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Humanists UK to host international conference on populism and extremism

On 5 August 2017, Humanists UK will host Humanism2017, an international conference on the rise of authoritarian populism, extremism, and nationalism in the modern world, as part of the general assembly weekend of the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

Nearly 80 years ago, the humanist philosopher Harold Blackham, then-director of Humanists UK, organised a similar conference in London which brought together humanists from all over the world to London to debate the many dangers that threatened democracy, liberalism, and reason in 1938. Bertrand Russell and many others spoke at the congress or helped to organise it, and representatives came from all the humanist organisations of the early 20th century. Just a few years later however, Blackham’s new World Union of Freethinkers was gone, with many of its member organisations crushed by the twin onslaughts of fascism and communism. In 1952, the same Harold Blackham became the founding Secretary of a new global union for humanists: the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

In 2017 the International Humanist and Ethical Union is returning to London in the context of a world where the multiple forces of unreason and inhumanity – populism, religious extremism, nationalism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism – are stronger than they have been since that final Congress of the old World Union of Freethinkers. Together with IHEU, Humanists UK is offering humanists from every country the chance to come together to explore these challenges, and discuss the best way to organise in the face of them in an effort to assert once again the humanist and universal values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, liberalism, and internationalism.

The conference will bring together the leading speakers in the realms of human rights, international law, and democracy from all over the world. Speakers announced so far include Tanya Lokshina, program director for Human Rights Watch in Moscow; Guney Yildiz, a former BBC news reporter who now advises the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Turkey; Finnish political scientist Emilia Palonen, who is an expert on populism, European cultural politics, and identity; Yascha Mounk, Harvard University’s resident political expert on authoritarianism and the emergence of ‘illiberal democracy’; LSE government expert and former gubernatorial campaigns director Brian Klaas; UC Davis international law professor Karima Bennoune; head of criminal law at the Hungarian national institute of criminology, Petra Bárd; and Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Tickets for the full day conference are available to buy now on the Humanists UK website for the low price £15.


For further information or comment, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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