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The Matter of Loneliness: Building Connections for Collective Well-Being

March 7-8, 2024

Free Admission, Open to the Public

A culture of connection is vital to creating the changes needed in society. While formal programs and policies can be impactful, the informal practices of everyday life—the norms and culture of how we engage one another—significantly influence social connection… Such a culture of connection rests on core values of kindness, respect, service, and commitment to one another. Everyone contributes to the collective culture of social connection by regularly practicing these values. (Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation, 2023)

In his unprecedented public health advisory, United States Surgeon General, Vivek Hallegere Murthy, calls attention to how the decline of social connection threatens individual health and collective well-being. Lack of social connection, he argues, has been linked to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. The fraying of social fabric, he continues, is being observed in society more broadly: “it can be felt in our schools, workplaces, and civic organizations, where performance, productivity, and engagement are diminished.” The erosion of trust and mutuality and the rise of polarization, moreover, are thwarting efforts to collaborate on the many pressing issues facing the U.S. and the world.

Heeding the urgency of the crisis and the surgeon general’s call to action, the two-day conference will bring together academics, activists, and practitioners whose life’s work—within and across disciplines, traditions, communities, peoples, etc.—engages the concept of social connection in ways that increase understanding about social connection and dis-connection or that model behaviors and/or actions that facilitate human reconnection and reweave community in ways that are oriented to the collective well-being. Topics will include:

      • The origin and purpose of social connection in humans and non-humans
      • The science of social connection
      • Historical or contemporary challenges to social connection
      • Social connection across differences
      • Polarization, isolation, and political extremism
      • Wisdom and cultural traditions on dis-connecting and reconnecting
      • Mutual sustainability and thriving
      • Social connection and purposeful living in community-building, civic engagement, and public service
      • Strategies for re-connecting: courtesy, curiosity, conversation, dialogue, debate, hospitality, listening, time, etc.


Find out times of each session for the Mar. 7-8 symposium.

The Paul Ingram Lecture in Religion

The Paul Ingram Lecture in Religion will take place as a part of this year’s symposium, with Julia Watts Belser

Speakers and Panels

See a detailed panels list and bios of the 11th Biennial Wang Center Symposium speakers.

The Wang Center for Global and Community Engaged Education

Working collaboratively with academic units and campus partners of Pacific Lutheran University, the Wang Center is dedicated to supporting faculty, students and staff with the resources necessary to advance PLU’s distinction and vision for global education of “educating to achieve a just, healthy, sustainable and peaceful world” through faculty development and grant opportunities, delivery of study away programs, on-campus programming on pressing world issues, and a commitment to best practices when engaging with partners, both locally and globally.

In gratitude to our sponsors and for the collaboration with community and university partners


Benson Family Foundation

Bjug Harstad Memorial Fund

Blue Zones Project Parkland-Spanaway

College Debates and Discourse Alliance

The Paul Ingram Lecture in Religion

PLU First-Year Experience Program

PLU Scandinavian Cultural Center