The new heresies
Sunday 28 October, 4.00pm until 5.30pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery Keynote Controversies

‘It is the customary fate of new truths,’ wrote TH Huxley in 1881, ‘to begin as heresies and end as superstitions’.  His sentiment is increasingly pertinent today. At the dawn of the 21st century, Western societies have rediscovered the charge of heresy as a means of silencing those who question prevailing cultural orthodoxies. The label of ‘denial’ – applied with ever-greater promiscuity – expresses the illiberal notion that contentious issues are beyond debate. Healthy heresy – described in more enlightened times as critical thinking, sceptical enquiry, or even free speech – is again being hunted down.

The presence of healthy doubt is being ironed out by a demand for moral certainties, forcing open debate on the back foot. The notion of Holocaust denial, now raised to the status of secular blasphemy, has been revised and adopted for the modern era.  The European Union has recently outlawed genocide denial; this means anyone convicted of denying the genocide of the Jews in Europe before and during the Second World War, or the mass killings in Bosnia and Rwanda, will face a prison term ranging from one to three years. Other ‘thought-crimes’ – whilst not against the law – also invoke the pernicious denial label, most obviously the accusation of ‘climate-change denial’ attributed to anyone who does not wholeheartedly embrace global warming orthodoxies. 
If we stigmatise those who question ‘self-evident’ truths, how will interrogative debate survive?  Will this modern, secular inquisition and the creation of new taboos promote a narrow conformism in public life?  At a festival which adopts the slogan - free speech allowed - this final keynote discussion will examine the root causes of such censorious trends, and will investigate possibilities for re-constituting heresy in a more positive light, so that free-thinking can be encouraged rather than policed.


Professor Arthur Versluis
professor of American studies, Michigan State University; author, The New Inquisitions: Heretic-hunting and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Totalitarianism
Mick Hume
editor-at-large, online magazine spiked; author, Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?
Alexander Cockburn
journalist; editor, CounterPunch; co-author, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate?
Claire Fox
director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive

 Produced by

Claire Fox director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
Amol Rajan columnist, Independent titles; advisor to Evgeny Lebedev; author, Twirlymen: the unlikely history of cricket’s greatest spin doctors

How heretic-hunting breeds totalitarianism, Arthur Versluis interviewed by Amol Rajan

 Recommended readings

In Defence of Dangerous Ideas
‘Are we enraged by our own infidels and heretics whom history may one day vindicate?’
Steven Pinker, Sun Times, 14 July 2007

Today's forecast: yet another blast of hot air
Being branded a heretic is different to being branded a denier. Whilst the former challenges the vested interests underpinning bigotry, the latter simply refuses to acknowledge the facts
David Bellamy, The Times, 21 October 2007

Debate is stifled by a new form of inquisition
If we stigmatise those who question "self-evident" truths, how will interrogative debate survive?
Claire Fox, Independent, 24 October 2007

The Freedom to Ridicule Religion – and Deny the Holocaust
If it’s not absolute, it’s not free speech
Peter Singer, Council for Secular Humanism, 31 May 2006

The Right to Ridicule
‘No one's religious convictions can be thought to trump the freedom that makes democracy possible’
Ronald Dworkin, New York Review of Books, 22 March 2006

Banning the Freedom to Deny
An overview of European attempts to legally prohibit Holocaust denial
Clare Murphy, BBC News, 6 February 2007

Don't Let Truth Stand in the Way of a Red-Hot Climate Change Debunking
Does the 'denial industry' allow the wrongheaded to posture as victims of censorship?
George Monbiot, The Guardian, 12 March 2007

recommended by spiked

Global warming: the chilling effect on free speech
Brendan O'Neill, 5 October 2006

Frank Furedi, 30 January 2007

 Festival Buzz

Fora TV logo Each to his iPod or Great Music For All

Each to his iPod or Great Music For All [Opens in new window]

"The Battle of Ideas is like a huge intellectual fair where a bewildering number of thinkers set out their stalls."
Julian Baggini, editor, The Philosophers' Magazine