Critical Humanism: Select Reading List and Web Sites

Select References and Web Sites on Humanism & Critical Humanism

Caution: Contemporary organizations around humanism often equate it with atheism. This seems to me a mistake: there are many thinkers who are humanists who adopt religious stances. Many claim that Buddha, Christ and Confucius were humanists! This bibliography takes this wider view.

Short introductions to varieties of humanism include:

Peter Cave, Humanism: A Beginner’s Guide (2009) Oneworld, Oxford; Tony Davies Humanism (1997) Routledge; Richard Norman On Humanism (2004) Routledge. A useful anthology collecting the ideas of many past humanist thinkers is Margaret Knight’s Humanist Anthology (1961(Rationalist Press: London.

Modern Humanist Thinkers

See: Pauline Johnson Feminism as radical Humanism  (1994) Sydney; Alan Finkilkraut In the name of humanity (2001) Pimlico; Martin Halliwell & Andy Mousley Critical humanisms (2003) Edinburgh; 
Jeff Noonan, Critical humanism and the politics of difference (2003) McGill

The work of William James is crucial to understanding modern humanism. For an overview and collection of writings, see The Heart of William James edited by Robert Richardson (2010). Harvard. John Dewey was a signer of the original Humanist Manifesto (1933). The classic of modern humanism is Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (1958), Chicago. These days the work of Martha Nussbaum is also prominent; see especially Cultivating Humanity, 1997: Harvard; Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach 2011 Harvard.

For many, Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments [1759] is the foundation for much modern thinking about sympathy and the human being. Advanced contemporary discussions of the human person can be found in Andrew Sayers, Why Things Matter to People Cambridge: 2011 and Christian Smith, What is a Person: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life , and the Moral Good from the Person Up. 2010. Chicago;

On the history of humanity

On great value here is Bruce Mazlish’s The Idea of Humanity in a Global Era (2009). On the recent history of the nature of humanity, see Joanna Bourke What it means to be human: Reflections from 1791 to the present [ 2011] Virago; On Humanity’s Inhumanity to Humanity, see Jonathan Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century (1999: Jonathan Cape); Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. (2010 2nd ed , Routledge). For more positive accounts, see   Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of our Nature (xxxx) and Jeremy Rifkin, The Empathic Civilization (2009: Polity), Paul Ehrlich and Robert Ornstein ((2012) Humanity on a Tightrope (2012, Rowman & Littlefield)

Sociological Humanism

The classic sociological introductions to humanism and sociology can be found in the multiple works of Alfred McLung Lee especially Toward a Humanist Sociology (1973) New Jersey: Prentice Hall; Sociology for Whom? (1978) Oxford; Sociology for People: Toward a Caring Profession ((1988) Syracuse. Introductions to sociological humanisms include: Audrey Borenstein’s Redeeming the Sin: Social Science and Literature 1979  Columbia UP; Peter Berger’s classic Invitation to Sociology 1963 Middlesex: Penguin Books; See also Robert Coles Handing One Another long: Literature and Social Reflection. 2010 Random House.   On methodology, the classic is the appendix in C Wright Mills The Sociological Imagination, 1961 Oxford University Press.  T.S. Bruyn The Human Perspective in Sociology, (1966) Prentice Hall, New Jersey; Ken Plummer Documents of Life -2: An Invitation to a Critical Humanism (2001) Sage.  See also: Ken Plummer Sociology: The Basics (2010) Routledge.

On Humanist Values

On the global scope of human ethics, see Kenan Milk: The Quest for Moral Compass (2014); Hans Joas The Sacredness of the Person: A New gGenealogy of Human Rights, (2013) Georgetown University Press; Philip Kitcher, The Ethical Project (2012) Harvard.

For instances of global values and ethics see: Rodrigue Tremblay: The Code for Global Ethics: Toward a Humanist Civilization  2009 Victoria, BC; Michael J Sandel  Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do?  2009: Penguin; Amytra Sen The Idea of Justice [2009] Allen Lane; Ronald C Arnett Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference  2—9 Sage; Seyla Benhabib, Dignity in Adversity: Human Rights in Troubled Times (2012) Polity;  Michael Slote, The Ethics of Care and Sympathy: [2007] Routledge; Steven Lukes, Liberals and Cannibals: The Implications of Diversity [2003) Verso;  Kay Schaffer and Sidonie Smith Human Rights and Narrated Lives: The Ethics of Recognition Palgrave 2004; Trafford. Richard J. Bernstein The Pragmatic Turn Polity [2010) .

A Sample of Debates and illustrations on the nature of humanism in social science can be found in:

Richard Rorty ‘The Humanist Intellectual: Eleven Theses’ in Richard Rorty Philosophy and Social Hope (1999) Penguin;

Roberto M Unger The Self Awakened: Pragmatism Unbound (2007) Harvard

Edward Said Humanism and Democratic Criticism (2004) Palgrave

Tzvetan Todorov Imperfect Garden: The Legacy of Humanism (2014) Princeton (and his many other works)

Raymond Tallis Summers of Discontent: The Purpose of the Arts Today (2014) Wilmington Square Books

Eric Fromm To Have or To Be (2013 Reprint: Bloomsbury)

Rebecca Solnit Hope in the Dark: The Untold History of People Power (2005) Canongate (and her many other books)

Umberto Eco Inventing the Enemy, and other essays (2013)Vintage

Paul Kurtz Humanist Manifesto 2000: Call for a New Planetary Humanism (200o Prometheus

Robert Coles Handling One Another Along: Literature and Social Reflection – On Character, Courage and Compassion (2010) Random House.

Barbara Ehrenreich Living with a Wild God: A Non Believer’s Search for the Truth about Everything. (2014) Grant Books

Stanley Cohen States of Denial, 2000: Polity

Iain Wilkinson Suffering: A Sociological Introduction 2005 Polity

David Livingstone Smith (2011) Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others. NY St Martins Press

Dennis Ford  The Seach for `Meaning: A Short History  (2007) University of California

Christian Smith What is a Person? (2010) University of Chicago Press

Visions of a Better World: On Hope in a world of unbearable suffering

Ernest Bloch The Principle of Hope ( 3 Volumes:1938-470: Blackwell, 1986;

Eric Olin Wright, Envisioning Real Utopias 2010 Verso;

Ruth Levita Utopia as method (2014):Palgrave

Donald K Swearer   Ecologies of Human Flourishing (2011) Harvard University Press

Jeremy Rifkin The Empathic Civilization

Ruth Levitas Utopia as Method

Roberto Unger The Self Awakened (2007)/ The Religion of the Future (2014)

Eric Ohlin Wright Envisioning Real Utopias

Jeremy Rifkin, The Empathic Civilization (2009: Polity)

Paul Ehrlich and Robert Ornstein ((2012) Humanity on a Tightrope (2012, Rowman & Littlefield)

John D. Brewer  Peace Processes: A Sociological Approach. 2010 Polity;

Look also at the work, inter alia, of:

Zygmunt Bauman, Abraham Maslow, Ashley Montagu, Peter Singer (The Expanding Circle, The Life You Can Save, Practical Ethics)
Carl Rogers, Carl Sagan, Salaman Rushdie, A.C.Grayling, Stephen Jay Gould, John Galbraith, Steven Pinker, Thomas Szasz, Andrei Tarkovsky,
Jeffrey Weeks. And thousands more! Just to start listing these names is to dicate there is no necessary agreement between them. And if we start adding earlier generations, a multiplicity could include Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius, Erasmus, Ghandi, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Julian and Aldous Huxley, Schiller, Jean Paul Sartre, Mark Twain, Karl Popper, Bertrand Russell and many, many more.


APPENDIX: On Martha Nussbaum and Capabilties:


  • Martha Nussbaum (2011), Creating Capabilities; The Human Development Approach. Harvard University Press.
  • Séverine Deneulin with Lila Shahani (eds) (2009), An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach, available online at
  • Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Shiv Kumar (eds) (2009), Handbook in Human Development, Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • Amartya Sen (2009), The Idea of Justice, London: Allen Lane
  • Sabina Alkire (2002), Valuing Freedoms, Oxford University Press
  • Martha Nussbaum (2000), Women and Human Development, Cambridge University Press
  • Amartya Sen (1999), Development as Freedom, Oxford University Press
  • Amartya Sen (1992), Inequality Re-examined, Oxford University Press

Introductory articles

  • Ingrid Robeyns  (2011), “The Capability Approach”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
  • Ingrid Robeyns (2005), “The Capability Approach: A Theoretical Survey”, Journal of Human Development 6(1): 93–114.
  • Sabina Alkire (2005), “Why the Capability Approach”, Journal of Human Development 6(1): 115–33.
  • Martha Nussbaum (2003) “Capabilities as Fundamental Entitlements: Sen and Social Justice”, Feminist Economics 9 (2–3): 33–59.
  • Sabina Alkire (2002), “Dimensions of Human Development”, World Development 30 (2), 181–205.
  • Amartya Sen (1993),” Capability and Well-Being”, in M. Nussbaum and A. Sen (eds.) The Quality of Life, Oxford Clarendon Press, pp. 30–53.
  • Martha Nussbaum (1993), “Non-Relative Virtues: An Aristotelian Approach”, in M. Nussbaum and A. Sen (eds) The Quality of Life, Oxford Clarendon Press, pp. 242–69.
  • Amartya Sen (1989), “Development as Capability Expansion”, Journal of Development Planning 19: 41–58, reprinted in: Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and A.K. Shiva Kumar (eds.) (2003), Readings in Human Development, Oxford University Press, pp. 3–16
  • Amartya Sen (1988), “The Concept of Development”, in Behram and Strinivasan (eds.) Handbooks of Development Economics. 1. Elsevier: North-Holland, pp. 3–23.


There are also web sites that provide entrances:

 Web Sites on Humanism, Human Flourishing and Common Grounds

Human Development and Capabilities Association (HDCA)

is a global community of academics and practitioners that seeks to build an intellectual community around the ideas of human development and the capability approach, and relate these ideas to the policy arena.  The association promotes research within many disciplines, ranging from economics to philosophy, development studies, health, education, law, government, sociology, and more. Our members live in over 70 countries worldwide

Search for Common Ground: Understanding differences, working on commonalities

“Founded in 1982, Search for Common Ground works to transform the way the world deals with conflict – away from adversarial approaches and towards collaborative problem solving. We work with local partners to find culturally appropriate means to strengthen societies’ capacity to deal with conflicts constructively: to understand the differences and act on the commonalities. Using innovative tools and working at different levels of society, we engage in pragmatic long-term processes of conflict transformation. Our toolbox includes media production – radio, TV, film and print – mediation and facilitation, training, community organizing, sports, theater and music. We promote both individual and institutional change and are committed to measuring the results of our work and increase our effectiveness through monitoring and evaluation. We currently work in 26 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.”


Vulnerability and the Human Condition Project: An Inter-disciplinary Initiative from Emory University

“The concept of “vulnerability” at the heart of the Initiative is anchored in the realization that fundamental to our shared humanity is our shared vulnerability, which is universal and constant — inherent in the human condition.  Further, societal institutions are shaped by the recognition of, and need to respond to, this shared vulnerability.

While vulnerability can never be eliminated, society through its institutions confers certain “assets” or resources, such as wealth, health, education, family relationships, and marketable skills on individuals and groups.  These assets give individuals “resilience” in the face of their vulnerability.

Thus our shared vulnerability is what legitimates claims upon the state by individuals, particularly the claim for meaningful equality of opportunity and access to institutions that provide assets and resources.  As society now is structured, however, certain individuals and groups operate from positions of entrenched advantage or privilege, while others are disadvantaged in ways that seem to be invisible as we engage in law and policy discussions”.
Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Global Nonviolence at James Maddison University

“Mission Statement:To promote justice and nonviolence through education, scholarship and engagement.

Core Values:

Respect – for life and its myriad forms.
Reconciliation – for those in struggle.

Restoration – of the social and spiritual health of diverse communities”.

International Humanist and Ethical Union: The world union of humanist organisations


“Founded in Amsterdam in 1952, International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the sole world umbrella organisation embracing Humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist, skeptic, laique, ethical cultural, freethought and similar organisations world-wide. Our vision is a Humanist world; a world in which human rights are respected and everyone is able to live a life of dignity. The mission of IHEU is to build and represent the global Humanist movement that defends human rights and promotes Humanist values world-wide. IHEU sponsors the triennial World Humanist Congress.


Based in London, IHEU is an international NGO with Special Consultative Status with the UN (New York, Geneva, Vienna), General Consultative Status at UNICEF (New York) and the Council of Europe (Strasbourg), and maintains operational relations with UNESCO (Paris). IHEU has observer status at the African Commission on Human and People’s Right



World Faith
World Faith’s mission is to counter religious extremism and strife by demonstrating how faith can inform work for unity and peace, rather than hate, war, and division.



Happy Planet Index

“The HPI measures what matters: the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them. The Index uses global data on life expectancy, experienced well-being and Ecological Footprint to calculate this.

The index is an efficiency measure, it ranks countries on how many long and happy lives they produce per unit of environmental input.

The 2012 HPI report ranks 151 countries and is the third time the index has been published.

-See more at:

The Taos Institute: Creating Promising Futures through Social Construction

“is a community of scholars and practitioners concerned with the social processes essential for the construction of reason, knowledge, and human value. It is heavily oriented towards constructionist theory through Ken Gergen and often uses Narrative theory and Therapy for change: “As we generate meaning together we create the future”.

 Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies: Breaking the Cycle of Humiliation
“We are a global transdisciplinary network and fellowship of concerned academics and practitioners. We wish to stimulate systemic change, globally and locally, to open space for dignity and mutual respect and esteem to take root and grow, thus ending humiliating practices and breaking cycles of humiliation throughout the world. 

We suggest that a frame of cooperation and shared humility is necessary – not a mindset of humiliation – if we wish to build a better world, a world of equal dignity for all. 

We are currently around 1,000 personally invited members, with more than 2,000 more people supporting our work, and our website is being accessed by ca. 40,000 people from more than 180 countries per year. A new educational initiative emerging from the network is World Dignity University (WDU) to which anyone interested in educating on dignity can contribute ideas for curriculum development”. It has its own publishing house –Dignity- and its own university.

Greater Good: The Science of a Better Life

 “Based at the University of California, Berkeley, the GGSC is unique in its commitment to both science and practice: not only do we sponsor groundbreaking scientific research into social and emotional well-being, we help people apply this research to their personal and professional lives. Since 2001, we have been at the fore of a new scientific movement to explore the roots of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior—the science of a meaningful life. And we have been without peer in our award-winning efforts to translate and disseminate this science to the public”.

There are pages on topics like Empathy, Compassion, Altruism and Forgiveness

Alert Net

AlertNet is a free humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation covering crises worldwide. Our award-winning website provides trusted news and information on natural disasters, conflicts, refugees, hunger, diseases and climate change. Our multimedia content comes from specialist AlertNet reporters around the world and our network of 196 Reuters News bureaux. In addition, a community of about 500 international relief organisations and 60 specialist news content partners contribute to the site. AlertNet was set up in 1997, in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwanda genocide and criticism of the slow media response and poorly coordinated activities of relief agencies. The site puts our strengths of speed, accuracy and impartiality at the disposal of the humanitarian community by offering a “one-stop shop” for crisis information.

The Equality Rights Trust

The Equal Rights Trust is an independent international organisation whose purpose is to combat discrimination and promote equality as a fundamental human right and a basic principle of social justice. Established as an advocacy organisation, resource centre and a think tank, it focuses on the complex relationship between different types of discrimination, developing strategies for translating the principles of equality into practice.

The Equal Rights Trust is governed by an international Board of Trustees and is registered as a charity under UK law. It opened office in January 2007.

The strategies for achieving the ERT goals include:

  • Human rights advocacy
  • Documentation of abuses of equality rights
  • Strategic litigation
  • Legal and policy research
  • Capacity building and consulting

Much of the work of the Trust is organised according to cross-cutting thematic and country priorities, for each of which a combination of all or some of the major strategies is employed.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: