In this session from the 2014 IHEU World Humanist Congress, hosted by the British Humanist Association, two TV historians discuss the difficulties faced when non-religious critics and writers try to express views about religions which the faithful do not want to hear. The discussion is chaired by Guardian journalist Zoe Williams.
Religion has often had a privileged and protected place in inquiry and debate. In Europe, Christian authorities, tried to prevent speculation about the earth’s revolving round the sun and about the age of fossils. Although direct confrontation with science is now marginal (if sadly not rare), we still find powerful inhibitions against turning the scientific method on religion itself, investigating religion as a human creation, and especially about probing the obscure origins and dubious histories of particular religions. Little of what is today central to Christianity emerged before the third century, and the early history of Islam is wreathed in obscurity, the nearest thing to certainty being that the ‘official’ story is far from the truth. Even more obscure are the origins of older religions like Judaism.
Both our speakers have confronted these taboos in television series and in print - and both have had to face the wrath of orthodox believers and the disquiet of those who would rather avoid such provocation. They will refer to their academic work and the reaction to their attempts to popularise their ‘heretical’ scholarship and will discuss their experience and the lessons they draw from it with Zoe Williams, the columnist, journalist and author.