Grayling named president of British Humanist Association

  • post Type / Members and partners
  • Date / 4 April 2011

A. C. Grayling, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) representative to the UN Human Rights Council, has been appointed the new president of the British Humanist Association (BHA). A renowned philosopher, broadcaster and author, Anthony Grayling is the first academic philosopher to hold the office since A J Ayer in the 1960s. Grayling succeeds journalist, broadcaster, and social justice campaigner Polly Toynbee to take up the position from July 2011 and will serve a two-year term as the Association’s eleventh president.

Welcoming the appointment, BHA chief executive Andrew Copson said, “Anthony is not just an academic philosopher. He aims to bring the very best of the humanist tradition of ethical thinking into the public sphere of political debate and into people’s daily lives and his popular books and his wide-ranging advocacy of causes are a testament to this dynamic approach. His devotion to the causes that humanists espouse – secularism in our public life, freedom and human rights at home and globally, science and reason in our struggle to know the universe and humanity in our treatment of ourselves and others – have won him many admirers in Britain and around the world, humanist and religious alike. We all look forward to his time as president enormously.”

Welcoming her successor, outgoing president Polly Toynbee said, “It has been a joy to be president at a time of such prominent activity and unprecedented growth for the Association. From the Atheist Bus Campaign, to the massive increase in our education and ceremonies work and our increasingly dynamic advocacy work, we have gone from strength to strength. I know that Anthony will enjoy a period of equal growth and success.”

Anthony Grayling, accepting the appointment, said, “I am honoured and delighted to be the BHA’s next President. Polly Toynbee has been a distinguished President during an important period for the BHA, and has set a high standard for the role. I warmly applaud her contribution. In the hands of its outstanding staff led by Andrew Copson the BHA has continued to grow in influence at the centre of British life, and I look forward with relish to the next two years, working alongside the whole team to maintain that progress.

“Humanism is about the value of things human. Its desire to learn from the past, its exhortation to courage in the present, and its espousal of hope for the future, are about real things, real people, real human need and possibility, and the fate of the fragile world we share. It is about human life; it requires no belief in an after life. It is about this world; it requires no belief in another world. It requires no commands from divinities, no promises of reward or threats of punishment, no myths and rituals, either to make sense of things or to serve as a prompt to the ethical life. It requires only open eyes, sympathy, and reason.’”

Previous presidents of the British Humanist Association have included jazz musician and author George Melly, agony aunt and broadcaster Claire Rayner, comedian and broadcaster Linda Smith, cosmologist Hermann Bondi, anthropologist Edmund Leach, and evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley.

On departing as president, Polly Toynbee will join distinguished humanists such as philosophers Simon Blackburn and Richard Norman, and scientists Lewis Wolpert and Richard Dawkins as a vice president of the BHA.


1. More about Anthony Grayling

Anthony Grayling MA, DPhil (Oxon) FRSL, FRSA is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London, and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford. He has written and edited many books on philosophy and other subjects; among his most recent are “Ideas That Matter”,  “To Set Prometheus Free” and “The Good Book: A Humanist Bible”. He writes frequently for the major newspapers, and is an equally frequent broadcaster. He is a representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union to the UN Human Rights Council, and in addition to human rights and civil liberties work is known as a campaigner on secular and humanist issues. He lives in London with his wife, the writer Katie Hickman, and their children.

2. More about the British Humanist Association

Founded in 1896 as the Union of Ethical Societies, the British Humanist Association (BHA) works for a world where everyone lives cooperatively on the basis of shared human values and respect for human rights and where non-religious people confident in living ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity.

28,000 members and supporters and over 90 local and special interest affiliates trust the BHA to:

  • promote Humanism, represent the non-religious, and support those who wish to live humanist lives, including through the provision of humanist ceremonies.
  • campaign for a secular state, challenge religious privilege, and promote equal treatment in law and policy of everyone regardless of religion or belief.
  • offer a humanist perspective in public debate, drawing on contemporary humanist thought and the worldwide humanist tradition.

The BHA’s policies are informed with the support of over 130 of the UK’s most prominent philosophers, scientists, and other thinkers and experts and it seeks to advance them with the help of over 100 parliamentarians in membership of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group.

Its 380 trained and accredited celebrants conduct funerals and other non-religious ceremonies attended by hundreds of thousands of people each year.

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