Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsGrowing up, I didn't have a term for the things that I believed. When I discovered the word "humanist", I realised it described the beliefs and values I already held. It fitted the way I viewed the world, and I don’t think I am alone in making this discovery. Humanism differs from many approaches to life, especially religions. If you belong to a particular religion, then your awareness of that identity usually goes along with the adoption of its beliefs. For many humanists the beliefs are already held before they become aware of the label. The word ‘humanism’ has held different meanings throughout its history.

Skip to 0 minutes and 43 secondsBut the beliefs and values connected with the modern use of the word can be found in the work of many of the great thinkers of the past, dating as far back as ancient India, China, and Greece. Not all the historical figures who shared these beliefs used the word ‘humanist’ to describe themselves but humanist thinking has long had an influence on humanity.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 secondsThis week we aim to return to the problems we posed at the beginning of Week One: What is humanism? Is there a single answer? And can we say what kind of a thing humanism is?

Skip to 1 minute and 21 secondsThe questions we’ll be exploring this week are: Are we able to come up with a definition of humanism? Do we need one? Where can we find examples of humanist thinking in history? Can people be religious and humanist? Is it possible to be a humanist and not know it? Where does humanism stand on the world stage today? And what diversity exists within humanism? Hopefully, by the end of the week, using what you have learned throughout the course, you will be able to analyse what humanism is for yourself.

Welcome to Week 6

‘[Humanism] is, in fact, nothing other than the tradition of philosophical debate about ethics, whose inception we attribute to Socrates.’

AC Grayling, Handbook of Humanism

Throughout this course we have explored many of the beliefs and values that humanists typically hold. In this final week, we will return to some of the questions we set ourselves in Week 1.

We asked, ‘What is humanism?’ Can we define what it means to be a humanist? To attempt to answer this question, we need to explore where there is disagreement and diversity within the humanist worldview. We also need to investigate how the word ‘humanism’ has been used and where we can find examples of humanist thought throughout human history.

We will also address another question we posed in Week 1, ‘What kind of a thing is humanism?’ Is it a religion, a worldview, an approach to life, or something else?

By now, hopefully, from what you have learned, you will have reached some of your own conclusions to these questions and will be able to contribute to the discussions around them.

This week you will explore:

  • Is humanism something we can easily define? What diversity exists within humanism?
  • Where can we find examples of humanist thinking in history? Is humanist thought a reaction to or a development of religious belief, or is it something independent?
  • How prevalent are non-religious and humanist beliefs in the UK and around the world today?
  • Is it possible for one to be religious and a humanist? Is humanism a religion?
  • Is humanism a descriptive term that can be applied to somebody whether not they have adopted the label for themselves?

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This video is from the free online course:

Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life, with Sandi Toksvig

Humanists UK