Over 400 humanists from around the UK and further afield gathered in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne at the weekend for the 2018 Convention of Humanists UK, the national charity for non-religious people. Delegates heard from a range of speakers with diverse areas of expertise, exploring ideas for building a more rational, tolerant society in the one life we have.
As per recent tradition, the Convention was preceded immediately by a Humanist Professionals Conference which brought together Humanists UK celebrants, pastoral carers, school speakers, and representatives from its support programme Faith to Faithless to exchange best practice and help advance Humanists UK’s growing work in the community to put humanism into practice, focused on making people happier, more confident, and more fulfilled. This was followed that evening by the formal start of the Convention, where all delegates gathered to hear a comedy set from up-and-coming comedians from the Edinburgh Fringe circuit and other well-known shows.
The main body of the conference was composed of challenging and thought-provoking talks from some of the UK’s leading thinkers in science, the humanities, current affairs journalism, and human rights activism. The diverse range of talks covered everything from contemporary humanist work for Northern Ireland social reforms to theories of crime, the migration crisis, the perils of commercialising genetics, critical approaches to sacred histories, approaches to dialogue with faith communities, and popular forms of secular religious belonging – including cultural Judaism and cultural Sikhism. Guests also enjoyed a special presentation, complete with 3D glasses, on green energy and Professor Saiful Islam’s journey to humanism.
Delegates were welcomed to the city of Newcastle by local MP and member of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group Nick Brown, who spoke about his long commitment to humanist and secularist causes. Speakers included geneticist Dr Adam Rutherford; broadcaster Nick Ross; chemists Professor Peter Atkins and Professor Saiful Islam; classicists Natalie Haynes and Catherine Nixey; ancient historians Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou and Dr Tim Whitmarsh, journalists Ian Dunt, Zoe Margolis, and Sunny Hundal; and veteran human rights activists Mary Lawlor and Michael Irwin, among others.
Humanists UK President Shappi Khorsandi made her final appearance as President at a Humanists UK Convention, entertaining guests at a gala dinner, where diners raised £6,000 towards the work of Faith to Faithless, Humanists UK’s programme providing direct support for ‘apostates’ and those who leave coercive or abusive religions. Diners heard how Faith to Faithless has in recent weeks provided frontline services training on the risks of religious abuse to institutions such as the Metropolitan Police, and plans to expand that work to cover every police force in the country, as well as social services and charities which offer direct support and counselling.
On the final day of the Convention, delegates who were members of Humanists UK took part in the charity’s AGM, where new trustees were elected the Board. Members heard of how Humanists UK has managed to continue to grow even in times of political turbulence and economic uncertainty, and to achieve a range of public policy wins, as well as a rapidly expanding community services footprint. It now posts non-religious pastoral carers in a third of hospitals and one tenth of prisons and has one million people attending its ceremonies each year. Guests were also told the date of the next Humanists UK Convention, which is scheduled to take place in the city of Leicester over 21-23 June 2019.
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.
Conference sessions were filmed and will be uploaded to the Humanists UK YouTube account at a later date.