Professor of Sociology at University of Kent and Patron of Humanists UK
Professor Frank Furedi was born in 1948 in Hungary, and fled to Canada with his family in 1956 after the defeat of the Hungarian revolution. He has lived in Britain since the 1970s and is now a sociologist and writer commenting on culture and society, based at the University of Kent in Canterbury.
He spoke on the challenges to Humanism at the 2005Humanists UKconference, and you can read his article on “The Legacy of Humanism” here. In it he wrote:
The importance of humanism does not lie in what it rejects but in what it upholds. It upholds the importance of human experience as the foundation for knowledge. The understanding that emerges through this experience has provided people with the capacity to change their circumstances and through that process to transform their humanity. It is through the interaction between human thought and social experience that society becomes humanised and learns to move forward.
the real challenge facing humanism is the low esteem accorded to the status of humanity. The world today is dominated by a widespread disenchantment with the record of humanity’s achievement. There is a manifest lack of confidence in the capacity of people to reason and influence the course of events. The past is frequently represented as a sordid tale of people destroying the planet.
He has also defended free speech in arguments that echo those of John Stuart Mill in On Liberty. In“Don’t suppress radical Islamic ideas, challenge them” (The Guardian , 24/1006) ) he argued:
One reason why such [radical Islamist] groups succeed in gaining influence is because their ideas are rarely challenged on campus. Their arguments are rarely countered by persuasive democratic ideals… Instead of closing down debate, universities ought to provide greater opportunity for a free exchange of opinion. Instead of policing radical Islamic speakers, we need to confront their ideas in public debate. As long as the discussion is out in the open, it is possible to counter arguments that attempt to undermine a democratic and secular way of life. The government guidelines show little faith in the power of ideas and even less in the capacity of students to think for themselves. It assumes students lack the capacity to intelligently evaluate competing arguments. Worse still, this standpoint is underpinned by a mood of moral cowardice that lacks faith in the capacity of secular democratic ideals to prevail in open debate.
Frank Furedi’s books include Politics of Fear (Continuum Press, 2005) , Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone? (Continuum Press, 2004), Therapy Culture (Routledge, 2003), Paranoid Parenting (Penguin/ Alan Lane , 2001), Culture of Fear ( Continuum, 2002), and On Tolerance: The Life Style Wars: A Defence of Moral Independence (Continuum, 2011).
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