Southbank Centre’s Book Podcast: Richard Dawkins, an argument for Atheism

Richard Dawkins: an argument for Atheism by Southbank Centre's Book Podcast

Ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins has spent a lifetime helping us rethink the big questions. As part of our 2019 autumn literature festival he joined David Freeman — former presenter of BBC World Service’s Science in Action, and Sky’s The Book Show — to discuss his new book, the Sunday Times bestseller, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide.

In this podcast the pair take Dawkins’ book as a cue to discuss a broad range of topics including the polarising ‘tribalism’ of religion, Dawkins preference for truth over symbolism, what he believes happens when you die, and whether you can be good without a God. 

It still seems to be true in America that politicians have to pay lip service to being religious believers. That cannot be true if you think about it statistically. There are five hundred and thirty something members of US Congress and some of them no doubt are pretty well educated.
Richard Dawkins on politicians and religion


The venue for London Literature Festival and Poetry International, Southbank Centre is the home of literature and spoken word events in the UK. Throughout the year we host talks, discussions, readings and more featuring bestselling authors, award-winning poets and inspirational writers.

upcoming literature events


Be inspired with women of colour at WOW

Intersectional feminism has gone from being a concept proposed by academic Kimberlé  Crenshaw back in 1989 to a term that, thanks to social media, is now in common parlance. But in case you’re still not sure. . . it’s a way of looking at oppression as influenced not just by gender, but also by race, health, ability, class, age, religion and other factors.

As WOW – Women of the World has a mission to look at how to make the world a better place for all women and girls, it is imperative that our programme embraces intersectionality. At WOW 2018 we’re proud to present our most inclusive programme to date, and in this blog post we’re highlighting some of the talented women of colour who appear.

We’re honoured that Patrisse Khan-Cullors joins us for Friday night’s event No More. She helped start a worldwide movement back in 2013 when she coined the Black Lives Matter hashtag and has some great advice for activists.

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at WOW 2017

WOW favourite Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (pictured above), author of Half of a Yellow Sun and We Should All Be Feminists, returns. She’s appearing in conversation with Reni Eddo-Lodge, who burst on to the scene last year with her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, in a conversation that covers race, gender, feminism and more. At the moment the event is returns only, but do keep an eye out in case more tickets go on sale.

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For those lucky enough to get weekend or day passes, the following events are included (if you missed out, please check our social media channels for coverage).

Melanie Eusebe

Friday has a focus on women at work and in businesses. You can hear Senegalese entrepreneur Mariéme Jamme, as part of Power, Purpose and Progress; and June Sarpong, Melanie Eusebe (pictured above), Deborah Williams and Shona Baijal, who appear together at a talk called Diversify. Also on Friday is our special event Code Switching, which looks whether Black women are forced to compromise to fit into the workplace and the impact this can have.

Reeta Mumbai

On Saturday, outspoken model Munroe Bergdorf, who hit headlines last year when L’Oreal dropped her for comments about white people’s racism, appears as part of Sweep Through the World. We’re asking the question ‘Desi Lesbians, Where are you?’ in an event chaired by Reeta Loi (pictured above), co-founder of Gaysians.

Also keep an eye out for Mother Tongues, a screening of Victoria Adukwei Bulley’s acclaimed film of poets working with their mothers to translate their work into their first language The screening is followed by a discussion with Victoria and poets from her film.

On Sunday you can see Laura Marks and Julie Siddiqi chairing We Stand Together, an event where Muslim and Jewish women speak out, or join the WOW Book Club for a discussion of Sister Outsider by Black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde. There’s also the Power & Protest event looking at activism and disability, hosted by the Sisters of Frida collective, and LGBTQI+ Resilience with Black Pride UK, chaired by Black Pride UK co-founder Phyll Opoku-Gyimah.


There are plenty of free things to do if you missed out on a day pass. Search our website for details of events like the Women, Drumbeats and Self Care twerkshop; an interactive demonstration by Muslim Girls Fencing (pictured above); Scar, a film about violence against women in Rio de Janiero’s largest favela; a poetry reading with Momtaza Mehri; and Women for Refugee Women singing songs, to name just a few.


WOW – Women of the World 2018 takes place from Wednesday 7 – Sunday 11 March.

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WOW 2018 would not be possible without its generous sponsors and supporters: Bloomberg, UBS, American International Group Inc (AIG) and The Chartered Insurance Institute.

Inspired by WOW? You can support the future of the festival by donating today.

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Six things... that challenge truth

Ahead of his appearance at Southbank Centre as part of our Belief & Beyond Belief series in September 2017, British philosopher Julian Baggini mused on the notion of truth.


I’m not convinced we live in a post-truth world. But truth is certainly in some kind of trouble, challenged on many fronts. Surprisingly, the sources of several of those challenges are good things.

1. Science

Science is the most efficient truth-generating machine humankind has created. However, such is its power to overturn common sense that its growth has arguably contributed to scepticism that we can ever know the truth at all. Science tells us that the apparently solid objects around us are “really” just collections of particles, which are themselves made up of smaller parts we don’t really understand. Time and space are relative. Today’s orthodoxies are tomorrow’s discredited theories. Science made humanity doubt its own perception of reality and helped sow the seeds for the idea that ultimate truth was beyond us.

Science is the most efficient truth-generating machine humankind has created

2. Liberty

The freedom to think and choose for ourselves is a precious one. However, it has created an exaggerated sense that we are sovereigns of our selves, the sole authors of our lives. The right to a point of view became so sanctified  it became detached from the responsibility to ensure that view is well-grounded. One consequence is that we assert “my truth”, “our truth”, “your truth” as though there were no truth independent of a point of view. But this extremely subjective approach ultimately undermines the whole idea of truth, which if it is to mean anything at all, must involve a recognition of things that are the case whether we perceive them as so or not.

The right to a point of view became so sanctified it became detached from the responsibility to ensure that view is well-grounded

 3. The decline of elites

For most of human history the fates of the many have been in the hands of too few. Elites decided what was best for us, whatever we may think. The forces of democratisation have eroded this privilege. This has been accompanied by a decline of respect for expertise. No longer deferential to the great and the good, we have seen more clearly how experts often get it wrong. However, there is so much we cannot know for ourselves that if we do not defer to experts at all we are left only with our ill-informed hunches and gut feelings. Truth is not a democracy but democratisation has made us less willing to trust those whose expertise can point us to the truth.

For most of human history the fates of the many have been in the hands of too few

4. Globalisation

Our massively interconnected world has brought us closer together and enabled us to understand and celebrate our differences more than ever. It has also exposed our arrogance in believing that “our” way – whoever “we” are – is superior and that we have a monopoly on truth. The moral should have been that we need to consider as many perspectives as possible if we want to get a fuller picture of the truth. Instead, too many have concluded that there are no universal truths, only culturally relative “truths”, none of which is more valid than any other. 

Our massively interconnected world has enabled us to understand and celebrate our differences more than ever

5. Psychology

Everyone now “knows” that the conscious, rational mind is not in the driving seat. Unconscious often irrational processes dictate the vast majority of what we do and all the conscious mind does is rationalises it. That’s the message many have taken from the work of psychologists such as Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. It has undermined our confidence in our rationality and with it our capacity to get to the truth. But of course it was only by using reason that these psychologists mapped its limitations clearly. Knowing the limits of conscious rationality should enable us to use it better, not lead us to throw it out.

Everyone now “knows” that the conscious, rational mind is not in the driving seat

 6. The free press

Journalists have traditionally seen themselves as discoverers and defenders of the truth. That role is as vital as ever. But in some respects journalism has undermined confidence in the possibility of knowing the truth. Every time a scandal is uncovered it adds to the sense that nothing we are told really is true. At the same time, the less savoury episodes in the history of journalism mean that people don’t necessarily trust newspapers and television channels to tell the truth easily, especially when so many are clearly partisan. An atmosphere of distrust has been created in which suspension of all belief seem preferable to commitment to any truth.

Journalists have traditionally seen themselves as discoverers and defenders of the truth

What these six things have in common is that they are all positive developments in human culture than have nonetheless made the possibility of knowing truth – or even of there being a truth to know – seem more difficult than ever. But none should make us doubt that there is any truth there at all, or that it is always beyond us. 

The way forward must start with an acceptance that all six factors show that getting to the truth is difficult and that when we find it, it is often complicated. We should be humble and modest about our ability to know any truths for certain but unless we believe truth is out there and can be discovered, all we have to go on is prejudice, opinion and power.


Julian Baggini’s latest book is A Short History of Truth (Quercus).

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Q&A: Shelina Janmohamed on faith and religion

We caught up with Shelina Janmohamed, Vice-President of Ogilvy Noor, a branding and advertising consultancy for building engagement with Muslim audiences and author of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World, ahead of For Good or For Ill? How Has Religion Shaped Society this weekend.

Q. Name three things you think faith can contribute to society.

A. For someone who chooses to observe a faith, there is a compelling faith imperative to make things better, not just for oneself, but for everyone. Faith also asks about the greater good, not just the self. Faith focuses beyond the material on the spiritual, and in ever busier lifestyles, having something to centre your inner self is a valuable asset. Faith is, along with serving a Creator, about serving others. It is the enjoyment – even beyond obligation – of serving others that keeps our societies vibrant and healthy.

Q. Life choices and identities can be a challenge to religious teaching. What advice would you give to people struggling to bridge the gap between their religion and life choices?

A. There's a risk that when people become over-enthusiastic about their own faith they can become zealous and impose it on others. One of the best pieces of advice I ever came across is this: ‘Religion is not about controlling others, it is about controlling yourself’. Religion is a way of assessing the world around you and identifying what you feel your place – and therefore your actions – should be within it.

Detail of Shelina Janmohamed

Q. Do you think religion has a place in education?

A. Absolutely! We are adamant on things like numeracy and literacy, but we also need spiritual literacy! And the manifestation of that are the world's religions. Our children should absolutely learn spiritual literacy so they can navigate their own emotions and inner needs, but also learn to identify what others are experiencing and what they believe. To do that you need to explore how different religions approach these subjects, and how people live their lives accordingly.

Q. Do you think a more secular world would be a better place?

A. We all continue to struggle to find a way of organising our societies that can fulfil our utopian ideals. What was it Churchill said, about the least worst approaches? The problem with today's secularism is that it no longer lives up to the aspiration to create a neutral space where everyone can shine, but rather is obliterating all difference in the goal of an ideal citizen that only represents one way of being.

Q. How do you think religious leaders should approach speaking out against discrimination and violence committed in the name of a religion?

A. Religious leaders should speak out against all discrimination and violence, bearing witness even against themselves – that is certainly the Islamic imperative.

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Should the law stop shying away from death?

Ahead of appearing on the panel Separation of Powers: God in Politics at Belief and Beyond Belief festival, Canon Rosie Harper looks at assisted dying.

This blog post was first published in The Huffington Post, Thursday 6 April 2017.

Canon Rosie Harper

‘The public is wiser and more compassionate than the law.’ In her Thunderer column for The Times Lucy Wainwright came to this conclusion in response to the fact that Noel Conway, who has Motor Neurone Disease, lost his fight to bring a judicial review of the law on assisted dying.

In America, the Oregon law change came about because they have a route via a popular ballot initiative which allows for the moral consensus of a community to be reflected in legislation. This is not the case here. The only way we will get a more compassionate law is for parliament to enact it.

This provokes very interesting questions about the nature of the relationship between the State and the moral consciousness of a nation. Two years ago Dignity in Dying’s Populus poll found that 82% of people supported Lord Falconer’s proposed change in the law. The opposition was vanishingly small with only 6% saying that they would strongly oppose such a move.

Lord Falconer’s bill passed easily in the Lords. You could argue, given the age profile of this house, that the issue was more practical and less theoretical than in the other house. However, I heard some of the pre-debate, and the strongest feelings in favour were about the sheer milk of human kindness and the extraordinary stealing of personal autonomy at the point of dying. The religious voice from the Bishops was profoundly and intractably against any change, but failed to sway the Lords.

The public is wiser and more compassionate than the law.
Lucy Wainwright, The Times

An election intervened meaning that the Falconer Bill fell over, but rose from the ashes in the shape of the virtually identical Marris Bill. The Bill was heavily lost in the Commons. In many ways this was extraordinary. The Populus Poll has suggested that there was considerable electoral advantage to be gained by supporting assisted dying. They had asked which attributes, from a list of 20 (positive, negative & neutral) words & phrases, were most associated with MPs either backing or opposing assisted dying. MPs who backed a change in the law were identified as being 'compassionate', 'caring', 'in-touch', and 'progressive' while MPs who stood against it were 'lacking compassion', 'out of touch' and 'backward- looking'.

What was going on? How did the substantial moral change around homosexuality in the country get reflected in our legislation, with equal marriage now part of our culture, and yet an even higher proportion of people long for new assisted dying legislation and Parliament resists?

I suspect that it is because, despite many carefully honed arguments, such decisions are made at a profoundly gut level. It is at that level that the change has happened with homosexuality. Apart from in a few niche religious communities that historic ‘yuck’ factor no longer exists. Being gay is no big deal.

Americans are death-phobic and grief-illiterate
Stephen Jenkinson, spiritual writer

Death is altogether another matter. 'Americans are death-phobic and grief-illiterate,' Coombs Lee said, citing a Canadian spiritual writer named Stephen Jenkinson. Well, so are we here in Britain. In my job as a local vicar, I visit people in hospital. As I go in a relative will quite often say to me: ‘We know she is dying, but she doesn’t -please don’t mention it.’ Then I go to the bedside and she says: ‘I know I’m dying but my family don’t. Please don’t mention it.’ So they miss some of the deepest moments in life.

Our inability to get ourselves a good and compassionate assisted dying law is therefore probably just a symptom of a deeper malaise about our relationship with death itself. Our politicians were being asked to talk through something they’d rather not mention, and then move from the notion of assisted dying which clearly has public support, to the reality enshrined in law. This was clearly, for them, a step too far. It will not always be so. There are signs that we as a society are developing more enriched conversations about death and this will allow assisted dying to take it’s small place in a whole scheme of better ways of dying.

Meanwhile we are stuck in a very weird moral place. I feel it acutely as a Christian, where the articulated position from the senior staff seems to be that we are prepared to tolerate real and actual suffering of another person at the end of life on behalf of our own ethical sensibilities. As in the State so in the Church. Most regular Christians don’t feel that way at all. The gap between the leadership and the people is overwhelming and history teaches us that such a gap is unsustainable. It must and will change. At the moment Lucy Wainwright is correct. ‘The public is wiser and more compassionate than the law.’

Canon Rosie Harper is speaking on the panel Separation of Powers: God in Politics at Southbank Centre’s Belief and Beyond Belief festival on Saturday 8 April.

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8 Soul-Searching Questions with Devorah Baum

We caught up with Devorah Baum, author of Feeling Jewish and The Jewish Joke, and co-director of the feature documentary The New Man, ahead of her appearance in How Do We Live with Death? on Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 March.

Name three things you want to do before you die.
I want to be braver. I want to get the better of my death-drive. I want to go to Japan and lots of other places I've never been before -  with my husband and children, and also with my husband and without my children.

What would your funeral poem be?
‘Ashrei’ by Lea Goldberg

Do you believe any part of us continues to exist after death?
I have no idea what I believe, nor on what basis I would have any idea.  

If there is an afterlife, what would you want it to look like?
It would be roughly the same as this life, but without the endless wondering about an afterlife - so unimaginably different.

Name a work of art (can be any art form) that has made you think differently about the meaning of life.
Ozu's film Tokyo Story somehow seemed to show me the workings of time and so on certain rare occasions when I remember it that film has helped me to experience my passing moments differently.

Do you think a more spiritual world would be a better place?
To answer this simply would assume I shared some understanding of what 'spiritual' means with whoever reads this, so I'll say instead that I think what would likely make the world a better place would be a greater sense of awareness of what we a) don't know and b) can't know - and that awareness, for me, might be construed as spiritual.

Do you think comedy is important in dealing with matters of life and death?
I think it's important to have a sense of humour when dealing with pretty much everything, though I don't think one should always display it.

What do you believe in, above all else?
The kindness of strangers.

As part of our year-long Belief and Beyond Belief festival, Devorah Baum takes part in a panel discussion on Saturday 4 March about What Happens Next? after death. Devorah also appears on the panel for Apocalyptic Religion on Sunday 5 March.

Book a Saturday, Sunday or Weekend Pass

How Do We Live with Death?

How To Be Good: Gurus, Gods and Guidance

Belief and Beyond Belief

Science versus Religion: Do We Need to Choose?