Interview with Ding Jie “DJ” Tan — Vice-President, Humanist Society (Singapore)

Ding Jie “DJ” Tan is the Vice-President of the Humanist Society (Singapore). Here we talk about his life, work, and views.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s talk about some background. What was personal and family background? How did this influence personal development? How did this eventually influence of personal life stance and worldview, especially in humanism?

Ding Jie “DJ” Tan: I grew up in a conventional Singaporean household. My parents subscribed to the traditional Chinese folk religion and were nominally Buddhists, though they may have considered themselves ‘free thinkers’ too. I attended a Catholic primary school (elementary school) and, like most Singaporeans, was exposed to the existence of different religions. This awareness of religion, coupled with my interest in the sciences would later help solidify my rejection of mainstream religious beliefs when I was 10-years old.

This rejection of religion was often viewed as the mere angst of a rebellious youth. Singaporeans, family and friends included, tend to perceive outright claims of atheism as ‘rocking the boat’, and may lean towards communal harmony, tradition, and superstition over broad overarching statements of facts which may not have a tangible impact on their day-to-day routine. While I identified as an atheist, I only found out about humanism when I joined the Atheist, Secularist, and Humanist Society in UCL, where I was the Secretary for two years.

Jacobsen: How did you find the Humanist Society (Singapore)? As the Vice President, what tasks and responsibilities come with the position? Since the organization’s founding, what have been positive developments for it?

Tan: Having served as an Executive Committee Member in the Humanist Society (Singapore) for the past two years, I felt that I could contribute more to the administration and leadership of the larger Society. Every individual brings a slightly different flavour to their roles in the Executive Committee; my interests are in science communication as well as in fostering inter-faith and inter-belief relations.

The Society has been around since 2010. Throughout our founding years, we have strived to provide a community of like-minded friends for the non-religious in Singapore. As we matured, we have also developed a voice in mainstream and online media, so as to better present the views of the non-religious and to preserve the secular common space in Singapore.

Jacobsen: What is the religious landscape, and non-religious landscape, of Singapore?

Tan: Singapore has long identified herself as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural nation-state. According to the last population census in 2010, 44 % of Singaporeans identified as Buddhists, 18 % as Christians, 17 % as non-religious, and 15 % as Muslim.

Jacobsen: For the main celebratory events per year: Humanist of the Year Award, Darwin Day and the Winter Solstice, what happens with each celebratory event? What are some upcoming plans for HSS for 2019/2020? How can people become involved in HSS?

Tan: The commemoration of festive occasions is steeped in human civilisation and rituals. Various Chinese cultures, as well as Christian societies, celebrate Winter Solstice in one form or another. The HSS does this by organising an annual get-together, for our members to mingle, eat, drink, and be merry.

Darwin Day is usually a more academic affair. Past iterations of the Day have included a visit to the local natural history museum, a guided walk of the local park, as well as lectures on the history of biodiversity in Singapore.

This year, HSS will be hosting AHC 2019. We are happy to have volunteers on board to help us with the programme, logistics, and sponsorship! We also hold monthly socials for members to socialise in a more casual setting, over drinks.

Jacobsen: Any recommended authors or speakers?

Tan: Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling, Bill Nye, Stephen Hawking, Christopher Hitchens

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, DJ.

Photo by Chen Hu on Unsplash