New Humanism Symposium

Sun 12th – Wed 15th May 2024  |  James Joyce Centre, Dublin, Ireland

The Robert Boyle
We invite you to join this initiative, regardless of your background, expertise, or orientation The symposium/workshop will be experimental and reflective, allowing plenty of room for exchange of views, discussion and deliberation. The Symposium will use accessible language in tune with the shared experience of the speakers and participants.

New Humanism

New humanism is a term that we arbitrarily define for the purpose of this symposium/workshop as humanism stripped of its sometimes-aggressive atheism. It does not necessarily imply a religious version of humanism. Rather it proposes sharing many aspects of a rich humanist heritage with those retaining a religious impulse even though they have parted company with organised religion. Likewise, it may facilitate rediscovery of an equally rich (human) heritage embedded in the religious culture we are losing contact with. This includes areas as diverse as visual arts; ritual at times of celebration and need; music; a sense of community; and literature to mention but a few. After all, Seamus Heaney fondly remembered ‘the radiance of his Catholic boyhood’ although he was not a believer in later life. And he noted that ‘the older I get the more I remember the benediction of it all’.


How can we make the world a better place for all? More and more people feel lost in their personal and spiritual lives. In the search for meaning, recognition, and self-affirmation, they often feel overburdened and exhausted. Psychological distress and depression are commonplace. The available belief systems, including those from religions, do not cope well with the complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity of lives embedded in twenty first century technology.

The scientific framework we inhabit, and its humanist support culture fail to resolve questions involved and can exacerbate them. Problems with social media, dietary advice, emerging vaccination crises and global warming illustrate this at day-to-day level. There is much more at other levels not yet shared by the common imagination. We cannot save the planet, human society or help make life tolerable and meaningful for the individual without addressing the complexity, and uncertainties involved and organising our co-existence in a way that is adequate to the problem. Our point of departure is that a New Inclusive Humanism open to the heritage of the sciences, the humanities, the arts, and religions is likely to help. The challenge is how?

Sunday: Welcome Reception & Challenge

Session 1
Time Session
18:00 - 20:00 Recep,on/Buffet
Introduction to Joyce and The James Joyce Centre.
Darina Gallagher, Director, James Joyce Centre
19:00 - 20:00 Preface to the Symposium.
Professor Philip McDonagh, Director, Centre for Religion, Human Values, and International Relations & former Irish Ambassador

Recital of Joyce songs
Darina Gallagher & Sinead Murphy

Day 1: Monday

Session 2
Time Session
09:00 Coffee and Registration
Welcome, and Opening Presentations (Moderator)
09:30 Welcome / Scene Setting
Prof Jim Malone and Gaston Meskens
10:00 Philosophy as a way of life – including 10 Universal Laws that can serve Humanity.
Prof Camillus Power, Dublin
10:40 Discussion
11:00 The Person as the Peephole of Humanity
Mark Patrick Hederman, Glenstal Abbey, Limerick, IE
11:40 Discussion of paper followed by general discussion
12:15 Lunch
Session 3
Imagining Futures: Sources, Dilemmas and Religious/Cultural Heritage 1
Time Session
13:45 Baháʼí: Humanism, Cosmopolitanism and Optimism in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. (25 min presentation; 15 min discussion)
Prof Friedo Zolzer, , České Budějovice, CZ
14:25 Telling stories, doing rituals, and making pilgrimage are not just about the Truth. (25 min presentation; 15 min discussion)
Michael Harding, Cavan and Leitrim, IE
15:05 Break for Tea/Coffee
15:45 Humanism Contemplates the Buddha - A good fit? (25 min presenta,on; 15 min discussion)
Dr Noirin Sheahan, Wales., UK.
Noirin’s talk will be read by Therese Cafferty, IE
16:20 An Uncertain Agnosticism and The Big Bang: What Science can/cannot do for the Atheist cause.
(25 min presenta,on; 15 min discussion)
Gaston Meskens, Antwerp, BE
17:00 General Discussion of sessions 2 and 3
17:30 Close
18:30 Dinner (subsidised contribution €20)

Day2: Tuesday

Session 4
Global Secular Ethics Framework in Medicine and Science
Time Session
09:00 Global ethics frameworks in Scientific and Medical Practices
Prof Friedo Zolzer, České Budějovice, CZ
09:40 Discussion
10:00 Global Ethics for the Personal, Big Systems and living with Complexity
Gaston Meskens, Antwerp, BE
10:30 Discussion of paper followed by discussion of session
11:00 Coffee
11:30 Towards a Shared Func,onal Ethics: Learning from a Concordance of Science, Medicine, Art, and Faith, towards a New Humanism
Prof Ehsan Samei, USA
12:10 Discussion followed by discussion of session
12:30 Lunch
Session 5
Imagining Futures: Sources, Dilemmas and Religious/Cultural Heritage 2
Time Session
13:45 (Placeholder) Mysticism, The English Mystics and Humanism
(25 min presentation; 15 min discussion)
Dr Louise Nelstrop, UK
14:25 What’s it all about: Can Humanism help?
(25 min presentation; 15 min discussion)
Janie Lazar, Dublin, IE
15:05 Break for Tea or Coffee
15:40 GeOng into their Habits: knowing, growing, thinking, being(s)
(25 min presentation; 15 min discussion)
Dr Harri Hudspith, Barcelona, ES
16:20 Literature, arts, lived spiritualities, a challenge to the Christian Redemption Narrative. Some final words. (35 min; 15 min)
Prof Jim Malone, Dublin, IE
17:10 Session Discussion and Discussion of Sessions 1 – 5
17:30 Main Symposium Closes

Day 3: Wednesday

Further Meeting to consider possible initiatives
(Moderator & Rapporteur TBA)
Time Session
09:30 Round Table review and discussion by those who can stay.

Among others, questions to be addressed include:
• What important topics have we missed?
• Is it worth considering further meetings or symposia?
• If so, what type and where?
• Are there other initiatives, within the competence and capacities of the group, that would be worth considering?

Survivors will draft conclusions and identify future actions, if any.

Further questions will be generated during the symposium.
12:00 Close

The Symposium

The Symposium will review and  address:

      • The sources of experience that offer meaning to life including, science, literature, the arts in general, mystical insight, religions, and their relevance today.
      • Why a ‘new humanism’ is necessary and what’s wrong with humanisms existing manifestations? Should ‘accessible’ be included in the title?
      • The move away from formal religion and the gap created in the availability of ritual to mark special occasions (eg: death, birth, marriage, coming of age, graduation, retirements etc).
      • Cultural heritage, r- are humanism and atheism inevitably linked; the fringes of the religious/mystical in modern life; sources for the mystical today; the arts, literature and meaning; critiques of both religious narratives and atheistic convictions. And many other topics.
      • Revealing insights into the arts, music, lived culture and community practices that enrich life in general, and their transformative/affirmative power at all levels from the individual to society, whether or not religion is involved.
      • The importance of a secular personal and collective ethics that commands respect on a global scale.
      • Confronting and escaping from the hyperrationality and an excess of certainty in the sciences and the socially unacceptable problems of technology.
      • Exploring bottom up, ways of looking at global and individual problems. A pragmatic approach to who we are, what we can and should know, how we can deliberate the issues, including beliefs, and personal spiritualities.
      • Atheism and hostility to religions in some formulations of humanism, and the challenge this poses to people of faith otherwise attracted to humanist approaches.
      • The issues involved in accessible language drawing on the shared experience of participants and speakers. There will be plenty of time for discussion.

 Attendance might further inspire your interest in an exceptional and eccentric contributor to science/medicine/philosophy and the spiritual life, i.e. Robert Boyle.

Subject to review by contributors, the organisers hope to arrange publication of the proceedings.

Robert Boyle Foundation (Dublin)

Robert Boyle (1627-1691) is known as the father of chemistry and the son of the Earl of Cork. However, he was much more and contributed substantially to medicine, physics, the life sciences, philosophy, theology, and in many respects was the founder of the experimental method as we now know it. He was deeply religious and lived in exemplary, if somewhat stoical, Anglican life. Like Newton he was fascinated by alchemy and sorcery and not at all at ease with the positioning of the boundary to empirical enquiry in these sensitive areas. His personal spirituality and its relationship with his science is also beginning to receive attention.

The purpose of these initiatives includes: celebrating Boyle’s life and work; creating cultural spaces for science, engineering, medicine and religion in society, particularly in the Irish community, that now earns its living for the greater part in the former and has become estranged from the latter.

New Humanism Project (Antwerp)

The adagio that we cannot solve our societal problems with the same methods that (facilitate to) create them is well known. The vision that inspiration and motivation for ‘new methods’ need to come from deeper thinking about who we are as individuals and groups and about how to deliberate these problems and live together is less popular. This vision is the point of departure of the New Humanism project, and it thereby deliberately distinguishes the political from the social context. The idea is that, for the political, in order to tackle societal problems such as climate change, poverty and the various forms of social oppression, we first need to rethink and reform the formal methods we use to make sense of our coexistence, namely the methods of education, scientific research and democracy. Second, but not least, there is an urgent need to reconsider the modern conformist patterns aimed to ‘order’ our social relationships, as they alienate the human being from what love can and should be: a compassionate love for the other, based on a reflexive self-care, while accepting the ethics and aesthetics of ambiguity of that connectedness.

Go to  to read a general introduction to the why and how, for information on upcoming and past activities and to join the dialogue.

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