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Tom Holland and AC Grayling to debate the roots of humanism

Raphael's "School of Athens". Greek philosophy is often seen as having provided a foundation for humanism - but was Christianity really the decisive influence?

At a free public event this Thursday, historian Tom Holland and the philosopher AC Grayling will go head-to-head in a debate on the roots of humanism.

The struggles between religious and secular values have been one of the defining features of the post-enlightenment age in the West. But is the distinction really so sharp? In the second Newell Classics Event at St John's College this week, Tom Holland and AC Grayling will debate "The Roots of Humanism". The event will take place on 4 May, at 7.30pm in the Palmerston Room.

In a forthcoming book, Holland, the celebrated historian and classicist, argues for the decisive influence of Christianity in the formation of modern liberal ethics, and in particular argues that humanism – usually thought to be an ethical system without God – is ‘Christianity lite’.

One of Holland’s most vocal critics has been Anthony Grayling, the eminent philosopher (and Master of the New College in the Humanities), who counters that modern humanist ethics are in fact rooted in classical Greco-Roman thought, and specifically shaped by the Enlightenment’s rejection of the core values of Christianity.  

Following the success of the inaugural Newell Classics Event in 2016 (featuring Ali Smith and Charlotte Higgins), this year St John’s hosts a public debate between Holland and Grayling, on the origins of humanism. This occasion promises exciting insights into this controversial area, drawn from the fields of Classics, Philosophy, History and Theology. Both speakers are superb communicators and brilliant thinkers. Audience members will have an opportunity to put their own questions.

The Event is free and no registration or prior notice is required. All are welcome: students, scholars and the public.

Please send any queries to Tim Whitmarsh (tjgw100@cam.ac.uk)