Author Archives: humanisthistory

About humanisthistory

Callum Brown is the Professor of Late Modern European History at the University of Glasgow

Why a secular-humanist historian likes churches

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St. Margaret’s Church, Clea-on-the-Sea, Norfolk

This was the view from the front door of a rented holiday home in Norfolk in eastern England that my wife and I stayed at for a fortnight each July for about ten years. The house was nothing exceptional (though at its heart was a two-roomed 17th century dwelling). But the view was stunning. As well as St Margaret’s Church and its graveyard (behind the wall on the left), we could see off to the right in the distance the church at Wiveton and the steeple of a third at Blakeney.  In between was a large common which until the 14th century had been the harbour that made Cley a centre of the wool trade. Completing a magical outlook was the roof of the local pub, a mere 45 second stroll through the graves.

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Is being “spiritual” to be “non secular”?

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Yoga at English Bay, Vancouver, 2009

A recent judgement (December 2013) [http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/decided-cases/docs/UKSC_2013_0030_Judgment.pdf] by the British Supreme Court raises an interesting point about the epistemology of the secular. Whilst the judgement of their Lordships was undoubtedly right, since it ended one form of religious discrimination, the terms of their ruling exposed a shortfall in understanding contemporary no religionism.

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Estonia – few gods, but loads of angels

In late September 2013, I was in Estonia, widely referred to on the web as the ‘most godless’ nation in the world. This is based on a 2005 Eurobarometer poll Social values, Science and Technology Report (June 2005)[1] which recorded the Baltic state as having the lowest level of belief in the existence of God in all the 32 European nations polled. Only 16 per cent agreed with the statement “I believe there is a God”, with the Czech Republic next at 19 per cent, Sweden on 23 per cent, Denmark on 31 and Netherlands on 34 per cent; the UK stood on 38 per cent, and Germany on 48 per cent; holding up the European average at the other end were Malta on 95 per cent and Cyprus on 90 per cent agreeing with the statement.[2]

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Nigel Bruce: A Humanist Life

Nigel Bruce was born in London in 1921. From the 1950s to the 1990s, he published many pamphlets and books, including Radical Readings: A Guide to the Humanist Perspective; A Student’s Guide to Secular Humanism[1]; and Face to Face With Families. He was a frequent letter writer to The Scotsman newspaper. He was a leading campaigner for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and organised the erection of a statue to the philosopher David Hume. In the 1990s he contributed to the redesign of religious education in Lothian Region Schools, and to the design of the children’s courts system in Scotland. Callum Brown interviewed Nigel in his Edinburgh home in April 2010. 

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Khushi Ram: A Humanist Life

Khushi Ram was born in an isolated village in the Punjab in India in 1921. He emigrated to Canada in 1986. Callum Brown interviewed him in his home in Vancouver in October 2009.

 My name is Khushi Ram, and I was born in India, Punjab.  Social stratification is all over the world, but the peculiarity about the social stratification in India is that it is hereditary, it goes from birth to birth. My family belongs to the lowest strata of society in India. So much so that some people called us outcastes, not within the caste system. We were very poor, my father was a landless agricultural labourer with even no house of his own. The landlord will give him certain land and he will build a hut and we will live there. Somehow I shone in my class and some teachers almost fell in love with me, they tried to support me, up and up. I was working with my father on the farmer’s land but somebody, that seven kilometres school headmaster sent one of his teachers to me, because I was well known in my area by that time as a brilliant student. I broke all their previous record at the entrance into university, we call it high school final. I got very good marks.

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The Unholy Mrs Knight: Margaret Knight and the BBC in the 1950s

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In 1955 Margaret Knight became the most hated woman in Britain. She was vilified and demonised in virtually every British newspaper, and thousands of letters attacking her were sent by ordinary Britons to the BBC, to the papers and to her personally. Parents wrote fearing for the safety of their children, bishops and priests criticised her impudence, whilst well-known authors like Dorothy L Sayers castigated her ignorance. Hounded by journalists and pursued by photographers, the smiling image of Mrs Knight in her ‘Sunday-best hat’ and coat appeared in most newspapers. She was the nation’s number one ‘folk devil’ of 1955. What had she done to deserve this? Had she molested children? Was she exposed as a spy and a traitor? Had she sold secrets to the Russians? None of these. What she had done was broadcast two thirty-minute talks on the BBC Home Service in January 1955 in which she called for children to be educated about morality without religion.

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