As you may have heard, there is a wonderful event happening in Washington, DC on May 17-19th. The event is the second annual Women in Secularism conference organized by CFI’s very own, Melody Hensley. I attended the the event last year and let me tell you, I got schooled. I learned that there are a lot of women’s voices that I hadn’t heard and a lot of issues I had yet to fully consider. I learned about the history of the free-thought movement, I learned about the trials, tribulations and accomplishments that brought us to where we stand today and I learned about the work that needs to be done to move forward in a positive, meaningful way. It was an educational and inspiring event.
I want more people to have the opportunity to be inspired the way I was. I encourage you all to attend this event. Men and women alike.
To help do this, I have vowed to pay the admission cost for a few good men who need financial assistance so they may attend. You can help me do this by donating to my fund OR you may apply for a Surly Conference Admission Grant by going to Surlygrant.com.
And to help demonstrate why you will also want to attend WiS, I am doing quick interviews with some of the speakers who will be participating.
In my first installment I brought you, Carrie Poppy.
Today, I bring you Adriana Heguy. Adriana is a scientist working in the field of human genomics and genetics. She is a cofounder of the website, Atheist Universe.
How/why did you first get involved in the secular community and what do you do now?
I’ve been an atheist pretty much since elementary school and I believe a secular government is a must, and any hint of theocracy has to be combated. I grew up in Uruguay, which is a very secular country, where non-belief is not frowned upon like it is in the United States. I never really felt I had to be involved in the secular community, in fact, I didn’t even think back then that there was a need for such a community. That changed when I moved to the United States in the mid 80s to get my PhD. I was shocked by the high level of religiosity and the constant references to god and religion in political life. Being a scientist, I started reading about creationism and the concerted efforts of the creationist movement to distort the teaching of science in schools. It was originally the interference with science teaching that got me interested in participating in the secular community. Then when atheism, secular and science blogs and social networking sites started cropping up online, I started to follow the writings of people like PZ Myers, and Scienceblogs was the first site I consistently visited. I did join a couple of social networking sites, where I started posting on science news and also philosophy. And about a year and a half ago, together with some good online friends, we founded a social networking site, called Atheist Universe (atheistuniverse.net). We created this new site because we wanted to make it a safe place for challenging discussions, a well moderated site where nobody felt attacked or silenced, where people come to bond with other freethinkers, make new friends, and feel a sense of community, without having to endure the level of vitriol and bullish abuse that is unfortunately so prevalent in the web.
Why do you think a conference that focuses on women who are involved in secularism is important?
Atheist men outnumber atheist women by 3 to 1, approximately. It is a fact that on average, women are more religious than man. The reasons for this are many, and it would take too long to examine them here, plus, there have been many good articles written about this. Although there is no evidence that increased religiosity is an inborn characteristic of being female, unfortunately many peoples simplistically believe that since being an atheist requires thought, and women are generally not as smart or rational as men, the dearth of female atheists is “normal.” Having a conference to highlight the involvement of women in the secular movement is critical to dispel these notions that contribute to perpetuating the current situation.
Have you been influenced by any women in the secular or skeptic communities? If so, who and why were they influential?
Susan Jacoby, for her tireless work fighting religious anti-intellectualism and anti-reason attitudes and her leadership in many great organizations such as the Center for Inquiry and Freedom From Religion Foundation, Eugenie Scott from the National Science Foundation for keeping the creationists at bay and for being a great science communicator, Sikivu Hutchinson for her activism as a black feminist humanist atheist, Greta Christina for her excellent writings on atheism, and many, many others, including the speakers and participants at this next conference! I’m honored to be in their company.
What specific areas of organized secularism do you think we as a community need to focus on in order to encourage positive change and growth?
I think a focus on social justice and community organizing is key to grow the movement. For example, organizing fundraisers for natural disasters or tragic events, gives us more visibility in the community at large and it will help dispel the notion that godless people are arrogant, selfish, and amoral or immoral. We must educate the public about the dangers of theocracies and of eroding the separation between church and state. We must continue to increase the diversity in our community, so that secular people of all ethnicities, cultural background, sexual preferences, etc., will feel welcome and will want to become activists.
What issues will you be speaking about at the conference?
I will be speaking about the dangers of pseudoscience and anti-science attitudes, and the importance of bringing science into the sphere of public policy, as well as on the importance of critical thinking and skepticism in all aspects of life and society.
What is one reason why men and women should attend this event?
Anyone interested in secularism should be interested in this conference, the list of speakers is amazing; they just happen to be female, but the most important factors is that they are leaders in the movement that anyone, male or female would want to hear. I still hope there will come a day when gender won’t be the most prominent divide among people, and I think that the participation of both men and at conferences or events where women leaders are highlighted is key to achieving this.
How can people find out more about you and follow what you are doing?
Thank you so much for speaking with us, Adriana! I look forward to hearing more from you at Women in Secularism.
For more info and to register for the Women in Secularism conference go here.