How ‘human’ is humanism? – Tuesday 4 November

As part of the Europe House Festival of Literature, Speaking Volumes presents How ‘human’ is humanism?

In Britain, the word humanist has come to mean someone who ‘trusts the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural’; who ‘makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy and concern of human beings’; and who believes that, ‘in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same’ (British Humanist Association). But, given the news from around the world which we witness on a daily basis, is this concept just a Western or European notion that makes no sense in other parts of the world? And should this even matter? Join three leading thinkers to debate just how ‘human’ humanism is.

With Fr. Andrew Hammond CMP, Selina O’Grady, writer and broadcaster and Christopher Potter, hosted by Laurie Taylor

Humanism speakers

(l-r) Andrew Hammond; Selina O’Grady; Christopher Potter; Laurie Taylor

Fr Andrew Hammond CMP is a priest in the Church of England, parish priest of St Mary Willesden. He has been an opera singer, spending three years with Scottish Opera, and has held various posts in arts administration, working for the Edinburgh International Festival, the Monteverdi Choir and the European Union Youth Orchestra. He holds degrees in Philosophy and Theology from Cambridge. He is currently writing a book on Jacobean court preacher Lancelot Andrewes and has also written articles for the European Commission’s online culture magazine, Twelve Stars.

Selina O’Grady is the author of And Man Created God: Kings, Cults and Conquests at the Time of Jesus, which looks at the ineradicable connection between politics and religion in the  four great empires of the ancient world  — the Roman, Parthian, Kushan and Chinese. The philosopher A C Grayling called it ‘a must read’. She is now writing a book on the history and future of religious tolerance. Before becoming a writer O’Grady was a television and radio producer for BBC and Channel Four.

Christopher Potter is the author of two books: How to make a Human Being: A body of evidence (2014), called ‘brilliant … and a compelling case for anti-reductionism,’ according to Nature magazine; and You Are Here, a portable history of the universe (2009), cited as ‘wonderful stuff. The most thoughtful pop science book of the last few years’ in The Sunday Times. He is the former publisher of Fourth Estate, now an imprint of HarperCollins.

Laurie Taylor is visiting professor in the department of politics and sociology at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is the author of fourteen books on motivation, change, communication and personal identity. He presents BBC Radio Four’s Thinking Allowed, a programme now in its fifteenth year devoted to society and social change. He has recently completed the sixth series of his Sky Arts television interview programme, In Confidence. A book based on the series, In Confidence: Talking Frankly About Fame, has just come out.

Photo of Laurie Tayor courtesy of National Portrait Gallery


This event is part of the Europe House Festival of Literature, celebrating the EU Prize for Literature to be awarded on 18 November 2014.