Towards an Asian Humanism

Old and New at the 2016 Asian Humanism Conference in Taipei, Taiwan

Attendees at the 2016 Asian Humanism Conference held at National Taiwan University in Taipei, Taiwan

This August 6th and 7th Humanists from across Asia came together in Taipei, Taiwan, at the nation’s most prestigious university, National Taiwan University, to discuss Humanism and Humanistic values at the 2016 Asian Humanism Conference. The events theme was Old and New: Timeless Solutions to Modern Challenges, a theme meant to highlight both the richness of Humanist thought in Asia’s past and to highlight the vibrancy of Humanist activism in Asia presently.

Nearly 50 people attended the conference, with roughly equal numbers of attendees from within Taiwan and traveling from abroad. Six IHEU or IHEYO members or volunteers, from five different countries were able to join us at the event, including members from Pakistan, Nepal, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Philippines. In all, people from 14 countries were in attendance or helped during the organization process.

Danielle Hill of HAPI speaks to conference attendees

The conference is of special importance to the Humanist movement, as it is the first time the conference has been held in an East Asian country. East Asia, typically defined as the countries of Taiwan, China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and Mongolia, is one of the most populous on Earth, as well as one of the least religious. Yet, it still a region affected by dogma and in some places lacking in the freedoms Humanist fight for. By holding the conference in Taiwan, IHEYO is helping to give a platform to and raise the voices of local Humanists and Humanist organizations so that they may better work toward advancing the cause of Humanism and fight for human rights in the region.

The speakers at this year’s event came from a wide variety of countries and backgrounds. IHEYO members spoke on their countries’ history and humanist movements, as well as feminism and the power of narrative. Other speakers shared their thoughts and research on what humanism was, what it should work toward, and where it was going. In a deeply personal discussion, several people who had left dogmatic religions shared their experience with attendees. For some, it was their first time interacting with and hearing from ex-believers.

Humanist Society Singapore President Tattsi Tan Speaks with attendees between presentations.

There were several big successes to come out of the conference. The first being an idea that seemed to coalesce from the themes and topics of the speakers and panels during the event. That was a need to help raise the voices of prominent Asian Humanists, past and present, and to start developing a Humanist tradition rooted firmly in Eastern thought and traditions, not to replace Western Humanism, but to add to and support it. If the event had an unofficial theme, it would no doubt be something along the lines of “Toward an Asian Humanism.” It is these kinds of ideas, that help give a group motivation and vision as they move forward.

Another big success was well in line with one of the aims of IHEYO, that is to build organizational capacity. Not only will IHEYO members in attendance take back their experience to their countries, which will certainly help them carry out their own events, but also the conference organizing committee, made up of mostly Taiwanese volunteers, has gained an immense amount of skill and experience in event organization. They were able to organize and manage the conference successfully as well as secure a government grant for the event. Furthermore, they helped to arrange an electronic Visa for members who would have to travel to Saudi Arabia, a dangerous place for any Humanist, to receive their Visa otherwise. It is the plan of the Taiwanese Humanists to form an organization, and we may soon be able to include an organization from Taiwan amongst our members.

Of course we must thank our sponsors for the conference, the International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organization as well as the International Humanist and Ethical Union, their support made the event a reality. Furthermore, to our local host the Ming Jing Education Association and our supporting organization the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of NGO International Affairs, another hearty thank you for their aid and welcoming us to their country.