In the aftermath of World War II the world enters a new phase of organized freethought. The fourth-generation freethinkers involved in this phase are the first to explicitly strive for a non-religious humanism and are thus called ‘secular humanists’ or ‘modern humanists’. Several of the organizations in which these freethinkers are involved (the American Ethical Union, the American Humanist Association, the British Ethical Union, the Dutch Humanist Union, the Belgian Humanist Union and the Indian Radical Humanist Movement) will organize themselves internationally and in 1952 found the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

This conference aims to provide a concrete outlook on the historical research that is being undertaken in this matter. Several interesting speakers will present their research. Some newer fields will also be presented (ecohumanism, transhumanism and the relation between theism and secularism) and the future of organized humanism will also be touched upon. Please find the programme and practical information below. Registration is mandatory. This conference is free for students and personnel. Otherwise, the fee is €25.




9.30   Introduction
Part 1   International Humanism
    Postwar years: Critical Era of Religious Change
Callum Brown (University of Glasgow)
    Dutch Humanism after 1945
Bert Gasenbeek (Humanistisch Historisch Centrum)
    Blasphemy in the Christian World
David Nash (Oxford Brookes University)
11.15 11.30 Coffee Break
Part 2   Historical Humanism in Belgium
    French Existentialism and Modern Humanism
Else Walravens (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
    De vrijzinnigheid: Secular Humanism in Belgium
Jeffrey Tyssens (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
    Euthanasia and Humanism in Belgium
Niels De Nutte (Centre for Academic and Secular Humanist Archives (CAVA)
13.00 14.00 Lunch Break
Part 3   Secularism and Life stance Pluralism
    Secularism and Theism
Paul Cliteur (Leiden University)
    Islam and the Secular State
Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im (Emory Law) (video)
    Life Stances and laïcité in Belgium
Caroline Sägesser (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
15.30 15.45 Coffee Break
Part 4   Current issues
    Secular Humanism in Belgium: Current Issues
Freddy Mortier (
Floris van den Berg (Utrecht University)
    Transhumanism and Cyborgs
Katleen Gabriels (Eindhoven University of Technology)
    Closing remarks
Frank Scheelings (CAVA)
17.30   End



Callum Brown is a professor of Late Modern European History at the University of Glasgow. He is a social and cultural historian with special research interests in the social and cultural history of atheism, humanism, religion and secularization, and the history of community ritual, all in the post 1750 period and more especially in the 20th and 21st centuries. In his latest book Becoming Atheist: Humanism and the Secular West (2017), he explains how in three generations, millions of people have become alien to religion.

Bert Gasenbeek is the Director of the Humanistisch Historisch Centrum and researcher on the history of Dutch Humanism for the University of Humanistic Studies. He has published extensively on the history of Dutch Humanism. He is one of the editors of the book International Humanist and Ethical Union 1952-2002: Past, present and future (2002).

David Nash is a professor of British history at Oxford Brookes University. He is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and an officer of the Social History Society of Great Britain. He is also a Director of the Center for Inquiry (London). He specializes in research on radicalism in Britain, blasphemy, the history of religion and the cultural history of law and crime.

Else Walravens was until her retirement in October 2013 professor at the Department of Philosophy and Moral Sciences at the VUB. She mainly taught history of philosophy, with an emphasis on the philosophy of the modern era and contemporary French philosophy. Her research pertains to the domain of the philosophy of enlightenment and humanism – the issues of criticism of religion and secular religiosity, subjectivity and intersubjectivity.

Jeffrey Tyssens is a professor in contemporary political history and he is the president of the research group on freemasonry (FREE). He was visiting researcher at the Section d’Histoire de l’Education of the Institut National de Recherche Pedagogique in Paris and Pieter Paul Rubens professor at the University of Berkeley (California). He is a member of the editorial board of the Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism. He is a member of the board of the Belgian Historical Institute in Rome and of ODIS – Intermediary Structures in Flanders (19th-20th centuries).

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory Law, associated professor in the Emory College of Arts and Sciences, and senior fellow of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion of Emory University. He specializes in Islam and human rights and human rights in cross-cultural perspectives. His current research focuses on constitutionalism in Islamic and African countries, secularism, and Islam and politics.

Floris van den Berg is a philosopher of science and professor at Utrecht University. He specializes in animal ethics, veganism an environmental philosophy. In 2016, he was awarded the Book Prize of for his work Beter weten. Filosofie van het ecohumanisme (Knowing better. Philosophy of ecohumanism).

Katleen Gabriels is an assistant professor at the Eindhoven University of Technology. She researches the relations between morality and contemporary technologies. Her expertise is in the area of philosophy and ethics of technology, computer ethics, media ethics, moral philosophy, Internet of Things (IoT), (social) virtual worlds and virtual reality (VR). In 2016, she won the Liberales Book Prize for her work Onlife. Hoe de digitale wereld je leven bepaalt (Onlife. How the digital world determines your life).

Caroline Sägesser is a researcher at the Observatoire des religions et de la laïcité of the Centre interdisciplinaire d’étude des religions et de la laïcité (CIERL) at the l’Université libre de Bruxelles. She specializes in the financing of life stances in Belgium. She is one of the editors of the annually published report on religions and laïcité in Belgium.

Paul Cliteur is a professor of jurisprudence and philosophy at Leiden University. He is a well known writer and publicist on subjects such as atheism and secularism. Professor Cliteur is currently a member of the Faculty of Law at Leiden University. From 1995 till 2002 he was a professor of philosophy at Delft University and in 2013-2014 he was a visiting professor at the Ghent University.

Freddy Mortier is a professor of ethics at Ghent University and president of, the umbrella organization for secular humanists in Flanders. Between 2013 and 2017 he was the vice rector of Ghent University. His area of expertise lies in bioethics and the relation between religion and health care.


Practical Information


The conference will be held at

VUB campus Humanities, Sciences & Engineering
Generaal Jacqueslaan 271
1050 Brussels

U-Residence is located on the campus of the VUB, which is a two minute walk on the right hand side when you exit Etterbeek Station. U-Residence is the dark building next to the athletics track.


Traveling to Brussels

Etterbeek Station can easily be reached by train from Brussels Midi (south), Brussels Central, or Brussels North several times an hour (

You can also take the subway at Brussels Central every 5 minutes. Get off at the stop “Petillon”. The campus is a fifteen minute walk from there.

Alternatively, you can take tram line 7 or 25 and get off at the stop “VUB”, which is directly across the road from U-residence.

If you are flying into Brussels International Airport, the train station is at the basement level of the airport. There is a direct train to Etterbeek (IC 4031 in the direction of Charleroi-South) every thirty minutes. (For schedules, see

21 september 2018 van 9:30 tot 17:30 Add to personal calendar