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Historian Charles Freeman demonstrates long legacy of humanist thought through the ages

Charles Freeman. Photograph: Head of Zeus

Historian and author Charles Freeman, in conversation with journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed, tonight delivered a stinging rebuttal to the notion that any one culture can claim credit for humanity’s progress in the last 2,000 years, in a lecture delivered via Zoom to an audience of 1000.

Freeman drew on his books The Closing of the Western Mind and The Awakening: A History of the Western Mind AD 500–1700 to highlight the way in which humanist thoughts from the pre-Christian world were rediscovered and, together with developments in science, exploration, and trade, kick-started the modern world.

The event was a first in Humanists UK’s 125-year history: a live, online event open to anyone, everywhere and people attended from as far afield as South America, Japan, and Australia.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said,

‘We know humanist thought was enormously influential in ancient Europe, India, and China, and later in the European and global Enlightenment, in the discovery and creation of the scientific method thousands of years later. In filling in the blanks in between these periods, Charles tonight demonstrated how humanism, reason, and compassion have shaped the world around us, and we’re delighted that people around the world were able to join us tonight to hear it.’


Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Charles Freeman is an academic historian with wide interests in the history of European culture and thought. His latest book, The Awakening: A History of the Western Mind AD 500–1700, available now at all good bookshops.

Samira Ahmed is an award-winning journalist with 20 years’ experience in print and broadcast, and is a Visiting Professor of Journalism at Kingston University. She has presented many news and arts programmes for BBC TV and radio, including The World Tonight, PM, Sunday Morning Live, Night Waves, and The Proms.

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