Birmingham Salon

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What Does It Mean to Be Human in the 21st Century? A day of debate

Takes place on Saturday 30th March 2019.
10.15am - 4.30pm
Old Joint Stock, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham B2 5NY

Admission fee is £10. Buy your ticket on Eventbrite.
10.30am - 12.00pm: Can we be spiritual without religion?
Is a materialist life enough? Past generations looked to religion for a shared faith and outlook, helping us live a good life as part of a much greater whole, negotiating the complexities of human life and the prospect of our own death. Have we travelled so far from religion, are we so estranged from spirituality, that we lack even a basic lexicon for grasping and articulating what it gave previous generations?
Today, spirituality might be redefined as a yoga retreat - but does its fleeting sense of relaxation compare with the shared rapture and enlightenment of religious faith and ritual? It’s hard to know whether people are satisfied with the spiritual dimension, or lack of it, of 21st century life. After all, most people are decent - they know the difference between right and wrong, and have meaningful relationships around them. We have not retreated to the dog-eat-dog existence of the animal kingdom.

But is the weakening of organised religion an opportunity to build a more progressive model of spiritual life, one that is both rational and fulfilling? Maybe faith was a dogma that only blinded us from the deeper dimensions of life, after all. Now we are more freed up from its monopolistic power over spirituality, we can maybe plumb the depths of human existence in new and genuinely fulfilling ways.
Speakers
Piers Benn, an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University London Centre whose academic research includes Philosophy of Religion.
Adrian Bailey, Birmingham Humanists
Rania Hafez, Director of the professional network Muslim Women in Education. Rania is a researcher, commentator and consultant on teacher education and the Islamic philosophy of Education.
Readings
12.00pm - 1.00pm: Lunch
There is no lunch provided but there’s an abundant choice nearby.
1.00pm - 2.30pm: Self-sacrifice R.I.P.?
In the wake of the centenary commemorations of the end of World War One, now is a good a time to reflect on self-sacrifice as the guiding principle of western ethics.
In previous times, wars were powered by the voluntarism of ordinary men, who signed up in their millions to risk their lives for a greater cause. Christianity was founded on the very notion of self-sacrifice. People would devote their lives to the building of a cathedral, with no expectation that they would live to see its completion.
How has the idea of self-sacrifice been used and abused, and what is its legacy in today's secular world? From the London Bridge attacks to the sacrifice of Arnaud Beltrame, we are seeing examples of modern-day heroism, but how do we understand them?
We all witnessed firefighters risking their lives to save the residents of Grenfell Tower, putting themselves through harrowing experiences. Were they only doing what we would all do in the circumstances, or are such people now few and far between?
Does the idea of sacrifice need to be renewed? Is it fit for purpose in the 21st century?
Speakers
Vincent Gould, writer, artist, actor and satirist.
Kevin Rooney, teacher and co-author of Who's afraid of the Easter Rising 1916-2016 and The blood-stained Poppy: A critique of the politics of commemoration.
Chair
Rosie Cuckston
Readings
2.45pm - 4.15pm: Transhumanism and the past, present and future of humanity
What makes the human animal different from other primates? It is our ability to transcend our nature using evolved features such as theory of mind, language, abstract reasoning, delayed gratification and an ability to cooperate en masse around norms that can be perpetuated- forward through generations.
Transhumanism is the belief in and aspiration to transcend certain limiting elements of our biology and nature. Recent scientific advancements suggest we have more control over our biology than ever imagined, with CRISPR genome editing enabling us to make precise alterations to our DNA.
Which parts of our human nature are worth transcending? What implications do transhumanism and gene editing have for inequality?
We will look to go on a journey through our own evolutionary story, exploring the essence of what makes us distinctly human, and considering the point at which we may no longer considered to be human.
Does transhumanism represent a confident belief in and promotion of human potential, or does it underestimate the extent to which humanity has always transcended natural limitations?
Speakers
Sandy Starr, Communications Manager at the Progress Educational Trust (PET), a charity which improves choices for people affected by infertility and genetic conditions.

Steve Fuller, August Comte chair in social epistemology at the University of Warwick. Between 2011 and 2014 he produced a trilogy relating to a transhuman future published with Palgrave Macmillan under the rubric of Humanity 2.0.
Chair
William Costello
Readings


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