Join us virtually for an extraordinary weekend
of shared wisdom, fearless exploration,
and social support for unpacking toxic religious beliefs
that can be harmful when facing loss and grief.
Scroll down to meet our stelllar presenters,
and click on the links below for conference details.
2023 Presenters and Programs
Speakers and Schedules are Subject to Change Without Notice
David Lukoff, PhD
Why Psychologists Need to Understand Religious and Spiritual Problems
In theory, research, and practice, mental health professionals have tended to ignore or pathologize the religious and spiritual dimensions of life. This represents a cultural insensitivity toward individuals who have religious and spiritual experiences in both Western and non-Western cultures. David will discuss the need for improved training for mental health professionals in this arena. One CE hour Read More >
David Lukoff, PhD is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, a former president of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, and a licensed psychologist in California. He is the author of 80 articles and chapters on spiritual issues and mental health, and is an international workshop presenter training psychologists in spiritual competency, grief, death and illness, spiritual problems and spiritual emergencies. He is also co-author of the DSM-IV and DSM-5 diagnostic category Religious or Spiritual Problem, which increased awareness of spiritual issues in clinical practice.
VIRTUAL VISITING HOURS:
Jamie Eaddy, DMin
Trauma & Toxic Theology
in the Black Church
Time does not heal all wounds, and prayer does not prevent grief. So what happens when we can't pray the grief away? How do beliefs like heaven and hell, redemptive suffering, and resilience impact our response to loss? Dr. Jamie Eaddy Chism will discuss how toxic theologies within the Black Church reinforce trauma and create the kind of faith that functions as a barrier to healthy grieving. One CE hour Read More >
Rev. Jamie Eaddy Chism, DMin., CEO of Thoughtful Transitions, is an ordained minister, death doula, and educator who serves as the Director of Program Development at the International End of Life Doula Association. Deeply committed to challenging the societal norms that make death a forbidden topic for so many people, Dr. Chism helps cultivate sacred spaces for exploring our mortality, helping people navigate all kinds of loss, including losing a relationship, identity, normalcy, dreams, hope, etc.
Providing trauma-informed care, community healing, and dismantling a system that disregards black life, silences black grief, and ignores black death is her life's passion and purpose. Monthly, she explores all things grief and loss through her organization’s webinars, blog, and her podcast,, Thougtful Transitions w/Dr Jamie:The Loss Navigation Specialist.
Dr. Chism earned a Doctor of Ministry degree with an emphasis in transformative leadership and Prophetic Preaching from the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and a Master Divinity degree from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University. She is a clinically trained chaplain, a certified trauma professional and holds certification in death, dying and bereavement by the Association of Death Education and Counseling (ADEC).
Lucy Hone PhD -
Lessons from the Māori Worldview
About Loss and Resilient Grieving
After 20 years of living and working in Aotearoa New Zealand, Dr. Hone reviews what she’s learned about coping with loss from the Māori people indigenous to that land. Viewing her own and her clients' beliefs on death and grief, Lucy will share key findings from her research in the field of resilient grieving and what she sees as the barriers and enablers to healthy adaptation to loss. CANCELLED Read More >
Regarded as a thought leader in the field of resilience psychology, tragic circumstances forced Lucy to focus more closely on grief when her 12-year-old daughter was killed in a horrific motor accident. Adjunct senior fellow at the University of Canterbury, an internationally sought-after professional speaker, best-selling author, and award-winning ‘pracademic’, Lucy has a gift for turning complex science in to useable tools. Covid-19 saw her TED talk, 3 Secrets of Resilient People, go viral making it one of the Top 20 most watched TED talks of 2020 and the most watched of any New Zealander. Author of Resilient Grieving, Lucy now runs the hugely popular Coping With Loss programme providing actionable tools and support to all those wanting to take be an active participant in their grief process. Her work is regularly featured in global media, including the Guardian, the Hidden Brain, the Washington Post, the BBC, CBS and ABC, Channel News Asia, Swedish Television, and TVNZ.
Secularizing African American
Death and Grief Practices
African American funerals and burial practices have long been steeped in the "Black Church" tradition. This presents a unique challenge, and even some triggers for nonreligious individuals. Mandisa Thomas, a Humanist Celebrant, will discuss these traditions, some good resources for planning secular memorials, and how we can ensure that our families and communities (religious and nonreligious alike) make the best decisions on our behalf, and honor our secular identities. Read More >
Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today.” she recalls.
Mandisa has many media appearances to her credit, including CBS Sunday Morning, CNN.com, and Playboy, The Humanist, and JET magazines. She has been a guest on podcasts such as NPR’s Code Switch and 1A, as well as the documentaries Contradiction and My Week in Atheism. Mandisa currently serves on the Boards for American Atheists and the American Humanist Association, and previously for Foundation Beyond Belief, and the Secular Coalition for America. She is also an active speaker and has presented at conferences/conventions for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Secular Student Alliance, and many others.
Mandisa, a Humanist celebrant, is the recipient of the following awards:
- 2022 – Irving and Anabel Wolfson Award (Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester)
- 2020 - Harvard Humanist of the Year (along with Sikivu Hutchinson and Ijeoma Oluo)
- 2019 - Freethought Heroine (Freedom from Religion Foundation)
- 2019 - Backbone Award (Secular Student Alliance)
- 2018 - Person of the Year (Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association)
As the president of Black Nonbelievers, Mandisa encourages more Blacks to come out and stand strong with their nonbelief in the face of such strong religious overtones.
"The more we make our presence known, the better our chances of working together to turn around some of the disparities we face. We are NOT alone."
VIRTUAL VISITING HOURS:
Linda Mercadante PhD
Spiritual but not Religious (SBNR)
Views on Death and Beyond
It used to be commonplace for people to fear going to hell when they die, but Dr. Linda Mercadante’s extensive research on “spiritual but religious” (SBNR) populations shows that these views have changed dramatically. She will share the results of hundreds of interviews focusing on what SBNRs believe, why they claim to be “nones,” and their views on an "afterlife.” She will also ask us to take a step back and consider in what ways the rapid decline of organized religion may change our society -- whether for better or worse. One CE hour Read More >
Dr. Mercadante is Distinguished Research Professor Emerita MTSO, an international speaker, author of the award-winning Belief without Borders: Inside the Mind of the Spiritual but not Religious (Oxford University Press), an ordained minister, and founder of HealthyBeliefs--HealthySpirit.
Linda serves as an interpreter between two distinct cultures—those who identify as spiritual but not religious (SBNR) and those for whom organized religion is home. She speaks at colleges and churches, to sociological and psychological organizations, to news professionals, and is frequently interviewed by media about the rise in SBNRs.
Linda's groundbreaking research for Belief Without Borders was widely lauded. In the academic journal Secularism and Nonreligion, reviewer Donovan Schaefer writes, “The rich collection of interviews offered in Belief Without Borders makes it a treasure chest of data about the SBNR movement…an indispensable handbook for research in this field.”
VIRTUAL VISITING HOURS:
Dan McClellan PhD
Grief and Trauma in the Hebrew Bible
Dan is a religius scholar specializing in the Hebrew bible (aka Old Testament), and is co-host of the Data Over Dogma podcast. He and conference founder Terri Daniel discuss stories from scripture in which human beings suffer unimaginable loss and trauma at the hands of an anthropomorphized god, and how the stories fail to address the grief responses of the people when facing mass murder, rape, genocide, slavery, child abuse, colonization and more. One CE hour Read More >
Dan received his bachelors degree from Brigham Young University in ancient Near Eastern studies, where he focused on Biblical Hebrew and minored in Classical Greek. He completed a master of studies in Jewish studies at the University of Oxford in July of 2010 and a master of arts in biblical studies in 2013 at Trinity Western University just outside of Vancouver, BC. In early 2020, he defended his doctoral dissertation written for the University of Exeter on the cognitive science of religion and the conceptualization of deity and divine agency in the Hebrew Bible.
At Oxford he focused on second temple Judaism, and his thesis was entitled “Anti-Anthropomorphism and the Vorlage of LXX Exodus” (available here). His thesis at Trinity Western University focused on the conceptualization of deity in the Hebrew Bible in cognitive perspective (available here).
Harold Ivan Smith PhD
How the Prosperity Gospel Causes
Pain for Bereaved Christians
“Prosperity theology” espouse a theodicy which insists that God wants every believer to be wealthy, healthy and to live long lives. 17% of American evangelicals & tens of millions globally embrace this theology, and grievers in prosperity-focused congregations may be shamed or rebuked for their pain as a sign that they "were not faithful enough." One CE hour Read More >
Harold Ivan Smith is thanatologist and independent scholar. For 18 years he served on the teaching faculty of Saint Luke’s Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri, where he created innovative storytelling groups for grievers and worked in training hospital and hospice chaplains. He earned his doctorate at Asbury Theological Seminary (D.Min.).
A Fellow in Thanatology recognized by the Association for Death Education and Counseling, he currently conducts Celebration of Life services for Forest Lawn Mortuary in Cathedral City, California.
His writings include: A Decembered Grief, On Grieving the Death of a Father, Grieving the Death of a Mother, When Your People Are Grieving: Leading in Times of Loss, Friendgrief: An Absence Called Presence (Baywood) and Borrowed Narratives: Using Historical and Biographical Narratives with the Bereaving (Rutledge).
VIRTUAL VISITING HOURS:
Phil Zuckerman PhD
Beyond Doubt: The Secularization of Society - Based on an extensive analysis of the best available global data spanning decades, we can see that nearly all industrialized democracies – and many other nations, as well -- are far less religious today than they were in previous generations. In this talk, I will present some of the data and explain the main causes driving this unprecedented process of secularization. One CE credit hour. Read More >
Phil Zuckerman is an Associate Dean as well as Professor of Sociology at Pitzer College, and the founding chair of the nation’s first Secular Studies Program. He is also the Executive Director of Humanist Mutual Aid Network. He is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times, The Conversation, and OnlySky. He lives in Claremont, California.
He is the author of several books, including Beyond Doubt (NYU, 2023), What It Means to be Moral (Counterpoint, 2019) The Nonreligious (Oxford, 2016), Living the Secular Life (Penguin, 2014), and Society Without God (NYU, 2008), and the editor of several volumes, including The Oxford Handbook of Secularism (2016) and The Social Theory of W.E.B. Du Bois (2004).
Heather Stang, MA
Case Studies: The Effects of Toxic Religious Beliefs on the Grief Process
A healthy adaptation to life after loss requires rebuilding a shattered assumptive world. But what happens when religious beliefs are so stringent that they impede this natural process? Heather will review examples of toxic religious beliefs and share meditation, movement and journaling practices to help clients move toward cognitive flexibility and peace. One CE hour. Read More >
Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT, is the author of Mindfulness & Grief and the guided journal, From Grief To Peace. She is the creator of the Mindfulness & Grief System that is featured in the Handbook of Grief Therapies (2023) and is the foundation of her online grief support group, Awaken. Heather also hosts the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, and offers mindfulness-based grief support online through her organization, the Mindfulness & Grief Institute.
Her work is grounded in a heartfelt desire to relieve suffering, and in honor of her Uncle Doug who died by suicide when she was a child. Heather holds a master’s degree in Thanatology from Hood College and is a Certified Yoga Therapist in the Phoenix Rising tradition. Learn more about Heather and her upcoming workshops at mindfulnessandgrief.com.
Frank Feldman and Dan Beecher
Thank God I'm Atheist
Hailed as a "breath of fresh air" by its listeners, the Thank God I'm Atheist podcast tackles the issues of the day and recasts them in an Atheist light. Frank and Dan are two former Mormons offering up their perspective on politics, current events, and all things religious or otherwise. They are returning to us this year after their triumphant debut at last year's conference. Read More>
DETAILS TO COME
Craig Cashwell PhD
Spiritual Bypassing: Religion as Avoidance
Spiritual bypass can be defined as a “defensive (usually unconscious) psychological posture cultivated by a tendency to privilege or exaggerate spiritual beliefs, emotions, or experiences over and against psychological needs, creating a means of avoiding or bypassing difficult emotions or experiences.” Grief and loss can be fertile ground for this, and can have long-term negative psychological consequences. One CE hour Read More >
Craig Cashwell is a professor in the Counselor Education program at William & Mary and coordinates the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program. He is licensed in North Carolina as a Clinical Mental Health Counselor and also is a National Certified Counselor, an Approved Clinical Supervisor, a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist Supervisor, and a Life Member of Chi Sigma Iota International, the honor society for professional counselors. In 2011, he received Fellow status with the American Counseling Association.
Dr. Cashwell values teaching and mentoring students. He has received the UNCG School of Education Teaching Excellence Award and his mentoring has been recognized with awards from the North Carolina Counseling Association, the UNCG Graduate School, the Southern Conference of Graduate Schools, and the American Counseling Association. He has directed over 40 dissertations to completion, five of which received national awards; two that were subsequently published in “Counselor Education and Supervision” and have received the annual Outstanding Article in “Counselor Education and Supervision” award. In 2019, he was recognized as an inaugural inductee as an Inspirational Educator in the UNCG School of Education.
Panel discussion with selected conference presenters
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