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Building Transnational Programs

by Bill Cooke

The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 19, Number 2.

We live in a globalized world. No longer can one country, even one as powerful as the United States, hope to proceed as it wishes, with no thought to the wider world. Paul Kurtz recognized this when he spoke of planetary humanism in the Humanist Manifesto 2000, one of the few genuinely positive contributions to thinking globally in the world today.

For a quarter of a century the Council for Secular Humanism has been promoting the open society in America. But alongside that work, the Council has also been active in promoting humanism around the world. This work is now set to be extended in a major way. Early in 2001, it was decided to create a new position at the Center for Inquiry-International with the specific goal of promoting the development of humanism outside the United States. I was offered this position and, along with my wife, arrived here in December 2002 to take it up.

I had been active in the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists since 1986, serving as board member, vice president, and president there over the years that followed. Since 1992 I have edited The Open Society (formerly the New Zealand Rationalist & Humanist), New Zealand's humanist magazine. I have attended humanist conferences in India, Russia, Australia, and the United Kingdom and have had articles published in humanist journals in each of these countries. Humanist organizations around the world look to the Center for Inquiry-International for leadership and support. This is because no other humanist organization has the facilities, resources, and expertise that can be found under the one roof here.

The Center for Inquiry-International has responded with a bold plan of establishing other Centers around the world. In this way, we hope to see a network of Centers for Inquiry on every continent in the world, which can act as outposts of rationality in ways appropriate to the cultures in which they operate.

Centers for Inquiry already operate in Russia, Germany, India, Nepal, Peru, Nigeria, France, Mexico, and Yugoslavia. These Centers have emerged in different ways. Some have grown because of the leadership of longstanding humanists, many of whom have known Paul Kurtz from the various international forums they have attended over the years. Some are professional philosophers, like Svetozar Stojanovic of the University of Belgrade in Yugoslavia and Valerii Kuvakin of the Moscow State University. Others come out of intense activism, such as Leo Igwe, who now heads up the Nigerian Center for Inquiry, and Sanal Edamaruku, of the Indian Center. Each of these Centers is making, in its own way, a contribution to defending rationality and the open society from the forces of reaction and bigotry.

As well as the Centers, we are also affiliated with rationalist, skeptic, and humanist organizations around the world. A list of them appears in Free Inquiry magazine. One of them, the Averroes and Enlightenment Association, based in Cairo, is active in promoting rationality, women's rights, and the open society in the Muslim world. Averroes (1126-1198) was an important Arabic philosopher who valued the process of reason, although many of his conclusions would differ from ours. Working in these fields in the Muslim world at present takes real courage and commitment. Humanists in the United States are often made aware of their minority status with instances of exclusion, petty humiliation, or condescension. All this is doubly true in the Muslim world, where physical dangers are frequently an additional concern.

Undeterred, the Averroes and Enlightenment Association is co-hosting a seminar in Abu Dhabi at the end of June on the theme of "Rationality as a Bridge Between East and West." This is a theme central to the message of planetary humanism, and, as such, I will be attending this conference.

Later on this year, the Center for Inquiry-International will be hosting visitors from Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, and Nepal who will be joining the American students at our Institute's Summer Session. In this way we can help train the next generation of humanist leaders to take up the struggle in their own countries.

Make no mistake: we are a long, long way behind the work of religions, whose proselytizing activities far outstrip our work. But we have to start somewhere, or else the race is lost before it has even begun. Could one do more useful and important work than this? It's hard to imagine.

Bill Cooke is the International Director of the Center for Inquiry-International, based in Amherst, New York. He has recently been appointed Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Buffalo.

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This page was last updated 01/10/2004

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