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The Oxford University Humanist Group was founded in 1958 by Tony Brierley, growing rapidly to become one of the University’s most flourishing societies – often boasting over 1000 members. From its beginnings, it welcomed eminent speakers, organised weekly discussion meetings, promoted humanism, and challenged Christian missions to the University. As former member David Pollock has written:

At a time when deference was the default attitude to authority and explicit denial of belief in God was still a daring act, the OUHG  was at the cutting edge of public debate on the basis and nature of morality and over reform of the law on abortion, homosexuality, divorce, censorship and the like.

Oxford University Group archive

In 1966, when American evangelical Billy Graham came to preach at St Aldate’s, Oxford, OUHG picketed the church, creating posters and distributing leaflets to warn of the effects (and messages) of Graham’s preaching. The leaflet, titled ‘DANGER: Psychologist at Work’ read:

Before you attend this meeting you are warned that it is incredibly easy to confuse a state of passing emotional excitement with revelation or deep religious experience, — The man you are about to hear is a skilled and experienced speaker who may appeal to your emotions rather than to your intellect. You are therefore advised to ensure that before you make any decisions, you have thought carefully about whether you can seriously and intelligently justify any actions to which you are temporarily persuaded. Remember, powerful emotional, and psychologically calculated arguments are not directed at fools or cranks. They are likely to be effective on, and dangerous to, normal and reasonable people like yourself.

OUHG was active in, and instrumental in the creation of, a wider young humanist movement, represented by the University Humanist Federation. Today, Humanist Students is a thriving section of Humanists UK.

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Tony Brierley archive | Bishopsgate Institute

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