UA Downtown Lecture Series Focuses on Immortality

From decoding our depictions of heaven and vampires to unearthing our earliest burial practices, this year’s Downtown Lecture Series will explore humans’ fascination with the age-old question: What happens after we die?

Offered by the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Downtown Lecture Series will feature five SBS faculty members who will explore "immortality" and how our beliefs about life beyond death shape the human experience. 

“Every year, we pick a theme that has universal appeal and relates to our everyday lives,” said John Paul Jones III, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “In 2013, we featured “happiness” and, in 2014, “food.” This year we chose “immortality” because humans have been grappling with the mysteries of self and soul, of life and afterlife, since ancient times.”

The College created the Downtown Lecture Series in 2013 to share faculty research with the community and to promote downtown Tucson as a vibrant place to live, work, play, and learn.

The series begins on Oct. 14, 2015, and will be held at 6:30 p.m. on five consecutive Wednesdays at the Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St. 

Seating will be first-come, first-served. However, to secure seats and avoid lines, attendees may pick up free tickets in advance (up to four tickets per person) at the Fox Tucson Theatre ticket booth beginning at 4 p.m. on the day of each lecture.

The Arizona Daily Star will host live chats with the faculty members on Fridays following the lectures. The newspaper also will publish recaps written by UA science journalism students under the supervision of Susan Swanberg, an assistant professor in the UA School of Journalism.

More information is available at This year's lectures are:

Oct. 14: The Histories and Mysteries of Heaven” with Edward Wright, Director of the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies. Wright will examine how images of heaven arose and evolved and what these images reveal about people’s fears and hopes. Wright will also explore new images of the afterlife emerging from recent advances in technology and science. 

Oct. 21: “Love and Death in the Stone Age” with Mary Stiner, Regents’ Professor of Anthropology. Burying and visiting the graves of deceased loved ones distinguishes humans from other animals. In the lecture, Stiner will explore the development of burial practices, which likely represents the first cognitive bridge between the living and the deceased in human evolution.

Oct. 28: “The Dark Immortality of the Vampire” with Jerrold Hogle, University Distinguished Professor in the Department of English. In time for Halloween, Hogle will explore the evolution of the vampire from evil to good (and even sexy) in some fictions and films toward the end of the 20th century. Hogle will also examine what this change says about our modern social and cultural values.

Nov. 4:Two Ancient Philosophers on Why Death is No Evil” with Rachana Kamtekar, Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy. Ancient philosophers Plato and Epicurus disagreed on whether the soul is immortal, yet neither thought death should be feared. Instead, both argued that death gives us a reason to live a meaningful life. In this lecture, Kamtekar will explore these views and their relevance today.

Nov. 11: “The Elusive Self in Life and Death” with Shaun Nichols, Professor in the Department of Philosophy. Nichols spent months in India exploring attitudes toward death among Hindus and Tibetan Buddhists. Because Buddhists believe there is no enduring self throughout biological life, they should be less afraid of death. But are they? Nichols will share his surprising findings.

Title sponsors for the 2015 Downtown Lecture Series are Tucson Medical Center, Arizona Daily Star, UA Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, and the Magellan Circle. Additional sponsors include Pima Council on Aging, Arizona Public Media, Fox Tucson Theatre, Arizona Humanities, Downtown Tucson Partnership, Casa de La Luz Foundation, Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, Power Women Investing, and Raskob Kambourian Financial Advisors, LTD.

Published Date: 

09/08/2015 - 3:43pm