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Convention in Belfast shows positive impact of humanist activism

Hundreds of humanists from across the UK converged in Belfast this weekend for Humanists UK’s first in-person Convention in three years. 

As well as being a chance to connect with like-minded people, discuss and debate ideas, and explore the many ways humanists are campaigning for a better society and helping non-religious people to lead happier, ethical lives, it was also a chance to reflect in particular on the fantastic achievements of Northern Ireland Humanists. In just six years, the section of Humanists UK has helped to foment positive social changes across Northern Ireland, and today humanism in Northern Ireland is growing more rapidly than anywhere else in Europe or North America.

The weekend was made up of comedy, lectures, debates, and discussions featuring some of the best talent from both sides of the Irish Sea. Delegates were treated on Friday evening to a fantastic comedy night emceed by Northern Ireland-based comedian Colin Murphy, who was joined by Humanists UK patrons Angela Barnes and Tim McGarry, as well as Eleanor Tiernan – four comedians at the top of their game, shedding light on the human condition and the absurdities of modern life.

Pictured: Tim McGarry, Northern Ireland Humanists patron

As the weekend progressed, delegates heard from a diverse array of philosophers, politicians, campaigners, community activists, scientists, and historians. Suitably, Humanists UK Vice President AC Grayling opened the weekend of talks with a humanist exploration of the challenges – and possible solutions – to the assortment of  gloomy political, environmental, technological and social challenges that characterise modern times.

Later, panellists showcased how humanist convictions underpinned a thriving body of community activism across Northern Ireland; about humanists’ campaigning work on blasphemy laws and for inclusive education; breakthrough work supporting ‘apostates’ of high-control religions and non-religious people in hospitals and prisons; and on an astonishingly long and storied history of humanist activists in Northern Ireland since the 19th century. Other highlights included Professor Francesca Stravkrakopoulou exploring ‘deviant bodies’ in ancient religious literature; Professor Stephen Smartt and his colleague Dr Meg Schwamb pushed at the limits of our understanding of the cosmos; and Professor Richard Wiseman showed how humility, ambition, and ingenuity could power human beings to achieve the seemingly impossible.

Pictued: Andrew Copson, Laura Lacole, Eunan O’Kane, Northern Ireland Humanists patrons

Weekend fringe activities included a led walk around Belfast, exploring sites of humanist history; a forum to introduce delegates to the principles and practice of dialogue between humanists and religious communities; and a space to discuss, and respond to, the profoundly frightening implications of the recent United States ruling overturning Roe v Wade. Members of Humanists UK convened at the end of the weekend for the company’s AGM, to approve its accounts, debate motions, and elect new trustees. As part of the AGM, members passed a motion brought by the Board of Humanists UK condemning the UK Government’s Rwanda detention scheme for refugees as ‘dehumanising and immoral’.

New Humanists UK President Dr Adam Rutherford closed the day of lectures on Sunday with a keynote lecture on Control: The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics, challenging how bad science and pseudoscience have been (and continue to be) weaponised to further terrifying political agendas.

Pictured: Dr Adam Rutherford, President of Humanists UK

Humanists UK announced that its 2023 Convention will take place in Liverpool next summer. Tickets for this event are expected to go on sale later in the year.


Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Many sessions were recorded and will make their way onto the Humanists UK YouTube channel in the coming weeks and months.

For more on the success story of Northern Ireland Humanists, see the news item about its 2021 report, Five Years of Northern Ireland Humanists.

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on blasphemy laws.

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on religious schools.

For more on the rich history of humanism in Northern Ireland and across the UK, see the Humanist Heritage website.

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