Information about the course
This course is not designed to present a body of facts about humanism as though it were some doctrine or creed. Instead its aim is to present a series of questions and issues that many humanists grapple with today and explore how they might respond. There is diversity within humanism, and a humanist outlook on life involves the belief that everything is open to question. This course will therefore try not to lay down ‘absolute truths’ about the nature of humanism, nor to generalise its claims as representative of all humanists. Some of the content will express personal opinions about humanist beliefs and values. Nonetheless there is much consensus between humanists on many of their beliefs and values and we will try to reflect this.
Nor are we trying to argue the case for humanism, but rather we aim to develop your understanding of why humanists believe it is the most reasonable and responsible approach to life. You will not be expected to agree with the humanist’s conclusions. The humanist’s story is just one of many examples of how human beings have tried to understand how things are, what we can know, and how we should live. However, it is important to recognise that, although its contribution to contemporary thinking and modern society is often not recognised or identified, it is an approach to life that has had a significant impact on the beliefs and values of a large and growing number of the world’s population today.
This course therefore aims to increase your knowledge and understanding of humanism as well as the tensions and dilemmas contained within it.
You will find videos to watch and articles to read, as well as links to further resources to deepen your understanding.
The desired goal, however, is not purely to pass on such knowledge, but for you (whether you agree, disagree, or lie somewhere in between) to use what you learn to support your own journey to find answers to the questions that are explored. There will be plenty of opportunity for you to share your own thoughts and ask your own questions, and we hope that you will engage with your fellow learners wherever there is the opportunity.
It is hoped that you will see the content as a stimulus, as something to be discussed and disagreed with, interrogated and improved upon. Hopefully it will encourage debate and awaken the hunger to learn more.
When we use the word ‘humanists’ in this course, we do not claim to speak for all humanists. However, it would be cumbersome to say ‘some’ or ‘many’ or ‘most’ humanists every time we speak about something on which the majority of humanists would agree, even if there might not be unanimous agreement. Where, on the other hand, disagreement is more prevalent among humanists, we will be more explicit about it.
You may also be interested in our other free online course: Humanist Lives. While Introducing humanism focuses on the nature of humanism and humanist responses to life’s big questions, Humanist Lives focuses on individual stories from humanists around the world. You’ll explore the diverse ways in which humanism can be expressed and the beliefs and values that unite humanists. The course is led by writer and broadcaster Alice Roberts and features contributions from scientists, artists, writers, and campaigners, including Polly Toynbee, Jim al-Khalili, Frank Turner, Natalie Haynes, and Steven Pinker.