Once a week, people come to the Oro Valley Public Library to discuss the biggest existential issues facing mankind.
A group of town residents, many retired, meet each Thursday to watch and discuss the popular lecture series "Justice with Michael Sandel."
Oro Valley resident Bill Adler organizes the weekly meetings and moderates the discussions. He purchased the 12-part video series after happening upon Sandel's lectures while flipping channels.
"I really enjoyed it, it was so stimulating," Adler said. "He's a captivating guy."
Sandel teaches at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. His lecture series has won acclaim in the academic world and among the general public, and his Harvard class, from which the video series originates, regularly attracts hundreds of students each semester.
After the chance viewing, Adler started to make a point of coming home in time to watch the next in the series of 12 lectures that an educational channel was airing once a week.
Sandel's command of the issues and the way he captivated students inspired Adler to share the series with residents and attempt to spark similar conversations to those he saw on the video series.
"Part of the motivation is just to try to provide a blend of entertainment and education," Adler said.
With issues like affirmative action, same-sex marriage and whether taxation is akin to slavery, many participants seem to agree with Adler. "I think there are very, very provocative issues that are brought up," said Helen Dankwerth, an Oro Valley resident and regular attendee of the discussion group. "I'm gratified that people will engage themselves in these discussions."
For others, the lectures and discussions have proved a challenge.
"It's mentally stimulating," said Marlene Schiller, an Oro Valley resident.
Schiller said the series helps to clarify her thinking about difficult issues. In addition, others have found the discussions have practical implications for every day.
"We're confronted with these arguments all the time," said Oro Valley resident Will Eastland.
With issues like justification of military conscription, abortion and whether the rights of the individual can be violated to benefit a greater communal good, participants have found themselves at odds with their own professed beliefs.
Dankwerth said the lectures and the discussions have forced her to rethink her positions.
"I surprise myself sometimes," Dankwerth said. "I always thought of myself as a social liberal — I think I'm not as liberal as I thought."
That's exactly what Adler hoped would happen after people watched the lectures.
"The series challenges conventional thinking, and so discussion needs to be prompted," he said.
He also hopes people who watch the lectures would come out with an appreciation for the work of teachers.
"When you see that these kids spontaneously are able to respond, you get some respect for our educational system," Adler said.
The 12-part series is ongoing, every Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Oro Valley Public Library. The sessions are free and registration is not required. The only requirement is that people come prepared to listen and discuss issues with respect for one another.
"If people leave feeling just a little bit smarter," Adler said, "that's O.K."
Every Thursday through Aug. 12
6:30 to 8 p.m.
Oro Valley Public Library
1305 W. Naranja Drive
For information call 229-5300