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Famous thinkers for CMHR lecture series

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Call it an invasion of the tall foreheads.

Pioneering feminist Germaine Greer and evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker are among eight world-renowned public intellectuals confirmed for an international lecture series opening in two weeks to christen the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Seven of the eight will speak in the museum -- the first three in the Manitoba Teachers' Society 100-seat classroom, because the main hall is unready -- even though the museum is not scheduled to open until sometime in 2014.

The series, titled Fragile Freedoms: The Global Struggle for Human Rights, is the brainchild of the University of Manitoba's Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics.

The centre's director, Arthur Schafer, has been working for almost three years to nail down the series lineup.

"The idea is for the museum to be one of the world's leading educational centres," said Schafer, a well-known philosophy prof and national pundit on a variety of ethical issues.

"We want to stimulate debate, provide discussion and shed new light on the terribly important topics of human rights and global justice."

All eight lectures will be taped for later broadcast on the CBC Radio program Ideas.

The lectures will also be collected in a book, with a publisher to be confirmed shortly, Schafer says.

But why start before the museum is ready for prime time?

"It's the most pedestrian of reasons," Schafer said. "The museum is late. When we started planning, it was supposed to open in the spring of 2013."

CMHR CEO Stuart Murray said he is pleased the lecture series can serve as part of the lead-up to official opening, which he insists will be in 2014.

"We are an ideas museum," he said. "We want to be a place where human rights topics can be discussed from multiple perspectives."

When Schafer was informed of the delayed opening, he had already secured dates with several of the most prominent speakers, including Greer.

Given the demands on their time, he did not feel he could go back and say, sorry, are you free in two years?

"I sent a dramatic artist's rendering of the building with my invitations," Schafer said. "In their replies, many commented on how impressive it was, like Bilboa's Guggenheim (in Spain)."

Much of the cost of the series is being covered by donations, Schafer says, but each speaker is being given a $4,000 honorarium.

The March 28 lecture by Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva conflicts with another event museum officials have planned, so she is being moved to the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre.

The lectures will be open to the public. Tickets are $20 each per lecture (or $10 for students and the unemployed), available at the Internet website

Informed of the series lineup, Winnipeg bookseller Paul McNally said he thought the museum has a winning idea.

"It sounds like it's a nice intersection between the intellectual and media worlds," McNally said. "There's an element of celebrity but with intellectual integrity."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 3, 2013 B3


Updated on Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 8:24 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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