Writer, broadcaster, and comedian Shappi Khorsandi will succeed physicist Jim Al-Khalili as the President of the British Humanist Association (BHA), it has been announced. The twelfth President in the BHA’s history, and the fourth woman to take the role, Shappi will begin her three-year term as President in January 2016.
Born to non-religious parents in Iran, Shappi and her family fled to Britain in her youth after her father, the poet Hadi Khorsandi, was targeted for assassination by Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime after writing a satirical piece about the Islamic Revolution. Growing up in England, Shappi’s childhood was marked by recurrent fears of her father being assassinated, and the family spent time under police protection. Sharing her father’s talent for humour, she began a successful career in stand-up comedy after graduating from Winchester with a degree in drama, and has made numerous appearances on TV and radio comedy shows, including Live at the Apollo, Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, Have I Got News for You and QI.
A humanist all her adult life, Shappi was most recently one of several contributors to Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young’s new children’s book What is Humanism?, a project that is in keeping with her personal priority of having humanism better understood by young people in particular.
Announcing Shappi’s appointment, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘It’s a great pleasure to welcome Shappi to the Presidency of the British Humanist Association. Our President must be able not just to communicate humanism clearly but to connect on an emotional level with those many people in Britain who have humanist beliefs but don’t know the word exists to describe them. As such a warm and accomplished broadcaster, not to mention an intimate commentator on the human experience in her standup and elsewhere, Shappi certainly has that ability in spades.’
Outgoing BHA President Jim Al-Khalili commented, ‘My Presidency has been great fun as well as a great privilege. Although I’m sad to be stepping down as President, I know that Shappi will do a fantastic job. She has all the talent and experience to embody all that is nurturing and life-affirming about the humanist perspective on life, which so many of us share.’
Accepting the appointment, Shappi Khorsandi commented:
‘It’s a great honour to be selected to be the next President of the British Humanist Association. As someone who was raised in a non-religious family, I don’t just believe that human virtues such as love, compassion, generosity, and understanding can exist outside the realm of religion… I know it for a fact. This approach has been hugely fulfilling in my own life, and it’s the ethos behind everything the BHA does – whether campaigning for a pluralistic and cooperative society, offering pastoral care in hospitals, or providing meaningful non-religious ceremonies for baby-namings, funerals, and weddings.
‘I would like every young person growing up with the mainstream liberal non-religious values of today to know that their worldview isn’t second-best or incoherent and that there is a name for it – humanism. I’ve been as excited as everyone else to see the progress made in recent weeks to have the humanist perspective included in the school curriculum alongside religious beliefs and I can’t wait to see how that develops in my three years!
‘This humanist perspective is a profound and inspiring one – and it’s not just a modern perspective. Through the centuries and all around the world, people have looked to reason and to science in place of superstition and sought to make the most out of the one life they have. It’s crucial that this voice is heard. The BHA is consistent in its calls for a more tolerant, rational, and above all fairer society, and I hope that I can add to its influence as a positive movement for social change.’
Previous Presidents of the British Humanist Association have included jazz musician and author George Melly, agony aunt and broadcaster Claire Rayner, comedian and broadcaster Linda Smith, cosmologist Hermann Bondi, anthropologist Edmund Leach, and evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley. On stepping down as President, Jim Al-Khalili will join his predecessor, the journalist Polly Toynbee, and the moral philosopher A C Grayling, as a Vice President of the BHA.
For further information or comment, please contact BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson on 07855 380633 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. More about Shappi Khorsandi
Born in Iran in 1973, Shappi Khorsandi and her family were forced to flee from Iran to London after the Islamic Revolution. She graduated from the University of Winchester in 1995 with a degree in Drama, Theatre and Television, then moved on to pursue a career in comedy. She performs stand-up and has appeared on many radio and television programmes, including BBC Radio 4’s Shappi Talk, on growing up in a multi-cultural family, and Question Time.
Khorsandi’s memoir, A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English, was published by Ebury Press in 2009 and describes her experiences on coming to England as a young girl. In 2014, she helped to raise funds for delegates from countries with poor human rights records to attend the World Humanist Congress in Oxford by taking part in the Stand Up For Humanism comedy benefit with Robin Ince, Stewart Lee, Paul Sinha, and Lucy Porter. In 2015, she was one of several contributors What is Humanism?, a new book from Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young aimed at introducing Humanism to children.
2. More about the British Humanist Association
Founded in 1896 as the ‘Union of Ethical Societies’, the British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief. It has over 40,000 members and supporter and more than 70 local and special interest affiliate groups located around the British Isles.
The BHA’s policies are informed with the support of over 150 of the UK’s most prominent philosophers, scientists, and other thinkers and experts. It works to advance them the help of over 100 Parliamentarians who are members of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group.
The BHA trains and accredits celebrants to conduct non-religious wedding, funeral, and naming ceremonies. Its ceremonies are attended by over a million people each year. In the last year, it has initiated a new programme training non-religious pastoral support providers in prisons and hospitals, which is meeting a growing need in those settings. Its trained school speakers go into secondary and primary schools across the country to talk about humanism and non-religious approaches to life alongside the study of religion.
3. More about Humanism
Throughout recorded history there have been non-religious people who have believed that this life is the only life we have, that the universe is a natural phenomenon with no supernatural side, and that we can live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. They have trusted to the scientific method, evidence and reason to discover truths about the universe and placed human welfare and happiness at the centre of their ethical decision making.
Today, people who share these beliefs and values are called humanists and this combination of attitudes is called Humanism. Many millions of people in Britain share this way of living and of looking at the world, but many of them have not heard the word ‘humanist’ and don’t realise that it describes what they believe.
It is one of the main purposes of the British Humanist Association to increase public awareness of what Humanism is, and to let the many millions of non-religious people in this country know that, far from being somehow deficient in their values, they have an outlook on life which is coherent and widely-shared, which has inspired some of the world’s greatest artists, writers, scientists, philosophers and social reformers, and which has a millennia-long tradition in both the western and eastern worlds.
We also hope to give greater confidence to people whose beliefs are humanist by offering resources here and elsewhere that can develop their knowledge of humanist approaches to some of the big ethical, philosophical, and existential questions in life.