Humanism Now

9. Lucy Potter on Non-Religious Asylum Claims plus Tackling Misconceptions about Humanists

November 26, 2023 Humanise Live Season 1 Episode 9
9. Lucy Potter on Non-Religious Asylum Claims plus Tackling Misconceptions about Humanists
Humanism Now
More Info
Humanism Now
9. Lucy Potter on Non-Religious Asylum Claims plus Tackling Misconceptions about Humanists
Nov 26, 2023 Season 1 Episode 9
Humanise Live

Send us a Text Message.

Welcome to Humanism Now. This week James is joined by  Mark from Central London Humanists and Nicole of Leicester & Young Humanists to tackle more common misconceptions about humanism. The panel counter some of the frequent critiques of a humanist worldview; from misleading definitions of Humanism (by prominent thinkers!) to misperceptions of how humanists view religious people and whether we all politically aligned.

In an enlightening conversation, Lucy Potter, a PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield, shares insights from her research project aimed to improve the handling of non-religious asylum claims in the UK. Lucy's expertise in asylum claims provides a unique perspective on the trials faced by non-religious individuals seeking refuge. We discuss the challenges of credibility assessments that often hinder these asylum seekers and potential solutions.

Our mailbag question asked for the best jokes about Humanists and we passed this request back out to our audience! Send in your answers to  humanise.live@gmail.com
 
About Lucy Potter
🔗 Lucy's Research Homepage
🐦 @LucyPott_
📧 lpotter2@sheffield.ac.uk

Episode References:

Upcoming Events:

Support the Show.

Support us on Patreon

Click here to submit questions, nominate guest & topics or sponsor the show.

Follow Humanism Now @HumanismNowPod
X (Twitter)
YouTube
Instagram
TikTok

Follow Central London Humanists @LondonHumanists
Centrallondonhumanists.org.uk
Meetup
Facebook
X (Twitter)
YouTube

CLH are an official partner group of Humanists UK and an associate member of Humanists International

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Welcome to Humanism Now. This week James is joined by  Mark from Central London Humanists and Nicole of Leicester & Young Humanists to tackle more common misconceptions about humanism. The panel counter some of the frequent critiques of a humanist worldview; from misleading definitions of Humanism (by prominent thinkers!) to misperceptions of how humanists view religious people and whether we all politically aligned.

In an enlightening conversation, Lucy Potter, a PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield, shares insights from her research project aimed to improve the handling of non-religious asylum claims in the UK. Lucy's expertise in asylum claims provides a unique perspective on the trials faced by non-religious individuals seeking refuge. We discuss the challenges of credibility assessments that often hinder these asylum seekers and potential solutions.

Our mailbag question asked for the best jokes about Humanists and we passed this request back out to our audience! Send in your answers to  humanise.live@gmail.com
 
About Lucy Potter
🔗 Lucy's Research Homepage
🐦 @LucyPott_
📧 lpotter2@sheffield.ac.uk

Episode References:

Upcoming Events:

Support the Show.

Support us on Patreon

Click here to submit questions, nominate guest & topics or sponsor the show.

Follow Humanism Now @HumanismNowPod
X (Twitter)
YouTube
Instagram
TikTok

Follow Central London Humanists @LondonHumanists
Centrallondonhumanists.org.uk
Meetup
Facebook
X (Twitter)
YouTube

CLH are an official partner group of Humanists UK and an associate member of Humanists International

James Hodgson:

Hello and welcome to episode nine of Humanism, Now the podcast from the Central London Humanists for anybody active or just curious about humanism. I'm your host, James, and this week we will be discussing more misconceptions about humanism, how apostasy is viewed in the asylum system and what are some of the funny aspects of humanism. To discuss all of this and more, I'm delighted to be joined by two of our regular panellists here Shasha with with the Leicester Humanists. How are you today?

Nicole Shasha:

Hello, I'm doing very well, thank you, yeah, I'm doing and how's it?

James Hodgson:

How's everything going with the Lester Humanists?

Nicole Shasha:

Very well, thank you. Yeah, I don't think we've heard much news since the last time I was on, but yeah, we're working up people registering for our events next month, so that should be good.

James Hodgson:

Excellent and, in North London, fellow committee member with Central London Humanists, mark Agathangeli.

Mark Agathagelou:

Hi James. Yeah, delighted to be here looking forward to it, and also I've just completed a very slowly, a very long book about the history of humanism which we've created. A long credit to Lester Humanists and their illustrious history.

James Hodgson:

We finished last week with an audience question about misconceptions and taboos about humanism, and after that episode was published it sparked a lot of conversation and feedback from our members and listeners. So we thought we'd actually spend a bit more time going into some of those common critiques or common misconceptions that fellow humanist members have received, and one area in particular that came up quite a lot was how, or the perception of how, humanists view people who believe in God or people who are religious. Lots of interesting experiences and feedback to share. Mark, I know you you were not involved in last week's discussion what are some of the misconceptions that you've heard, particularly relating to how humanists view religious people?

Mark Agathagelou:

Yeah, something that I've picked up on, which I think is something which caused quite a lot of concern for humanists particularly those of us in working in humanist groups volunteers and activists, if you like, as opposed maybe to some of the more high, high powered celebrity humanists is that is this conception that humanism is very anti-pathetic towards all religion and that we think all religious people are deluded at best and are indeed potentially stupid, which is obviously not the case, and I think that's something which causes quite a lot of hurt. It's religious people, even quite moderately religious people, will feel that they're being insulted and everyday humanists, if you like well, certainly like myself can feel that there's a hostility towards us because of this misconception that we are sort of very aggressively anti, not just religion, but religious people.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, I think that idea, that this feedback that we think religious people are stupid, is one I've heard quite a lot which I think we do need to make sure we don't give off that perception. I mean, one, it's demonstrably not true. It's not the case that belief or disbelief is in any way correlated with intelligence. And two, it's just unhelpful towards having constructive dialogue, and I know a lot of our members are involved in inter-pave dialogue and that's very important, I think, to a lot of humanists. So, yeah, I'm not familiar with anyone who is particularly patronizing or looks down on those with religious beliefs. I think, broadly, people tend to identify being humanists because they are curious about these questions, the same questions that religious people are interested in. People who are not religious but not interested tend not to call themselves humanists because they don't feel the need to identify in that way. Nicole, you're involved in interfaith work. What feedback do you tend to get?

Nicole Shasha:

Obviously, with interfaith, humanists tend to be the only non-religious and non-theistic philosophy that is represented, even though we are far from that. And I think that some religious people are worried. You know they are concerned that we won't like them, but we're not interested, that we think they're stupid or not worth talking to. But, as we all know, that can be further from the truth. Like you said, james, humanists are interested in these things, even though we might disagree. Where somebody lands, you know you're like, okay, you blame God, I don't, but that doesn't matter, because it's interesting how people come to these things and what people get from them, and that's it.

Nicole Shasha:

It's like the human understanding of religion is, I think, what a lot of humanists are very interested in and what it means to people. And ultimately, humanism is a compassionate, empathetic philosophy. So it's about seeing the people first and seeing what we do have in common, something that's really beneficial, doing interfaith stuff. I think some people think they were going to be this angry atheist storming in being like show me evidence for God to all these people. And of course we're not. It's oh, do you work at the food bank at the Saturday? That's really lovely. I also care about charity. You know it's what we have in common rather than what divides us into faith, and I think it's a really powerful thing?

James Hodgson:

Absolutely yes. The angry atheist trope is certainly one that I think we've all faced a lot. Has anyone encountered that assumption that we're being intentionally antagonistic in being openly and outwardly humanist?

Mark Agathagelou:

I've certainly heard heard about this. I mean, I know a humanist group, not our one, but another one I've been involved with, where they, you know, I've heard reports that that is what people have experienced and they go out of their way to say that we're not, we're not angry atheists. I think it's interesting that also, that there was this sort of new humanist, new atheists, so to speak, moment which did bring quite a lot of people into into humanism and maybe to some extent there's almost a confusion between atheism and humanism, that if you don't believe in God and if you're actively opposed religious privilege, then that makes you a humanist, which it doesn't necessarily. There's more to being a humanist than that, isn't there. So but I think maybe that moment has passed.

Mark Agathagelou:

And when we had our poet, alex Williams, didn't we talking about the, the angry atheists and how it's actually? It's exciting, but it's probably counterproductive to adopt that type of antagonistic approach. But I certainly find in when I'm so I'm involved with sort of a health related group support group and I'm quite careful about mentioning humanism, even though other people will talk about how faith and religion helps them managing long term condition, I'm a bit wary of saying anything because I don't want to put people off. They might think that, you know. I'm therefore implicitly critical of their beliefs, which you know. I don't make a judgment. If it's helping them, then great.

James Hodgson:

Yes, exactly, I think that's why it falls into the misconceptions category, because, again, I think most people who identify as humanist are generally quite respectful of religions and probably also looking to. How can we replicate some of the good parts of religious community charity, belonging and support, for example, was not adhering to, you know, some of the more prescriptive beliefs.

Nicole Shasha:

I think that partly where this might come from is a lot of people and this is myself included read things like the God delusion, when we was an angry, angsty teenager anyway, and then you kind of get this like yeah, amazing, you get this kind of like. I am behind you about like and it's misplaced if anyone applied that to random religious people. That's not where like your eye about the world should be applied for. But I think most people, and certainly everyone who considers themselves a humanist, comes down if they ever had an angry atheist phase. But not every adult atheist or someone who doesn't have faith does.

James Hodgson:

Yes, I think with all of those books that came out around that period and there's been a lot written since there is also a risk of judging entire religious groups by particular bad examples, and I think that's what we're trying to counter here in talking about not wanting all humanists to be judged by the worst cases of angry atheists.

James Hodgson:

So it's important to also consider that when, when there's criticisms of religions as a whole or some of the worst elements of certain actions or particular individuals within the group, that you shouldn't also view an entire group just because of what's been written. Now, another area that came up quite a lot was, I think, more well intentioned misunderstandings. Particularly, what was cited was Yvonne Harari's writings in both Sapiens and Hermides on the definition of humanism, which is cause, I think I don't think he's the first to write about writing this way, but it's certainly one of the most cited sources for quite a big misunderstanding for just what humanism is. Definitely, nicole, I know you shared these comments in the chat before. Do you mind just running through some of the misunderstandings that appear?

Nicole Shasha:

Absolutely yes. So he starts with the idea he's like humanists believe, and this is what we don't believe. He says that homo sapiens has a unique and sacred nature that is fundamentally different from the nature of all other beings and phenomena, and I think any people who are well-versed in humanism listening to this will be like that is kind of the opposite of what humanists believe. We don't actually think that human beings are in any way this sort of unique phenomena to the world, that we're outside nature. We do actually very much believe that we are just a product of nature and of course we've done amazing things, but it's not some inherent thing that makes us different.

Nicole Shasha:

His biggest thing is the idea that we worship humans, and of course we don't. Humans don't worship anything, but particularly not humans or the things humans have done. We can be amazed and inspired in all of the things that humans have done, but to call it worshipping is completely wrong. Whether or not he's got that because of the name, I know that humanism, that's what. When people have never heard of it, that's something, a misconception. I hear quite a lot that I'll do worship humans.

James Hodgson:

But of course we don't. It's very common, I think, as a criticism from religious groups. I think they view again, I think some of this has come from being spread quite well online by people who want to purposely mislead people to what humanism is. But this I've heard this idea a lot from religious people that they view that the concept of humanism, the reason that human is in the name, is that we're replacing God or gods with humans and that we should take that place, and whether that constitutes worship or just as you say, a privileged place amongst the environment. It's not something I've encountered when talking with fellow humanists that anybody would hold that view.

Mark Agathagelou:

I think also the assumptions he's making around, not just the idea that we worship humans and our unique and special abilities, but also this idea that we have a project to perfect humans. And certainly, I think probably most movements of philosophical or cultural political have an aspiration towards improving society in some way and making life better and helping people to flourish and make the most of themselves. I mean, I don't see there's anything sinister or perverse in that at all, but I think there's a bit of sleight of hand. Here is where you take something like that and you say, aha, therefore, if you want to improve society, therefore what you actually want to do is to sort of through eugenics and sort of indoctrination and totalitarian control, you want to sort of make everybody better in some way. I mean that's just pure distortion, frankly.

Mark Agathagelou:

And I mean I think for me the essence of humanism is we like to discuss where rational we believe in looking at the evidence, talking it through, interrogating it. You know we should not say we don't also have emotions as well. That comes into it clearly. But so we're the opposite of dogmatics, we're the opposite of totalitarian. I mean democracy is right there. If you go to the humanist UK, the definitions. It's front and center, because we believe everybody is equal and has a right to express their views rather than have things imposed on them. So liberty is central, so I just think it's well. I'm not going to use the word, I'm really thinking, but I think it's older dash personally, yeah.

James Hodgson:

And I think that point on the idea that we're trying to perfect or even improve humans. There's some confusion with the growing idea of transhumanism that is developing more of a following online now, which is I think there are potentially in the Venn diagram. There's a crossover of people who would fall into both, but I say there's completely a different movement.

Mark Agathagelou:

Yeah, exactly, it's just that maybe it's a genuine confusion because of the name, or perhaps it's opportunistic.

James Hodgson:

Nicole, do you have anything to add on the Harari piece?

Nicole Shasha:

Yes, yeah. So he also has this idea that Nazism and Stalinism are somehow rooted in humanist ideas and the destruction that those philosophies and the people within them brought are somehow related to humanism. And he said that humanism is responsible for an age of intense religious fervour, unparalleled missionary efforts in the bloodiest wars of religion in history. And again, I think it's quite apparent from what we said already that that is the exact opposite, the exact antithesis of the humanist outlook. And again it's this equating anything that's atheistic with humanism. So Stalinism was non-religious and had nothing to do with God, but it certainly wasn't humanist in any way. And even just the very basic understanding of humanism, of those kind of three things one of them is being a nice person and thinking about how other people feel. That's kind of a really big part of a humanist outlook. And to then make it like oh so the Nazis and Stalin, they were influenced by that.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, I think this is one of the most dangerous misconceptions in the book and one of the guys has caused the most damage and again this was countered, I think, in the God delusion 25 years ago. There's a whole chapter on the common feedback of oh, weren't Stalin and Hitler, weren't they both atheists? And you're right, stalin certainly was, or most probably was or considered himself to be a God. Hitler probably almost certainly wasn't by most historical accounts. But the point is that I think people view it as in order to act those kind of atrocities, then there must be an absence of a religious belief, which is, again, it's not correlated really, but it is odd that it appears within sapiens, because I think we were discussing beforehand. Otherwise, it seems to be such an excellent book and then you read those chapters and it makes you doubt the credibility of what else is involved within.

Mark Agathagelou:

It's interesting that he refers to these sort of bloody religious wars being in the 20th century and I suppose there's an element of irony in that and these are non-religious.

Mark Agathagelou:

But I think the sort of the clue to this misconception or misrepresentation is in those very words, because he's saying that religion implicitly religion is good and atheism or humanism is bad, and yet he's describing these wars as religious war. So in a sense he's labelling humanists as being like religious. So I don't really under it. It's a very confused point he's making and it's also another clue in that there have been some terrible religious wars. Is he therefore saying that a philosophy or a movement which is associated in any way with conflict and warfare and human suffering is a bad thing? Because on that basis you would say that religion is a bad thing because there's been lots and lots of extremely bloody religious genocides and terrible wars. So I mean I don't think we would therefore say we wouldn't therefore blame. You know, go to our local church and start sort of yelling at them and saying that they were responsible for terrible bloodshed. It just doesn't really make any sense.

James Hodgson:

And I think, to pick up on a point you made there, nicole, there was a very interesting section on the online course that Humanist UK have published about an introduction to humanism. I think it's under one of Andrew Copsson's video sections on there where he's talking about what are the either political or other groups that are against are anti-humanist in their nature and of course, it talks a lot about dogmatic religion, but it also, I think, he also mentions in there that any kind of any form of state atheism is also non-humanistic. You know, the idea of banning religion is also against what we believe, in the same way that enforced belief would be as well.

Nicole Shasha:

That's it, and I think that is another misconception people have about secularism, which is something that humanists are passionate about. It's not about banning religion for all individuals. It's about keeping it completely separate so that people have a completely free choice and that no religion gets any domination over any other or those with non-belief. But I've heard that as a misconception when we say like oh, we want a completely secular government, that's what we aim for. Oh, but that's anti-religious. It's not. It's actually beneficial to most religious people.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, I think we could do a whole other episode on what secularism actually means as well, because I think if you look at the French approach to secularism versus the US approach to secularism, both secular constitutions but completely different approaches to creating a secular society. So, yeah, absolutely agree, and I think that leads on nicely to the third broad category of feedback that we got and that really ties humanism to specific political beliefs or other movements as well. Mark, I know you're actively involved in a follow-up of politics, so what did you pick up on in terms of how others perceive humanists? In terms of its role, its interaction with political views?

Mark Agathagelou:

Yeah. So I think there are a lot of assumptions around humanism and humanists being inherently left of center, and I think that there is an element of truth in this insofar as humanism's evolution has been very much a progressive human rights sort of based organization and there has been some sort of natural convergence in the past between sort of conservative values and religious values. There's an element of truth in that. But at the same time, of course, you can also see things like the fact that the Labour Party had its origins in the non-conformist movement. So it cuts both ways, so it's not simplistic, linked between religion and more sort of right-wing politics.

Mark Agathagelou:

But I find I mean that's for me it's one of the strengths of the humanist movement that a lot of people are broadly progressive but you don't really get quizzed about your, your actual politics. Really. I mean people are much more interested in specific issues and values rather than it being factional or you know sort of Very much, so you know having to sort of identify yourself with a particular individual, or or you know sort of agenda, agenda, policy, agenda. So it's actually a strength. I think that we can, we can discuss these issues and we know there are people from across the political spectrum. In reality, within, within the humanist movement, it's not just people are left of center.

Nicole Shasha:

Yeah, that's.

Nicole Shasha:

That's a really good point and I think that it that's something I really value about the way humanists are, and I think it's something that's really important to me is this idea. That's like Not accepting just everything as a package, whether that's someone's told you they voted for some party. Being like oh so you must be this and this and this, or even if they're like a member of that party and really into it, doesn't mean that they can don't every single thing that party does or says all the members of it. It also doesn't mean that we as individuals, we shouldn't be like oh, I broadly agree with what this party says, but we can admit like actually, but this thing they said I really don't like and I like what this party says.

Nicole Shasha:

It's like not accepting just a bucket of ideas of your this, so your this, and then ignore everyone else who says they're from the other because they're like the other. I think it's if more people thought that way, in a more balanced way, and didn't, rather than putting the label on first Of what they are, whether it's political party or political ideology or leaning, it's like first principles really is look around, decide and then you can say, oh, I'm broadly this because I believe this, but there's no need to label it and you can be fluid and yeah, absolutely, I think that's that's.

Mark Agathagelou:

It's almost like we look at the strengths and the commonalities rather than trying to find you know where where we disagree and then and then adopt antagonistic stance. So it's, it's much more inclusive and it allows for that debate around issues. And you do hear, I mean A lot of, you know, in different settings, and I particularly our pub, so surely all here, a lot of different opinions expressed and I, you know, we have disagreements about things. You know we're not. We don't all sit around like Perfect beings discussing things in the completely rational way. We're never losing our temper. It does, you know. We do have disagreements and there is a, there is a diversity of opinion within, within humanists, and I think that's a strength.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, it's almost definitional as well, isn't it? That humanists are. We're open to discussion and debate and we want to hear as many opinions as possible. So it does make it difficult in terms of aligning on issues sometimes, but I would agree, although I would say this is perhaps one area where I think I've heard some Pushback from within the group, let's say of I think there are that mark.

James Hodgson:

So one example mark organized a very good discussion event for our group earlier this year Involving Neil Garrett, who's a conservative member of the London Assembly and also a member of humanist UK, and I think there were definitely members who felt that, who were Not that they. They didn't think that he belonged within the movement but were very keen to push back on some of those views and wanted him to align more towards the majority, as you say, generally more More likely to be liberal, progressive, but I think I'm humanist UK have been involved in the conference as well and I think it's important that we have a diverse range of opinions there, because I think the other, the other slightly connected Bit of feedback that I thought was interesting was this idea as well that this is more of a sort of Intellectual and middle class Demographic, who are sort of, you know, just thinking about these things in intellectual terms and not really that involved in the Understanding of that, you know, day to day issues.

Mark Agathagelou:

Yeah, I think, I think we. There is a little bit of truth in that, I think, in so far as the humanism often has attracted people who are Quite highly educated or and interested in. Well, we know we do, we talk about books a lot. We know we talk about, we discuss various we, as alluded to here, we know we're, we're quite, we're fairly literary, but on the other hand, the ideas apply to anybody. They're not, they're not restricted to any particular demographic, and I think one of the things that we've been doing more recently in central London is try to broaden out the appeal and make some of our activities as inclusive as possible and, as it's, as accessible as possible. I know that you know James is Organising a comedy event coming up in December which is, you know, you couldn't be more, you know, fun and inclusive and and something for everybody that than that.

Nicole Shasha:

Yeah, I think that I think that the sorts of people who are attracted to humanism often are the people who kind of like over intellectualising things. But that's not. That's not what the movement is and it this is the thing and that there I think lots of people enjoy that part of it. But it's also it's just having fun going to a comedy show, having community, because it, like we were saying earlier on, if we're kind of looking to the really good things about religion and trying to encourage humanism, is more about that. Within religious groups there'll be some people who love reading the holy books or the certain going, listening and analysing it, and there'll be some people who Just want to turn up and sing and I think that if we had a bit more of that in humanism, I think we might have a broader appeal.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, definitely much more turning up and singing.

James Hodgson:

And just one more point to end on on the political side of things perhaps a more recent development in terms of Misunderstandings, I know that I've experienced and be interested to hear from the panel. If you've had something similar is. I had a Experience recently of mentioning to someone that I'm a humanist and they replied with saying oh, is that Mike? Saying all lives matter or being in men's rights activist, which again is almost it sounds like an intentional misunderstanding of the term, but I do worry that this is something that might develop.

Nicole Shasha:

Yes, I've heard this recently and I was quite surprised as well because I hadn't heard that, and for quite a long time while being since being involved in humanism. But so, in case anything listens, so the whole all lives matter thing. It was introduced as a counterpoint to black lives matter, but obviously the reason that it's black lives matter was that certain things were happening is black people won't happen to other people, and the humanism thing was used by or has been used, is currently being used by, some kind of anti feminist people were like For that exact thing. They're like oh, I'm not a feminist, I'm a humanist, isn't like? Oh, I should just care about everyone. But of course, I'm sure most people listening though, feminism is not anti man at all, it is for everyone, and but it's also and then humanism is not in opposition to that, it's a completely different route of the word.

Mark Agathagelou:

Yeah, there there is. There is misconception of, there is deliberate misrepresentation for various political purposes. Yeah, I think that to me it feels like you, there is no contradiction, because the humanist values are that you know everybody should be treated fairly and equally and humanely and have their rights respected, and that's completely compatible with black lives matter and feminism, because you know we're all people, aren't we, and so I don't see, I think there's a strange framing to try to sort of say well, if you believe all lives matter in a, in a, in a non, in a general sense, therefore that's incompatible with believing that actually we should tackle racism or institutional discrimination, discrimination against, against women. I can't, I can't follow that argument at all.

Nicole Shasha:

I think it's that people have misconstrued it as explicitly not calling yourself a feminist, specifically, and calling yourself a humanist instead. And there will be lots of, like you know, bad faith actors within that who are anti feminists, who are saying that. And it's not that they actually and a lot of them, don't actually know that humanism is a thing, is an established philosophy that's old and the law firm follow. I think they're just using it as like oh, I'm not like pro feminine and pro human. I think most people saying that probably don't know what humanism actually is.

Mark Agathagelou:

It goes back to what you were saying before, wasn't it about misunderstanding the name?

James Hodgson:

Yeah, yeah, I think. I think it probably has its roots in people using it in a in a bad faith way, but it potentially gets picked up, as you say, and misunderstood more broadly. But let's hope that we can work towards making sure that humanism becomes that catch all term to say that we support all of these equality and progressive causes. Well, nicole Mark, thank you very much for your your thoughts on that topic. I think we have plenty more to talk about in future episodes and we'll be right back after this week's interview.

Lucy Potter:

Hi, my name is Lucy Potter and I'm a researcher based at the University of Sheffield. I am currently conducting research on how asylum claims on the grounds of non-religiosity, which can include apostasy and blasphemy, are handled by the UK government. I am looking for refugees or people who are still seeking asylum on these grounds to take part in an interview with me on their experiences of the asylum system. This research is really important because there is no research on how non-religious asylum claims are dealt with currently and not much is known about non-religious persecution more widely. If you take part in this research, you will remain anonymous and unidentifiable, and I hope this research will make the asylum system inclusive of all belief systems, and I encourage anyone with experience to please contact me. My email is lpotter2 at sheffieldacuk. Thank you.

James Hodgson:

Lucy Potter is a PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield, focusing on migration research within the Department of Sociology, and she joins us today to talk about her latest project focused on asylum research within the UK as relates to apostasy and blasphemy. Lucy, thank you so much for joining Humanism Now.

Lucy Potter:

Thank you for having me.

James Hodgson:

Before we start, I think our listeners would have heard a little bit about you because we've had played the advert or the announcement of your research on the last few episodes. Could you just give us a bit of background to yourself and how you came to be interested broadly in sociology and particularly in this current area of research?

Lucy Potter:

Yeah, great, thank you. So I guess my academic journey started when I studied philosophy and I went into sociology mainly because philosophy is very sort of theory based A lot of reading but not necessarily research, and I really wanted to go out into the field and work with participants and do that qualitative research. So I went onto a Masters in Sociology and then during my Masters I really picked up research interest in migration and asylum specifically and yeah, the interest grew from there. Asylum is really interesting and ultimately I want to improve the system. So that's how I got into this area. And then, in terms of the project itself, it's a collaborative PhD. So it's working with a Human Rights Organization, humanist UK, who they acknowledged that there was a gap in knowledge and there's no academic research onto it. So that's where I sort of stepped in as the researcher on it.

James Hodgson:

Fantastic. Yeah, our listeners will be very familiar with Humanist UK, or should be, by this point. And then, how about your upbringing or background? Did you have a religious upbringing or were you someone who? Are you finding out about these topics fresh through the research?

Lucy Potter:

Yeah, good question. So I had like a Catholic upbringing, not too serious, I had a lot of freedom to sort of delve in and out of it. But it was more like, yeah, I went to all Catholic schools, my mum's Catholic, my dad's Church of England but yeah, just not a very religious household. So as I moved on to uni, kind of explored other options, haven't been overly religious myself and yeah, I would describe myself more as agnostic more than anything. I only actually heard of the term humanism when I started the project. So yeah, I've sort of acknowledged myself as agnostic, non-religious. But yeah, the term humanist haven't really came across it and I don't know the reasons for that. I don't know if it's just because I'm young or just haven't been overly interested in that sort of thing until now. But yeah, so I've been learning as I go along about what humanism is, other sort of alternative worldviews, yeah.

James Hodgson:

No, I think it's extremely common, as you mentioned, to not know of the term humanism until presented with it. We've had quite a lot of stories from our members and guests about how they came to learn about it, often through close involvement, like yourself, or celebrants, celebrations, you know, weddings and baby namings and funerals. It seems to be another key area that the word is spreading, but it's good that people are discovering it in more different ways, and so what inspired this specific project when we're talking about apostasy and asylum, and what are the aims that you're looking to discover?

Lucy Potter:

So the project really started with Humanist UK a few years ago. So they noticed from the support that they offer to people seeking asylum that there were these repeated problems or misunderstandings with how non religious asylum claims were being handled by the Home Office in terms of the credibility assessment and the way they sort of ask non religious people to make sort of sense of their non religious beliefs. So they didn't really know how to test it because they have to use like objective measures and they weren't asking, say, the sort of correct questions. So one of the examples are that I think a lot of the listeners would know, and it's a well publicized case, is the Pakistani humanist who was quizzed on Aristotle and Plato. Do you not know that?

James Hodgson:

I'm not familiar with this case. No please, yeah, no, it'd be great to find out more about that.

Lucy Potter:

Okay, so Pakistani humanists was asked to name ancient Greek philosophers who were humanist, and that was a way of testing their humanist beliefs. And their case was denied because they didn't mention and this is what the Home Office said Plato, aristotle, both of which were religious.

James Hodgson:

So yeah, I think it's not even common commonly believed that they would qualify as humanist, nor was humanism really a thing when they were around.

Lucy Potter:

Exactly. So bear in mind, not a lot of people who do philosophy or humanists would even know what ancient Greek philosophers practiced. It it's just not common knowledge. I did a philosophy degree and wouldn't even know that. So they're expecting someone to know that for one and then for two the Plato and Aristotle, both being religious. It just showed this huge misunderstandings on what humanists believe or practice and, you know, just a complete disregard of what sort of humanism is.

Lucy Potter:

So this was the case, that it was. It started a lot of lobbying and advocacy work with Humanist UK. So, yeah, if there would be articles online about it and stuff like that. So after that case they started to. There was training at the Home Office that wanted to train caseworkers and decision makers on freedom of religion or belief, and a part of that was non religious cases being fed into it to sort of, yeah, build on that understanding going forward. But yeah, since then there hasn't been a continuation of this training. I think it was just a one time training and the training and there's still been sort of these misunderstandings in asylum cases. So this research is to explore the barriers that people face and, because there's no academic research on it either, to fill that gap in knowledge.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, Okay, so I know you're not at the point of publishing the findings yet, but so far, what have been the general themes that you found or initial conclusions that you can come to?

Lucy Potter:

Yeah, so the point in research that I'm at I should probably explain. So the PhD is three years. I'm in my second year, so second year is where you undertake your field work and I'm nearing towards the end of that now. So hopefully, december time, I should have most, if not all, the sort of data in and then I'll have a time where I analyze that.

Lucy Potter:

But at the moment so I've done interviews with human rights advocates, so lawyers, people who work for NGOs, academics, and then also refugees who have claimed on these grounds, and I think so some of the findings are highlighting these barriers that non religious people face. So one that I've already mentioned is the issue with the credibility assessment, so issues with objectively testing subjective beliefs and then to also highlight that non religious people or humanists, don't have any like set doctrines that they follow and you know they don't go to churches and stuff like that, which is what maybe Christian converts are tested on. So humanists and non religious people don't have these things. So it's really hard to test and really hard to supply evidence as well, because you have to supply evidence for having a fear of persecution or being persecuted. But if a lot of people have a fear of being persecuted. But their belief is subjective and something they might not have expressed out loud and they have no evidence for this. So it's highlighted in that struggle of evidence that you have to supply, because the Home Office want to see objective evidence that they can test. So that's also one of the issues. And then you've also got sort of issues with people who tend to come to the UK to study and then they start to develop. You know they can explore different religions or beliefs in society. They, you know it's a different sort of way of life and then their beliefs change when they're in the UK. So you've got those issues.

Lucy Potter:

When you go to the Home Office you make is called an asylum claim surplus where you're in a country for the period of time and then the situation changes at home. So you've got issues with the Home Office. You know asking why are you, you know, claiming asylum when you've already been in the UK or you've been away from home for a certain time? And you know having to explain why your beliefs have changed. But you know it's really hard to explain because you know it's just an inner feeling and especially for younger people as well to explain coherently their philosophical beliefs. It's really hard to articulate that when you haven't done before, and especially religion as well.

Lucy Potter:

When religion is played such a huge role in growing up and a huge role in your way of life. When you start to abandon that, lots of people have, and you know, like a really crises with it. You know it's really groundbreaking and it really affects like the mental health as well, so that going to you know, claim an asylum might be the last thing on their mind or you know the way they claim asylum just isn't clear how to do that for them. So, yeah, those are some of the issues, and then others are when they have their interviews. The home office supply or hire interpreters and translators for some clients that need it. However, there's been, yeah, huge problems with this because sometimes the interpreter or the translator is from a certain religious background or from their country of origin and some have incorrectly or misleadingly translated concepts of religion or belief, even because they don't know the language of the terms or because they don't want to say anything blasphemous themselves.

Lucy Potter:

Right, Of course yeah, and these are huge issues and where this has happened, you know people either have things incorrectly translated, which then has a knock on effect with their asylum claim, because anything inconsistent you know it'll be rejected.

James Hodgson:

There's so much to consider, that there's so many areas, and there's so many gray areas, I think, where this can become an issue, because I would imagine for most people as well, this is all part of a long process. It's not that they overnight choose to leave their faith, and I think, as you mentioned yourself, you know many people may prefer not to associate with the term atheist. They may not be familiar with the term humanist, they might not have anything that, a term that appropriately reflects how they feel. They may just be experiencing doubts, and is that, again, something which is can be problematic? Is even expressing doubts sufficient or does that? Is that where it becomes a bit more of a gray area.

Lucy Potter:

Yeah, this is a really yeah difficult Like this is what makes these cases so complex. The participants that I have mostly spoken to I've accessed them through Humanist UK and that that those type of people are humanists. They're very outwardly non religious. They might have even done activism work, they might be bloggers online and stuff like that and they have a very, yeah sort of passionate activist role. But the other side to it is who I don't necessarily have access to.

Lucy Potter:

These type of people are people who are just taking on more secular views and they might not necessarily be atheist. They might just have these more secular views or parts of religion that they don't necessarily like to follow. Or, for some people might be more cultural and but for these sort of beliefs in a particular country might be deemed blasphemous. They might get in trouble for it, because the boundaries for blasphemy can be just so tight. Any sort of comment that might be an insult to religion can be deemed blasphemy. So the stakes are really high. So, yeah, it's hot. So then, when you're in the asylum system, I mean a lot of people don't know that apostasy is a grounds for asylum, so they might choose sort of overgrounds. But, yeah, these sort of secular, more cultural aspects is is something that people can face blasphemy for.

James Hodgson:

But you know it's so tricky to sort of measure that Again, I know you're only partway through, but I'm wondering are there implications outside of the UK for the research that you've conducted so far?

Lucy Potter:

Yes, I think so. So, even though it's UK based, this is the first piece of research to look at non religious asylum claims, to the best of my knowledge, worldwide, and so any any sort of examples of these cases and the barriers that non religious people face, I think will be applicable in other contexts, and there is there is a huge need to do this type of research. So this, if this research can encourage that in other contexts, and that would also be great. And as well as the asylum systems. So the asylum systems, like across Europe, can be quite similar. I'm not an expert in them, but I think the way that they assess the claims are quite similar.

Lucy Potter:

So look around policy and practice of these cases. I think would also be applicable elsewhere. And then, in terms of that training that I mentioned, that the Home Office do. I don't think, or, to the best of my knowledge, any other European governments do that. So in that sense, the UK is actually quite pioneering in that training. So if I could look into that and see what the training involves and if it's having an effect on asylum claims, then that is going to be beneficial as well for other governments to take on and to do.

James Hodgson:

Absolutely. Yeah, well, certainly, we definitely have to have you back on once you've finalised the research and published the findings, because I think, yeah, absolutely, this is, this is something which is relevant globally at the moment. You mentioned still more to do, and you spoke with a wide range of people involved in the system. Who are you still keen to speak with, and how can people get in touch with you if they would be willing to participate?

Lucy Potter:

Yes, thank you. So I would love to encourage anyone who has claimed asylum on these grounds, or where apostasy has formed part of their asylum claim, to get involved. You know can't stress enough how important it is to have people with that lived experience in involved in the research and help shape it, because you will help shape the findings and ultimately hopefully help improve the system for other people. So anyone who's had experience with these types of asylum claims to get involved. I also want to specifically encourage women, and so at the minute, my particular participants are quite male dominated, so I'd love to encourage any women to take part and share their experiences as well.

Lucy Potter:

Just a little bit of information on what taking part means. It will include an interview, so really informal chat with myself, and you will be made anonymous and unidentifiable in the research, so you can feel free to take part and know that you won't be identified to anyone and we will discuss your experiences with the asylum system and any sort of suggestions for improvement. And you can contact me on my Sheffield email address, which is L Potter to at Sheffieldacuk. And yeah, just give me an email and I'll have an introductory call to you and I can answer any questions as well.

James Hodgson:

Wonderful, and what's the timeline now and what are you planning for the remainder of the research and when can we expect to hear about your conclusions?

Lucy Potter:

I hope to have the bulk of my interviews done by December, so really encourage people to get in contact with me as soon as possible. And then the next steps would be to analyse it all and then in February next year or this year coming, I have a year left, so I'll be writing up my thesis, which I think is around 80,000 words, and then after that I want to be working with the collaborative partner Humanist UK in disseminating the research. So I am thinking of writing a report with them and disseminating the research as wide as possible and working with NGOs and secular organisations in lobbying for the yeah, for the findings and hopefully taking it to the home office as well. And, yeah, that would be great, but, yeah, publishing as many papers as possible.

James Hodgson:

Fantastic and, just before we go, what is something that you've changed your mind on recently, either as part of this research or otherwise?

Lucy Potter:

Okay, yeah, I think in terms of the research. So when I first started I knew little about this area in terms of non-religious claims for asylum, because it was quite a niche topic. So when I first started I thought that it was going to be quite clear that it was just on the religion grounds, so you have like multiple grounds for asylum. I thought it was just going to be like under religion, but actually, as I have gone through the fieldwork process, apostasy is quite often intersected with other grounds, so lots of people have claimed it with a political grounds for asylum, because leaving a religion is quite a political move in some places and so it's really not as clear-cut as just being religion. It's really intersected and that just goes to show that people's identities are so complex and so unique. It's often not as clear-cut as one thing. So, yeah, that's what I've changed my mind, I think.

James Hodgson:

And that makes sense and it does sound as though is it right to say that most claims are people have to choose one quite narrow identity feature in which to base the claim on? Or are people warming to this idea of taking more of a overall look at someone's overall mix of personality or identity and how that could combine together to contribute to the claim?

Lucy Potter:

Yeah, so I think you can claim on as many grounds as possible, and there are pure, just religion-based claims where apostasy will be linked in. But where things are merged with others, the home office tends to focus on the one that they have more knowledge on. So if they have more information or training and knowledge on, say, sexuality-based claims, they tend to focus all their assessments on that ground. So, yeah, but I don't know if that's necessarily the right thing to do, but if someone is claiming on apostasy as well as other things, that should be taken into consideration as well, and I think when they're focusing on other grounds, then perhaps that show is a sort of lackable understanding of apostasy claims that I think needs addressing.

James Hodgson:

Well, it just shows the importance of the work that you're doing. So, lucy Potter, thank you so much for everything that you've been, all the research that you've been conducting. Wish you the best of luck with it and we look forward to welcoming you back once everything's published. Thanks for your time.

Lucy Potter:

Thank you, james, thank you for having me.

James Hodgson:

Welcome back to Humanism. Now I'm here again with Nicole and Mark, and we've just listened to that excellent interview with Lucy Potter, who's doing some fantastic work. Really insightful stuff, Nicole. What stood out for you there?

Nicole Shasha:

Yeah, there was something really interesting when she was talking about a Pakistani, some Pakistani humanist, who was trying to get claim asylum in the UK and they were asked about naming ancient Greek philosophers and asked questions about Plato and Aristotle. And it kind of feeds into the misconceptions that we were talking about earlier. One that all humanists are this kind of philosophically rooted read every philosophy book ever. And that's where they come to this idea, which of course, isn't true. And also a second one that humanism is a fundamentally Western philosophy and Western ideology. Obviously, it has big roots in the West, just like many philosophies, but humanist ideas come up in practically every country, in any philosophical religious tradition you get humanists in, I think, every place in the world really. And so this idea that it's like, oh, you must read the ancient Greek philosophers, it's like that's not what that is, it's not a good test.

James Hodgson:

Totally, and what's that for you, mark?

Mark Agathagelou:

Yeah, well, just building on what Nicole said also, I mean, as we know, plato wasn't even an atheist, so or I mean there were sort of more sort of proto humanist thinkers I think, sort of the Epicureans etc. But I don't think they were on the list. But yeah, I think I was interested in the way in which she talked about the sort of the gray areas that you know, even in so far as one can define certain people as sort of being explicit humans. You might not be in terms of being able to quote certain philosophers, but maybe they had been involved in, you know, an actual humanist group or a movement, or they were humanist bloggers or something like that.

Mark Agathagelou:

So there's some people who would be unequivocally you could say, yes, they are, they are humanists by any reasonable standard, insofar as that's the important thing. But there were others who maybe had expressed sort of humanistic values or even wanted to, but felt they couldn't because it was in many of these more sort of authoritarian religious regimes, you know, the expression of anything which in a sense contradicting that narrative which is in some sense humanist, is prescribed and severely punished. So what do you do if you're one of those people who you know hasn't been sort of explicitly involved in a humanist activity but is exhibiting humanist tendencies or you know. It just reveals just how difficult the position is for those sorts of people and just felt a lot of sort of sympathy for their plight.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, how are you supposed to prove that you are having doubts or you don't believe a certain thing if you're not able to openly express? That is quite a catch-22. And I think I'm glad you made the connection, nicole, actually to what we were discussing in the first part of the podcast, because I think it also makes the point is why getting on top of these misconceptions is important. It's not just that this is frustrating or something that only we care about within these humanist groups, but actually this really has an impact on people's lives. If it's not correctly understood in society when it comes to these important decisions, then people are going to be asked about completely the wrong things and, of course, they're not going to be able to answer convincingly.

Mark Agathagelou:

Yeah, I think it is important because it has real world consequences, and so it can seem quite abstract and even a little bit funny. People are being asked those sorts of questions and there's also an element of you know. You can be asked those sorts of questions. So, for example, the nationality test, if you're seeking British citizenship. You're asked all sorts of things which hardly any British people know the answers to. So if we were all subjected to these sorts of tests, there would be no humanists. There would be very few British people either. So there's something arbitrary and quite unfair about that.

Nicole Shasha:

It reminds me a little bit about the origins of IQ testing and when they started doing that. Their origins are quite racist actually, and a lot of it was racial classifications, in America particularly, and a lot of it was that they would do these. It was before it was called IQ testing, I think. But they would do these tests on black people, but the people who had come from Africa, taken from Africa, and it would have things like a picture of a man going like this is like draw, finish drawing what's underneath him, and is it a bike or a horse? But both of those things are cultural understandings. They're not a test of intelligence and it's a false equivocacy that you should have these pieces of cultural knowledge, which isn't true because you can't make that up on your own.

James Hodgson:

You can't invent what a bike looks like if you've never seen a bike, I guess it just goes to show that at the time they thought that was a suitable thing to be asking, and we should also take a critical eye at what people think are suitable questions to ask now. That may seem completely ridiculous in generations to come. Just to mention that, lucy will be joining our next online event organized between Central London humanists and Faith of Faithless. That's on the 29th of November and will feature a panel of speakers talking about similar issues for people who require support after going through apostasy or leaving faith. We'll have all the details to that and all upcoming events in the show notes.

James Hodgson:

Just before we go, we have time for our mailbag question. We had an anonymous question this week asking if there were any good jokes about humanists. We did give this some thought and unfortunately, between us haven't been able to come up with any that are directed at us. I would like to throw this back out to our audience and issue a challenge if anyone has any good jokes or has seen any, or can share over email Jokes particularly pointed to humanists or maybe atheists in general. As Mark mentioned earlier, we have our upcoming Christmas party comedy nights on the 13th of December, so anyone who happens to be in London do come along, I'm going to issue the same challenge to all of our stand-up acts to see if they can find the best way to poke fun at humanists at that event.

James Hodgson:

Going forward, just to mention, if you do have questions for us, please do email them to humanizelive at gmailcom. We are open to any feedback, speaker recommendations or listener questions for our mailbag. Going forward With that, all that's left is for me to thank this week's panel. Thank you, nicole.

Nicole Shasha:

Thank you so much, it's been a pleasure.

James Hodgson:

And thank you, mark. I hope you have enough time to catch your movie.

Mark Agathagelou:

Yes, I'm off to see Napoleon, so that's about. I run about three hours of, from what I can gather, largely unhistorical thrills and spills. But I should also. I'm going to watch it anyway, with a non-critical eye, I would expect your review next time?

James Hodgson:

Definitely, thanks, james, and thank you very much for joining us and we hope to see you next time on Humas and Now.