Reflections from Atheist/ Humanist/ Secularist Convention 2014 (London)

Zheng Huifen is a member of the HSS committee. She is currently in the United Kingdom for a one-year postgraduate course. Last weekend, Huifen joined other university students across the UK for the 2014 convention of the National Federation of Atheists, Humanists and Secularist Student Societies (AHS). Here is her report of it.


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Being a student in the UK this year, I was able to attend the 2014 convention of the National Federation of Atheists, Humanists and Secularist Student Societies (AHS). This happened over the weekend of 7 to 9 March 2014 in London. The AHS is organised under the auspices of the British Humanist Association (BHA).

This was a great way to meet students of other atheists/ humanists/ secularists societies from around the UK, who had travelled to London just for this.

There were two main parts to the convention: a series of speakers on Saturday, and workshops on Sunday to be more effective in our own societies.

On Saturday, I was especially excited for AC Grayling’s talk about humanism. As we know, Professor Grayling was in Singapore in November and the HSS was privileged to host him; however I missed that event as I was in the UK then!

At the AHS convention, Professor Grayling spoke passionately about the one life that we have now, urging the audience to live the “examined life”. He emphasised the need to be always enquiring and questioning of one’s own life and opinions. I was also pleased to hear that he is now a vegetarian, although he confessed to still wearing leather shoes as he thought them more durable than non-leather ones.

Another interesting lecture was that given by Andrew Copson, the chief executive of the BHA. Copson touched on the secular schools of morality and philosophy which appeared at various times around the world, seemingly independently of each other. These scholars came from different philosophical traditions, such as Mencius in China and Charvakas in India. Copson explained that these various scholars tried to explore and explain human morality in their own ways, without reference to supernatural causes or a divine being. Yet these scholars came largely to similar conclusions, that humans derive value in the life we lead, and in the natural world that surrounds us.

Copson’s talk has given me more reason to explore the teachings of Mencius and other Chinese philosophers.

At the end of Saturday, speakers and students adjourned to a nearby bar. I had great fun getting to know several students, who are not only from the UK, but other parts of the world – Russia, India, Germany, the US, all identifying as atheist/ humanist/ secularist. It was a great feeling of communion.

I also had the privilege of a nice long chat with Andrew Copson. When he expressed admiration for the HSS badge, I was happy to present it to him! Here we are, looking very pleased with a great convention and new friends made.

Andrew Copson with HF

The positive experience of the AHS weekend made me re-consider attending the World Humanist Congress in August, to be held in Oxford, London. While I was put off by the steep cost of entry and accommodation, the friendships and connections made may well be priceless.