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Philosophers’ Café coming to Cloverdale Library

SFU's award-winning Philosophers' Café series is coming soon to Cloverdale Library.
SFU's award-winning Philosophers' Cafe series is coming soon to Cloverdale Library.

If you think a Philosophers’ Café sounds stuffy and dull, then you are in for a big surprise. The Cafés are lively, informal discussions on all kinds of topics – from the super serious to the somewhat silly.

Simon Fraser University (SFU) has organized the award-winning Cafés for several years and, for the first time, Cloverdale Library will be hosting several Philosophers’ Cafés over the next few months.

  • Who is responsible for the homeless? Abbie Boer, Thursday, Feb. 16 @ 7 p.m.
  • “Life is hard. Then you die.” Shannon Tito, Tuesday, March 21 @ 7 p.m.
  • Why do we enjoy professional sporting events? Sukhmani Gill, Thursday, Apr. 20 @ 7 p.m.
  • How has Easter been secularized? Abbie Boer, Monday, May 8 @ 1 p.m.
  • What is cultural appropriation? Sukhmani Gill, Monday, June 5 @ 1 p.m.

“The Cafés are very informal, and because we do not take registration, we often don’t know what to expect,” says Vanessa Cowley, SFU Program Assistant.

Cowley says the average Café hosts a group of 8 to 15 people, but sometimes there can be 30 or more participants.

“In all cases, the moderators seem to enjoy the conversations that emerge,” says Cowley. “The main point is engagement and discussion among attendees. These are not lectures.”

Cowley’s advice to Café newcomers is straightforward:  “It really isn’t necessary to do any preparation,” she says. “Most of the topics relate to personal experience, so it’s about sharing stories and opinions, but also about listening to what others have to say.”

“You need to be ready and willing to listen to views you may not agree with, and be comfortable with ending a conversation without ever reaching any agreement if that’s how it goes,” she says. “Some people attend just to listen, but it’s best if everyone makes an effort to contribute to the discussion.”

A moderator hosts the group discussions by helping get the conversation started, guiding it so it stays more or less on topic—although the diversions are also interesting—and ensuring everyone gets an opportunity to speak.

“One of the basic tenets of Philosophers’ Café is that there are no right answers, so we try to ensure that the topic is presented in a neutral way and we encourage different points of view,” says Cowley.

So the moderators are facilitators and summarizers. They don’t take sides.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t passionate about their topic.

I chatted recently with Abbie Boer, the moderator for two upcoming sessions, including our very first Café here at Cloverdale Library, which will discuss the topic of homelessness.

“It always becomes (a topic of) a personal responsibility when I get asked for spare change,” says Boer. “Of course, helping the homeless is everyone’s responsibility in a way, but those personal pleas for help when I pass by such individuals on the street always leaves me thinking about it.”

This is Boer’s first time as a Café moderator (others in our Cloverdale series have done several already) and she has certainly picked a multifaceted and complex topic to facilitate discussion on.

It got me thinking about the many possible reasons why families and individuals might experience homelessness, or find themselves on the verge of it, and what we, as a caring society, can do about it.

But I will end with some questions for you, dear readers: What do you think of the issue of homelessness?  Is it an intractable problem or does it have solutions?

Do you have an opinion you’d like to share?  Do you want to hear what others feel on the topic of homelessness?  If you do, then we will see you at Cloverdale Library on Thursday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m.

For more information, visit:

Information Services Librarian Paul MacDonell writes on the people and events of Cloverdale Library.