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Professor Nichola Raihani to deliver Voltaire Lecture 2021

Humanists UK has announced the Voltaire Lecture 2021 – The Social Instinct – will be delivered by Nichola Raihani, psychologist, Professor of Evolution and Behaviour, and author of a 2021 book by the same name. Following the lecture, taking place on Wednesday 22 September, Raihani will be presented with the Voltaire Lecture Medal by Humanists UK President Professor Alice Roberts.

In her Voltaire Lecture, Raihani will illuminate the role of cooperation in the human story: why we live in families, why women experience the menopause, and why we routinely help complete strangers. She will also explore the dark side of cooperation, looking at how cooperation creates victims, where cooperation fails, and why we sometimes cheat.

Professor Raihani will also introduce attendees to other cooperating species, from the pied babblers of the Kalahari to the cleaner fish of the Great Barrier Reef. She will lead on an exhilarating, far-reaching, and thought-provoking journey through all life on Earth, with profound insights into what makes us human and how our societies work.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘The Voltaire Lecture is our longest-running lecture: a history of big ideas stretching back decades. For over 50 years, audiences have heard from brilliant and inspiring thinkers, including Professor Sir David King, Barbara Wootton, Steven Pinker, Bonya Ahmed, and Sir Ludovic Kennedy.

‘The Voltaire Lecture Medal is an opportunity to recognise people we believe have important things to say: about the world, about philosophy, about society, or about human nature. We’re delighted that Nichola will be our 2021 Voltaire Medallist, and we look forward to welcoming our audience to the lecture in September.’


About Professor Nichola Raihani

Nichola Raihani is a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Professor in Evolution and Behaviour at University College London (UCL). Her group’s research focuses on the evolution of social behaviour in humans and non-human species.

She has been widely published in scientific journals, won the 2018 Philip Leverhulme Prize in Psychology for her research achievements, and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology in 2018. She is also the author of The Social Instinct: How Cooperation Shaped the World (Penguin, UK, 2021) and has appeared on several podcasts and radio shows, including BBC Radio 4’s Hacking the Unconscious, and Thought Cages and RSA’s Bridges to the Future. You can find out more about Nichola’s research and connect with her on Twitter: @nicholaraihani.

About Professor Alice Roberts

Professor Alice Roberts has been President of Humanists UK since January 2019. She is Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, Director of Anatomy for the NHS Severn Deanery School of Surgery, and holds honorary fellowships at Hull, York Medical School, and the University of Bristol.

She is an honorary fellow of the British Science Association, a member of the Advisory Board of the Cheltenham Festival of Science, Patron of the Association of Science and Discovery Centres, and a member of the Council of the British Heart Foundation.

She combines her academic career with one as a science presenter on television. She has appeared as a human bone specialist on Channel 4’s Time Team and in various projects on BBC2, including Coast, Don’t Die Young, The Incredible Human Journey, Wild Swimming, Digging for Britain, Horizon, and Origins of Us.

About the Voltaire Lecture

This explores ‘any aspect of scientific or philosophical thought or human activity as affected by or with particular reference to humanism’. The Voltaire medallist has made a significant contribution in one of these fields.

The lecture and medal are named for the philosopher Voltaire and the Voltaire Lectures Fund was originally established by the legacy of Theodore Besterman, biographer of Voltaire.

It has been delivered by Professor Sir David King, Baroness Wootton, Professor Steven Pinker, Professor Richard Dawkins, Natalie Haynes, Michael Foot, Kenan Malik, Bettany Hughes, Nick Cohen, Dr Henry Marsh, Bonya Ahmed, and Sir Ludovic Kennedy.

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For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

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