minnesota in 1992.


Addressing Climate Change in MN:  Community Design and Transportation

Barb Thoman, Transit for Livable Communitites
Kurt Kimber, MN350
Saturday, April 20th, 2013 @ 10am
Nokomis Community Center

Join us at our April chapter meeting--just two days before Earth Day--as we consider what we can do about climate change.  The rise in global temperatures and more severe weather will have profound consequences in MN and around the globe. Barb Thoman of Transit for Livable Communities and Kurt Kimber of MN350 will provide an overview of the science, climate changes and trends in Minnesota, and what needs to be done to dramatically reduce emissions. The strategies presented will focus primarily on transportation and development patterns. Local community projects and statewide policy initiatives currently underway will be discussed as well as individual efforts and lifestyle choices that can help create a more sustainable future --and economy!

Barb Thoman co-founded Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) with another transit advocate in 1997. She served as executive director until 2001 and is currently serving as the executive director again. She is passionate about transportation research and is widely respected as a regional expert on transportation and land use. As a local non-profit organization, TLC has been a key leader in advocating for a more equitable, affordable and sustainable transportation system in Minnesota. Today TLC has 10,000 supporters, a staff of 12 FTE and a 12 member board of directors.

Kurt Kimber identifies as a “serial activist” who is currently an avid volunteer with MN350. The looming impacts of climate change and peak oil on civilization motivate his work on issues of infrastructure and strategy.


Democracy in a Divided Society

Professor Micheal Fuerstain, St. Olaf College
Saturday, March 16th, 2013 @ 10am
Nakomis Community Center

One common complaint about contemporary American democracy is that it has become hopelessly polarized.  How can we hope to govern ourselves when we disagree so profoundly on questions of fundamental value and, indeed, on the proper role of government itself?  The answer to this question depends on more fundamental issues concerning the ideal of democratic governance itself, issues which rarely receive adequate public attention.  Is democracy a competition among private interests?  Or is it an attempt to advance the common good?  And what do we mean by “common good” in the first place?  Does democracy require that we try to achieve some kind of consensus?  Or is democracy best served by the vigorous clash of ideas?  What kind of civic discourse is genuinely democratic?  Professor Fuerstein will discuss historical and contemporary philosophical views of the democratic ideal and how these different views bear on our civic obligations under circumstances of deep conflict.  To RSVP, click here.

Michael Fuerstein earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at Columbia University in 2009 and is presently Assistant Professor at St. Olaf College, where he teaches courses in social, political, and moral philosophy.  Prior to arriving at St. Olaf he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Cultural Analysis at Rutgers University.  His research focuses on the relationship between scientific and other knowledge-making institutions and the institutions of liberal democracy.  His work has appeared in scholarly journals such as The Journal of Political Philosophy and Episteme, as well as public venues such as the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and he has given lectures in many locations throughout North America and Europe.


Sex, Drugs, and Risky Behavior: How Adolescence Contributes to Evolutionary Success

Professor Kurt Illig, University of St. Thomas
Saturday, February 16th, 2013 @ 10am
Nakomis Community Center

Darwin Day, in recognition of Darwin’s birthday on February 12th, is an international celebration of science and reason. As is customary, our February chapter meeting will focus on a contemporary issue in evolution. We are pleased to welcome Professor Illig to speak to us about his current research.  

Human adolescents have a tendency toward risky behavior and display a higher tendency for drug abuse. These same tendencies are found in other mammals, including rats which are close evolutionary relatives. Recent work from Dr. Illig’s lab has revealed that adolescent rats learn differently from juvenile and adult rats, and these differences coincide with changes in the dopamine system in the brain. In this presentation, Prof. Illig will discuss his findings and explain how risk-taking may be advantageous from an evolutionary viewpoint.

Kurt Illig survived his own adolescence in the Rocky Mountains despite participating in risky pursuits such as skiing and mountain climbing. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Drake University, and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Wisconsin Medical school until 2002, when he took a position at the University of Virginia. In 2009, he risked everything to take a position in the Biology Department at the University of St. Thomas, where he teaches, conducts research, and serves as Director of the Neuroscience Program


Sex Trafficking of Minnesota Girls

Suzanne Koepplinger, MIWRC
Saturday, January 19th, 2013@ 10am
Nakomis Community Center

This discussion will focus on an emerging crime – the sexual exploitation of our girls. The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (MIWRC) has taken a strong lead on researching the scope of the problem, developing culturally appropriate services to those victimized, and working in coalition with the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force to create solutions.In the upcoming 2013 legislative session, a bill will be presented to create the first program of its kind in the country to address the trafficking of juveniles in Minnesota. Called the No Wrong Door for Services model, this promising practice has the capacity to not only save young lives, but save taxpayer dollars. The presentation will provide insight into the scope and dynamics of sex trafficking of girls in Minnesota, an overview of the coordinated response, and action steps you can take to help stop this human rights violation.

Suzanne Koepplinger, M.A., has served as the Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center since 2003. She serves on numerous Boards, including the American Indian Community Development Corporation, Artspace, and the Minneapolis Foundation. She holds a Master’s degree in the Art of Leadership from Augsburg College. She is the recipient of several awards, including the Minneapolis FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award. Suzanne has extensive public speaking and training experience across sectors, and was one of 15 national leaders selected for the 2011-2012 Move to End Violence Initiative hosted by the NoVo Foundatition.



Happy Holidays? The Unanticipated Science of Pleasure & Desire

Prof. Angus MacDonald, University of MN
Saturday, December 15th, 2012 @ 10am
Nakomis Community Center

Join us at our December chapter meeting for a psychological romp through some of our holiday dispositions. In this talk, Professor MacDonald will unpack the evolutionary challenge of devising a system that can motivate an organism toward survival goals and yet allow enough flexibility to learn new goals. The result is a brain where the system for evaluating whether an experience is good (the Liking network) has been separated from the systems for deciding what experiences to seek (the Wanting and Learning networks).

This legacy has a number of ironic consequences in the holiday season, where wish lists, consumerism and stress co-mingle with friendship and generosity. MacDonald will discuss a series of studies that explores this science, from the earliest work on the electronic stimulation of “pleasure centers” to more recent work on kindness and gratitude. Neuroscience and psychology will provide a backdrop for a general discussion of how to balance wanting and liking not just during the holidays, but the whole year around.

Angus MacDonald, III, (2001 Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota where he teaches clinical psychology and cognitive neuroscience. His research focuses on brain systems and genes associated with cognitive control, emotional control, addiction and psychosis. He is an author on over 75 publications on these topics, has received research funding from the National Institutes of Health and private foundations, and is the recipient of a dozen honors and awards in his field. Since 2006, Professor MacDonald has taught "Happiness: Integrating Research Across Psychological Sciences," and this year is teaching his first Global Seminar, "Golden Triangle: Addiction, Power and Buddhism in Thailand," both of which build on these topics for undergraduate students.


Global Hunger: Causes, Consequences, and Unexpected Relationships

Professor Amy Damon, Macalaster College
Saturday, November 17th, 2012 @ 10am
Nakomis Community Center

Global Food Security is the topic of our November chapter meeting with a presentation by Prof. Amy Damon of Macalester College. Amy will discuss the state of food insecurity in the world and will explore a number of root causes of global hunger. Her talk will provide an overview of some of the most important, pressing and controversial topics in international agriculture today.

We will discuss questions such as: What are the connections between HIV/AIDS and food security? How have supermarkets changed the nature of small farming in Latin America? Can biotechnology save us all? Why are women the key to global food security? The discussion will push us to think beyond simple concepts of hunger, and actively pursue a more nuanced understanding of factors driving the state of the global food system today.

Amy Damon completed her PhD in Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota and is currently an Assistant Professor of Economics at Macalester College.  Her research interests include investigating the effects of international migration on families living in Central America, conservation and food security in Tanzania, and food security in developing countries.  She has also worked on evaluating the effectiveness of education programs in Latin America, food consumption patterns in the United States, and the effect of land degradation on the productivity of Central American farmers.  Amy has worked at a number of international organizations including the World Bank, the International Food Policy Research Institute, and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture.  She has published articles in Journal of Development Studies, Agricultural Economics, and Agricultural Systems.


The "Voter Restriction" Amendment

Gwen Myers, League of Woment Voters Minnesota
Saturday, October 20th @10am
Nakomis Community Center

 The Voter Restriction (a.k.a. Photo ID) Amendment to the State Constitution is, according to the League of Women Voters, a threat to your right to vote and to your pocketbook. On October 20th, Gwen Myers of LWV Minnesota will explain what is spelled out and what is implied by the language of this proposed amendment, and how this will affect you, your family and your friends if it passes on November 6th.

LWV Minnesota is a nonpartisan political organization which encourages informed and active participation in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. They do not endorse candidates, but they do study issues, take positions on those issues, and advocate for them. Protecting every citizen’s right to vote is a top priority.

Gwen Myers is a former chair of LWV Minnesota’s lobbying committee. She retired after teaching high school history and government at Mound Westonka High School for 35 years and has continued her interest in public policy through her volunteer lobbying for the League. Her specific areas of interest are election law and the environment.


Love is a Battleground:  Arguing About Marriage is Nothing New

Phil Duran, Legal Director, OutFront Minnesota
Saturday, September 15th @10am
Nakomis Community Center

This fall, Minnesotans will consider a ballot question which, if approved, would amend the state constitution to further reinforce Minnesota's existing exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage.  For a year and a half, Minnesotans have been engaged in a lengthy and often thoughtful discussion about the nature of marriage and of equality, and the respective roles of church and state.  In reality, that conversation has been going on in our country for around a century and a half, and in Western society, for considerably longer.  Phil Duran, the Legal Director of OutFront Minnesota and a member of the First Unitarian Society, a humanist congregation, will explore aspects of the mythical and historical context behind today's debates regarding same-sex couples' access to marriage, examine the current status of relationship-recognition, and imagine where the conversation will go in the near future.

Phil Duran, a graduate of the University of Minnesota law school, is Legal Director for OutFront Minnesota, the state's leading LGBT-equality organization. Beginning as a volunteer in 1997, he joined its staff in 2000. In addition to his varietal work as legal advocate, educator and human rights attorney, Phil represents OutFront Minnesota on Governor Dayton's Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying, and chairs the Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity subcommittee of the Minnesota Judicial Branch's Committee for Equality and Justice. He is currently President-Elect of the Minnesota State Bar Association, and is a past member of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission and a founding board member of the Minnesota Lavender Bar Association.


Climate Change:  What we know, what we expect.

Dr. John Abraham
Saturday, May 19th, 2012 @10am
Nakomis Community Center

 Dr. Abraham is a thermal sciences professor at the University of St. Thomas.  Recently, he became internationally known for debunking who was then, at the time, the world’s leading climate change skeptic, Christopher Monckton.  After the debunking, Monckton threatened Dr. Abraham with legal action and mounted a publicity campaign against his university.  Despite this, Abraham, and his university stood firm and now are recognized as major international players in climate change.

Currently, Dr. Abraham works with various organizations to improve our understanding of the climate.  He helps the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measure ocean temperatures.  He also leads projects to provide clean renewable fuels to the developing world.  His aim is to provide sound scientific understanding of climate change so that we can make informed decisions to deal with this growing problem.

In his presentation at the Humanists of MN chapter meeting, we will learn about his work and the state of our knowledge regarding climate change.

Dr. Abraham teaches and performs research in the area of thermal sciences. Among his specialties are ocean monitoring of climate change and the development of clean and renewable energy technologies for the developing world. He is an expert reviewer for the forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. He has published approximately 150 journal papers and conference presentations.


A New Era in Brain Science

dr-georgopoulos-labWith Dr. Apostolos P. Georgopoulos
Saturday, April 21st, 2012 @ 10am
Nakomis Community Center

April's Humanists of Minnesota chapter meeting brings us the opportunity to hear from a leader in the field of brain research, Dr. Apostolos P. Georgopoulos. He is the director of the Brain Sciences Center, housed at the V.A. Medical Center Minneapolis. His talk will include an overview of the state of brain research, a look at the microscopic world of our brains, a general description of its systems and an exciting look at a way of examining neuronal activity using music.

A uniquely qualified expert in the field, Dr. Georgopoulose has published numerous scientific articles on subjects relating to our brains and is the Editor in Chief of Cognitive Critique" a journal of the Center for Cognitive Sciences of the U of MN. In an article published in the January edition of Minnesota Medicine, about the "Minnesota Women Healthy Aging Project", a study currently under way at the Brain Sciences Center, Dr. Georgopoulos concluded, "Brain science is on the cusp of a new era. For the first time ever, the structure and function of the brain can be assessed comprehensively; brain health can be promoted; and susceptibility to brain disease at various stages of life can be assessed, modified and even forecasted. All of this has become possible because of advances in brain imaging, biomedical engineering, molecular neurobiology, and genomics. In addition we are gaining greater understanding of how environmental insults can affect the brain and which brains are more vulnerable to those influences as well as the importance of early intervention for disorders of the brain, the feasibility of prevention of such disorders, and the possibility of altering brain function to ameliorate disease symptoms and promote brain health..."

Join us in April for this terrific opportunity to hear from an expert on the leading edge of brain science!

Upcoming Events

Thu, May 4, 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Day of Reason at the Capitol
Sat, May 6, 10:00am - 1:00pm
Spring Highway Cleanup
Sat, May 6, 3:00pm - 5:00pm
TED Talk Salon
Fri, May 12, 10:00am - 12:00pm
Coffee and Current Events
Fri, May 12, 11:45am - 2:45pm
Mobile Food Shelf Volunteers-- St. Paul
Fri, May 12, 5:00pm - 8:00pm
Humanist Happy Hour St. Paul

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