When is a Humanist not a Humanist?

Paul Hedges, author of Towards Better Disagreement, considers asylum, philosophy and human rights in light of the recent situation with Hamza bin Walayat.

If somebody asked you to prove what you believed – whether that is belief in a religion like Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism, or a non-religious stance such as atheism or Humanism – how would you do it? Maybe you would mention how many times you go to church or meetings, mention your membership of particular organisations or communities, or show you have a lot of knowledge about your tradition, movement, or belief system.

Facing Death Threats and Asylum

This was the situation that faced Hamza bin Walayat, except for him it was not an idle exercise about his Humanism. Rather, it was an asylum hearing where he had to prove to the authorities that he was a Humanist or face deportation back to Pakistan from where he had received death threats.

In February 2018, Walayat met with British immigration officials, who questioned him on his knowledge of Humanism. According to the report on his hearing, because he was not able to identify Plato and Aristotle as Humanist philosophers his asylum claim was denied. The case has gathered both national and international support, and the British Humanist Association in particular has garnered support for him to seek to overturn the decision. A petition of over twelve thousand signatures was delivered to the Prime Minister at Downing Street, while an open letter was written to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd signed by over fifty philosophers and academics across the country.

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Morality, Demons and Beasts

In this extract from ‘The Interbrain,’ Digby Tantam considers the implications of the interbrain for religion, morality and our ability to demonize other humans. 

For a very long time, human beings have explained harm coming to one person or to groups by attributing this to demons. Demonic possession is possibly the oldest explanation of psychopathology and is still widely held in Africa and other parts of the world.

Demonization of offenders increases the public’s desire to punish them retributively is most likely because of common knowledge, which seems to be widespread, that demons exist, that they are evil, and that evil is contagious. So humans cannot, and indeed should not without imperilling their own morals, consort or connect with demons. Demons must be cast out of individuals, as the Bible has Jesus casting out the demons, and of society. Psychiatrists and psychologists have updated this demonology by postulating that types of people exist who cannot empathize and consequently act in a deranged or demonic fashion. There is also the presumption,
as there often is when a person is said to lack empathy, that it is equally impossible to empathize with them.

Demonization is, for obvious reasons, a strategy that is particularly attractive to religious groups…

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For more information on The Interbrain, or to buy a copy of the book, click here. 

Interfaith Meetings: Working out how to conduct vigils


We sought out Reverend Tom Wilson, co-author of Learning to Live Well Together, to find out any advice he had for frequently encountered issues with regards to interfaith meetings. In the second of two common scenarios, Tom discusses what must be considered when working out how to conduct vigils.

You never know when you will have to conduct a vigil; the nature of tragedy is that it takes us unawares. But this does not stop us planning. Many may know of the existence of plans for Operation London Bridge, the code name for the activities that will take place across the United Kingdom when the Queen dies, as she must do one day. Whilst it is inevitable that every individual dies, and so we must of necessity plan how to mark those deaths, the nature or fact of a terrorist attack is not as clear-cut. But given recent history, with four terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom in a few short months, it is nevertheless important that we have some ideas of what we might do should something terrible happen. Continue reading

Interfaith Meetings: How to handle concern about a planned mosque visit

Interfaith Meetings

We sought out Reverend Tom Wilson, co-author of Learning to Live Well Together, to find out his advice for frequently encountered issues with regards to interfaith meetings. In the first of two common scenarios, Tom considers how to respond to concerned parents who have approached a head teacher about the prospect of a planned visit to a mosque.

A significant proportion of the work that the St Philip’s Centre undertakes is educational work with school children. We are recognized providers of learning outside the classroom. Our focus is on bringing religious education to life. Rather than pupils reading about Sikhism in a textbook they visit a Gurwara, see the reverence afforded the Guru Granth Sahib and smell the vegetarian food cooking for langar. Instead of discovering that Muslims wash before they pray from a book, they are taken into the Wudu area of a mosque, and their guide explains, step-by-step, the process of purification he undertakes before joining in congregational prayers.

It is the scenario of visiting a mosque that can, at times, unfortunately become problematic. In the past few years, after there has been a major terrorist incident in the United Kingdom, it has become not uncommon for a school visit to be cancelled or postponed. The situation might not be this drastic; it might simply be that parents begin to voice concerns about whether such a visit is appropriate. Continue reading

Why do we need to talk about Religious Education?

Although Religious Education (RE) is a legal requirement in UK schools, it is an oft-neglected and misunderstood subject. It is important to seriously re-think this key subject at this time of low religious literacy and rising extremism, to protect communities from the consequences of hatred and misunderstanding.

We spoke to Mark Chater about his new book (co-edited with Mike Castelli) that brings together essays from prominent thought leaders in the theory and practice of RE, to promote wider discussion of what exactly is needed from a new model of RE within our education system to benefit wider society.

What were your motivations for writing We Need To Talk About Religious Education?

A creative anger that the voices of very able younger teachers are not being properly heard, that they deserve to become thought leaders for RE; also, an interest in listening to voices of experience and wisdom who can see change coming and welcome it; a desire to pump some life-giving fresh air into the old body of RE, to save it; and a professional and personal commitment to promoting the change debate in RE.

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Rethinking hospice chaplaincy: A spiritually motivated response to raw human need

Reverend Dr Steve Nolan is the chaplain at Princess Alice Hospice in Esher and the author of ‘Spiritual Care at the End of Life.

Here, he explores new ways of understanding the roles of hospice chaplains. 

I never met Dame Cicely Saunders. The nearest I came to her was when I visited the chaplain at St Christopher’s, the south London hospice she established. My tour of the hospice had reached the old chapel, and as I chatted with the chaplain, I caught a glimpse of her as she walked slowly passed the chapel door.

Whether Dame Cicely should be considered ‘the founder’ of modern hospice care could be debated. But her dynamism and drive had a significant hand in shaping the direction and values of the nascent movement. Yet she was not the only dynamic woman to have influenced the history of hospice care.

In 1843, Mme Jeanne Garnier opened a home for the dying in Lyon. In Dublin, Sister Mary Augustine inspired first Our Lady’s Hospice for the Dying, which opened in 1879, then further hospices in Australia and Great Britain. And in New York, Mother Alphonsa established St Rose’s Home in 1899. Working independently of each other, these women shared not only a common purpose but a motivation that was inspired by their spiritual beliefs.

Spirituality was clearly one of the key motivators that drove Dame Cicely. In the late 1940s, she converted from agnosticism to a deep evangelical Christian faith, which transformed the way she understood her work. Caring for the sick had always been a priority; following her conversion it became a religious calling.

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New Religion, Chaplaincy & Spiritual Care Catalogue 2017

Our new Religion, Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care catalogue is available now. Books for professionals, faith leaders, chaplains, health and spiritual care practitioners, students and professors, children and the general reader.

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How can so many faiths live peacefully together in a society?

Live well together

As the landscape of our society evolves and becomes ever more multi-cultural and ethnically diverse, one of the biggest elephants in the room has been how we will manage to inspire and create a harmonious society. With so many differing and distinct beliefs living side-by-side, it is sadly little wonder that there are increasing amounts of alienation, prejudice, discrimination, bigotry and racism. A darker, more sectarian society seems to have bludgeoned its way to the surface to exert its noisy influence on social media, tabloid press and sometimes even the national news.

Learning to Live Well Together engages with the issue, offering insights into forging strong relationships with those you have differing religious beliefs from, important for all professionals whose work is impacted by religious diversity. In this extract from the book Tom Wilson discusses ‘trust’, the issues surrounding it, and how to go about building it using his wealth of experience gained from work at the St Philip’s Centre in Leicester.

Click the link below to read an exclusive extract from Learning to Live Well Together by Tom Wilson and Riaz Ravat

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How can faith positively impact the workplace?

Anglican chaplain and author Fiona Stewart-Darling explains how the multifaith chaplaincy at Canary Wharf has contributed to the well-being of the many people who work in one of the busiest centres of global finance. 

While many argue that personal faith is on the decrease, this does not hold true for the public arena. In my book I argue that far from disappearing from our society, faith and religion are still very much present and an important part of many people’s lives, and increasingly visible and active in the public arena. This has been my experience, having spent a number of years working as a chaplain with an international business community from the financial and professional services industry, in Canary Wharf, East London. During this time, I have become aware of an increasing open generosity towards religion and belief and the distinctive role chaplaincy can play in the workplace.

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