Who am I? Who are we? How do I find meaning? What are the different varieties of contemporary and historical humanism? These are questions we asked and attempted to answer during this weekend’s course.
The American Humanist Association’s Center for Education (formerly The Humanist Institute) hosted Course 101: The Humanist Lifestance on August 24-26 at their offices in Washington, DC. In the course we sought to “Deepen [our] appreciation of how Humanism responds to questions of origins, identity, meaning, truth, and goodness,” “[e]ngage with some great thinkers in the Humanist tradition,” “[l]earn about the different versions of Humanism currently practiced today, and the organizations which support them,” and “[l]earn how to apply Humanist values to [our] daily life.” In preparation we read books and articles, watched a film, and completed written assignments, expanding our knowledge of humanism, its history and its implications throughout our lives.
Our instructor, Anne Klaeysen, achieved the amazing feat of guiding, at any given time, 12-15 people through course material, conversation, and reflection with grace, while ensuring that everyone was heard and had the opportunity to share their perspective. Her knowledge of the history of humanism and contemporary humanist organizations was invaluable.
My fellow students were what I most enjoyed about my immersive weekend. There were Ethical Culturists, Unitarian Universalists, lifelong humanists, even former theists. Humanistic Judaism was represented, as well as the Muslimish organization (a perspective I found especially valuable). Spending three days in study and conversation with humanist ministers, officiants, chaplains, organizers, and enthusiasts refreshed and inspired me.
The sheer volume of conversation and topics (and notes I took) guarantee that I will be processing this experience more deeply in the coming weeks. The co-learning that occurred will be with me for a long time to come. Through lecture, dialogue, and a visit to the Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, we covered a number of topics:
- How humanists can make or find meaning in life
- The differences between religious and secular humanism
- How individuals and communities cope with change
- Death, heaven, hell, and the utility of myth
- Non-white humanism
- Efforts to reclaims sacred texts from fundamentalist interpretations
- Contemporary humanist organizations
- The ethical dilemmas presented by many of today’s political controversies
I could probably spend the rest of 2018 writing about the different answers and perspectives offered on the above subjects by those present, but for brevity’s sake I will only say that the room was filled with brilliant minds and big hearts who are passionate about doing good and creating a better world.
Editor’s Note: Course 102 will take place the weekend of November 30th at the AHA offices in Washington, D.C. It is open to all who have completed Course 101, the only pre-requisite of the Humanist Studies Program.
The next Course 101: The Humanist Lifestance will be in early 2019. Come deepen your understanding of humanism and experience the same transformative weekend. You can learn more about it here!