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The Laing Lectures


OCTOBER 22-23, 2014

Ross Douthat

Five years ago, our civilization experienced an unprecedented economic crisis—the sort of disaster that often produces political realignments and intellectual ferment. But in the West, the defining feature of our post-crisis life has been the resilience of the pre-crisis status quo. We have seen elites consolidate their power rather than diffuse it. Voters seem to have accustomed themselves to the “new normal” of stagnation. Our politics are more polarized, but few challenges have emerged to the existing left and right. Our common life has become more atomized, but no significant social or religious movements have gained traction in response.

This is not the stability of a flourishing, resilient society. It’s the peace of a decadent one. Indeed, “decadence,” defined clinically rather than moralistically, is the precise word to define our age. We have an aging population and a dwindling birthrate, sclerotic political institutions, intellectual debates that rehearse the same tired battles, technologies that cocoon us rather than propel us outward . . . and all of this is layered atop a base of extraordinary wealth, which makes the system more stable and potentially enduring than many presently believe.

So too does the fact that our decadence isn’t local but possibly universal, because none of the West’s rivals, from nation-states like China to actors like Al Qaeda, offer a compelling alternative to our torpor. Some are too much like us, some are too chaotic and misgoverned, and all are shaped by the same forces that have brought us to our present pass. This means that unlike past civilizations, we are not likely to be supplanted or renewed by some rising power—and no barbarians are going to come over our frontiers to overthrow us, either.

This is, of course, a kind of good news. (Nobody enjoys a barbarian invasion!) But it’s good news with a tragic undercurrent because it effectively leaves us alone in a long civilization autumn. Ours is a sustainable decadence, and these lectures will discuss how we reached this point, what it means for our future, and what, if anything, we can do to escape it.

2014 Laing Lecturer


Ross Douthat

Columnist, New York Times

BA (Harvard)

Ross Douthat joined The New York Times as an Op-Ed columnist in April 2009. Previously, he was a senior editor at the Atlantic and a blogger for His most recent book is Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (Free Press, 2012). He is also the author of Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class (Hyperion, 2005) and the co-author, with Reihan Salam of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream (Doubleday, 2008). He is the film critic for National Review. A native of New Haven, Conneticut, he now lives in Washington, DC with his wife and two daughters.



Dr. Rikk E. Watts

Professor, New Testament at Regent College

BSc (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), MA, MDiv (Gordon-Conwell), PhD (Cambridge)

Initially trained as an aeronautical engineer, Rikk Watts worked for a number of years with IBM in large retail systems engineering while undertaking a degree in philosophy, art history, and sociology. He later joined a parachurch organization engaged in Christian awareness projects in public schools and in providing crisis accommodation and various rehabilitation programs for the urban poor. He has served as an instructor at Gordon-Conwell (Boston), Wycliffe Hall (Oxford), Latrobe University (Melbourne), and the Bible College of Victoria (Melbourne).


Dr. David Ley

Canada Research Chair of Geography, UBC

BA (Oxford), MS, PhD (Pennsylvania State University)

David Ley's research in urban and social geography has emphasized the class and ethnic re-shaping of Canadian cities, and recently, transnational migration by wealthy Chinese families between East Asia and Canada. His books include Millionaire Migrants (2010) and The New Middle Class and the Remaking of the Central City (1996). His current research examines the causes and social consequences of high housing costs and price volatility in the global cities of Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney, Vancouver, and London. He is an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, emeritus Fellow of the Pierre Trudeau Foundation, and a Board member at Regent College.


Dr. Justin K.H. Tse

SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington


Justin Tse is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. He earned his MA and PhD in Geography at the University of British Columbia at Vancouver. His scholarly work on Chinese Christians, grounded theologies, and the public sphere has been published by Population, Space, and Place, Global Networks, Progress in Human Geography, and Bulletin for the Study of Religion. He also serves as Theology and Social Theory Editor for Syndicate: A New Forum for Theology.


Patricia Towler

Vice President of External Relations at Regent College

BA (University of King's College), JD (Dalhousie), LLM (University of San Diego), DipCS (Regent College)

Patricia Towler leads the College's enrollment services, alumni relations, conferences, and marketing and publications departments. In addition, she serves as the College's in-house legal counsel. Prior to joining Regent in 2004, she practiced civil litigation with pre-eminent Canadian law firms in Halifax and Vancouver and is an experienced mediator, speaker, and author.


Wednesday, October 22, 7:30pm 

Lecture 1: Defining Decadence 

What makes a civilization decadent? Economic and technological stagnation, a loss of intellectual and religious purpose, a closing of frontiers, the repetition of cultural forms: these are the signs to look for, and all of them are visible around us today.

Thursday, October 23, 11:30am

Lecture 2: Living Under Decadence

We tend to think of decadence as an end-of-empire, Rome-before-the-fall phenomenon. But it can actually be more sustainable than that, and there are a number of reasons—internal and external—to think that our civilization's decadence may turn out to be particularly stable.

Thursday, October 23, 7:30pm

Lecture 3: Escaping Decadence

What would enable us to transcend and escape our current situation? Several possibilities will be considered: technological breakthroughs, religious revolution, and space travel.


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