Rushdie’s appearance at Memorial Church was the first event of the three-day long conference called “The New Humanism” hosted by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University. Humanism is a “non-supernatural alternative to traditional religion,” said Gregory M. Epstein, the University’s Humanist Chaplain. Humanism primarily consists of atheists, agnostics and non-religious people.
“The main purpose of the conference is to show the Harvard community and the local community that humanism is the philosophy that best represents the billion people around the world [who identify with no religion],” Epstein said. “The conference aims to show that humanism is a diverse, inclusive, inspiring way to live life. It is a way of uniting those [non-religious] people into a positive community that can make a major contribution to a more peaceful, more stable world.”
Humanists currently hold a wide base in the cultural and scientific world. Author Kurt Vonnegut served as honorary president of the American Humanist Association, and science-fiction author Issac Asimov served as its president until his death in 1992.
However, humanism is much less represented in the political sphere, said Epstein.
“There is only one openly humanist politician currently serving in Congress, Senate, or governor offices,” Epstein said. “We know that there are many more humanists in the political world, but they are afraid to speak about humanism because most people only know that we don’t believe in a supernatural god. Atheists are the group that Americans would be least likely to vote for president.”
Friday night’s event was open to the public and organized with the cooperation of The Harvard Bookstore. Rushdie was awarded the first annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism.
Rushdie focused on the importance of the sense of community for non-religious people.
“Where was the holiday for people who didn’t believe in god? Where is the one for the unbelievers?” Rushdie asked. “Where is the Kwanzaa of the atheist? Surely we can make one up.”
Rushdie followed his speech with a reading from his latest novel “Shalimar the Clown.”
Other conference speakers included Amartya Sen, Lamont University Professor and Nobel Laureate of Economics; E.O. Wilson, Pellegrino University Professor Emeritus; and Steven Pinker, the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology.
“In my case, I study the human mind. The brain is shaped by natural selection. I still feel there is a place for meaning and some purpose.” Pinker said. “I can’t be the only person with this set of beliefs. A few years ago, it occurred to me—I’m a humanist.”
The Long Journey HomeJohn L. Ashbery ’49, Jamaica Kincaid and Salman Rushdie, three of the greatest writers of our time, shared the stage
Sept. 11 Author Reinvited To SquareLess than two weeks after WordsWorth Books cancelled an appearance by controversial 9/11 author William Langewiesche, the bookseller announced yesterday
Godless ChurchMemorial Church’s crisp white spire provides a landmark for students and tourists alike, reminding us every day of God whether
15 Questions with Greg M. EpsteinAs Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, Greg M. Epstein has long promoted the message of Humanism: people can lead good and moral lives without believing in a higher being.
Myth Busters Defend LogicAdam Savage and Jamie Hyneman—famous for blowing things up and testing popular myths on their show “MythBusters”—were honored for their work in propagating humanist values Friday evening by the Harvard Secular Society and the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy.
'Family Guy' Creator Receives Humanist AwardSeth W. MacFarlane delivered religious punch line after punch line, addressed what he described as the corrupting influence of religion in today’s society.