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Great Decisions Lecture Series

Great Decisions Lecture Series
Great Decisions is the longest-running and largest grassroots world affairs educational program of its kind.

Each year, the Great Decisions program brings citizens together for lectures and small-group discussion to share ideas and opinions on the issues affecting our global future. 

The way it works: The Foreign Policy Association picks eight themes related to major issues in the arena of US foreign policy and international affairs. They publish the Great Decisions book with chapters by experts in the field to be used as a springboard for group conversation with Great Decisions Discussion Groups. Discussion Groups, like a book club, are self organizing and can meet anywhere you are (in classrooms, community centers, libraries, senior centers, and workplaces) to engage in spirited discussion of world affairs. 

Every winter, the Council presents the eight-week Great Decisions Lecture Series in partnership with Portland State University’s International Colloquium that features a wealth of perspective and opinion from diplomats, policy experts, academics, and foreign service professionals addressing the topics in the Great Decisions book. This program is free and open to the community at large.

2015 Great Decisions Lecture Series

Great Decisions Returns
January 16 — March 6

Portland State University - School of Business Administration (Room 190), 631 SW Harrison Street, Portland
Cosponsored by World Affairs Council & Portland State University's International Studies Department


The perennially popular Great Decisions lecture series returns in January, presented in conjunction with the International Colloquium at Portland State University. Look for a full schedule of speakers in early-mid December!

January 16: Russia and the Near Abroad  
As calls for closer ties with the EU failed to be met, Ukrainians took to the streets in November 2013. As the movement later known as the Euromaidan, or “Euro Square,” pulled western Ukraine closer to its European neighbors, another powerful force threatened to tear away the country’s eastern half: Russia. Putin’s pushback against European expansionism has the West wondering: If Putin’s Russia isn’t afraid to take an aggressive stance against Europeanization in Ukraine, what does that mean for the rest of Russia’s neighbors?

January 23: Privacy in the Digital Age
The idea of “privacy” has undergone significant changes in the digital age, as has the idea of privacy “harm.” Fearful of British spying, influence and intervention, the founding fathers granted citizens significant protections in the Constitution. Now, the tables have turned: Concerns about what some see as a U.S. “dragnet” and unwarranted privacy intrusions have compelled other countries to revamp their own privacy protections. Legislation, both at home and abroad, hasn’t kept pace with technological developments, leaving some wondering if privacy as we know it is long dead.

January 30: Sectarianism in the Middle East
Many of the current conflicts in the Middle East have been attributed to sectarianism, a politicization of ethnic and religious identity. From the crisis in Iraq and Syria to the tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the struggle between Sunni and Shi‘i groups for dominance is tearing apart the region and shows no signs of abating. But for all the religious discourse permeating the conflict, much of its roots are political, not religious. How does sectarianism fit into a larger narrative of the Middle East? How have governments manipulated sectarian differences? And finally, what is the U.S. doing about it?

February 6: India Changes Course
Fed up with corruption, dynastic policies and ineffective public services, Indian voters catapulted Narenda Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party to power in the country's 2014 elections. For voters, Modi embodied real change and an India that wasn't stumbling, but running, to greatness. But for the U.S., change in India brings its own set of unknowns, heralding an age ruled by a prime minister new to national office and other policymakers who have been out of the public eye for a decade. Now, the U.S. has to determine how to best secure its interests as India asserts itself on the world stage.

February 13: Human Trafficking in the 21st Century
Human trafficking represents a multibillion in international trade per annum and continues to be one of the fastest growing criminal industries. While undeniably a global phenomenon, the U.S., as one of the world’s leading human trafficking importers, bears a special responsibility to combat this practice. The U.S. and the international community have adopted various treaties and laws to prevent trafficking, but to truly understand and combat the issue, they must find the root causes enabling traffickers to exploit millions of victims.

February 20: U.S. Policy Toward Africa
Africa is in the midst of an unprecedented transformation. The continent is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world, and it’s become a draw for foreign investors from across the globe. After the “Obamamania” of 2008 died down, though, the realization that Obama wasn’t going to overturn, or even prioritize, U.S. Africa policy kicked in. Still, the U.S. has promised to promote “strong institutions, not strong men,” and to favor good governance and healthy economies over profit. How can U.S. policy live up to its promise and values while securing its interests in the region?

February 27: Syria's Refugee Crisis
Syrians have for a century welcomed over a million refugees from Armenia, Palestine, Iraq and other countries around the region. Now, thanks to a multiyear civil war, they are on track to become the source of the world’s largest refugee population in a matter of months. As Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other neighbors strive to accommodate the millions of Syrians, the risk of allowing Syrians to become dependent on emergency aid and forming a “lost generation” remains. Ultimately, though, the safety displaced Syrians rests with the whole international community.

March 6: Brazil's Metamorphosis
Brazil — it’s the “B” in the acronym BRICS, five emerging economies once seen as soon-to-be superpowers. After economic troubles in the 1990s, Brazil has risen to new global prominence — it’s drawing in more investment, working on global issues ranging from climate change to peacekeeping, and even hosting the 2016 Olympics. But some of Brazil’s trickiest problems — deep divisions over how to tackle serious income inequality, weak civic institutions and poor regional leadership — have held it back.


The 2015 Great Decisions Lecture Series takes place Fridays, January 16 - March 6, 12 p.m. at Portland State University, School of Business Administration (Room 190), 631 SW Harrison Street, Portland. Free and open to the public, no registration required. 

Recent Great Decisions News

Great Decisions
Wed, 02/13/2013 - 10:30am

2013 Great Decisions series videos now online

Videos of the 2013 Great Decisions lecture series at PSU- now in progress- are available online. Read More ››

Upcoming Great Decisions Events

Great Decisions

Great Decisions: Starting a Discussion Group...the A to Zs

Great Decisions: Starting a Discussion Group...the A to ZsWould you like to join or start a group to participate in the Great Decisions series? Join us for an informal session on what you need to know and just how simple it can be to become part of the longest-running, largest grassroots world affairs educational program of its kind. Read More ››