Simon Parcher on “Humanist Perspectives”

by | July 9, 2024

Simon Parcher is the President and Executive Director of Canadian Humanist Publications, publisher of Humanist Perspectives Magazine.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Today, we are here with Simon Parcher. We will be talking about Humanist Perspectives, a humanist publication in Canada. It’s the only major Canadian humanist magazine. How did you first get involved in Humanist Perspectives, and how has it developed over time as you’ve taken the helm?

Simon Parcher: Humanist Perspectives magazine used to be called ‘Humanist in Canada.’ It started being published in 1968 in British Columbia. Then, in 1983, the operations were moved to Ottawa. It was led by Joe Piercy, Blodwen Piercy, and Paul Pfalzner. They were all highly educated Ph.D.s, physicists, and scientists. They took it over and did a great job for a long time.

The magazine was published in print until about three years ago. So, for about 53 years, it was published in print. To answer your question, I first discovered the magazine in about 1992. At the time, I didn’t realize that my outlook was humanism or that I was a humanist. I was walking down Elgin Street in Ottawa, and there was a little coffee and magazine shop called Mags and Fags. Back then, you could still buy cigarettes in them, and they were displayed in the open. So, I went in, looked around at the magazine rack, and just happened to pick up ‘Humanist in Canada.’ I browsed through it and started reading some of the articles. I said to myself, “My goodness, this is me. This is how I think and how I believe.”

So I then became a member of the Humanist Association of Canada and the Humanist Association of Ottawa. There were cards in the magazine that you could use to apply for membership. I still wasn’t involved in the magazine but became involved in the leadership of the Humanist Associations. In the mid-90s, I was invited to the board of Canadian Humanist Publications, which publishes Humanist Perspectives. I was soon asked to be president because I knew parliamentary procedure and how to run a meeting. They were glad to have my skills during the board meetings. I became the president in about the mid to late 90s. Over that time, there have been many changes in the membership of the organization and the people doing the work. Unfortunately, just about all of the original people are gone.

Many original contributors have passed away or become too old to work on the magazine. It went back to British Columbia for a while under the editorship of Gary Bauslaugh. That was in 2003, and he produced the magazine for about five years. Then it came back to Ottawa in 2008, and it’s been in Ottawa ever since. The name changed somewhere between 2003 and 2008 from Humanist in Canada to Humanist Perspectives. This change was made to broaden the scope and reach of the magazine because Humanist in Canada sounded like it was just for Canadians, whereas Humanist Perspectives could appeal to any humanist worldwide. That was the reason for the change. Over the years, the magazine has mostly featured articles, but we’ve added a lot more to it now that we’re online.

Jacobsen: With the transition to being more online, when did the shift from primarily print magazines to digital occur?

Parcher: That transition happened about three years ago. So, January 2021 marked one of the first solely digital editions. It’s been about three years now. We’ve also moved from charging subscription fees to making it a free magazine. We’re hoping to survive on donations instead of charging subscription fees. It’s a lot less expensive to produce now that we’re online-only. We’re still trying this model, which is working, though not as well as I would like. However, we are getting some donations to support the magazine, which will increase over time.

Jacobsen: How has the content changed with different people coming and going in the leadership and writing for the magazine? This affects the character of the content.

Parcher: Some editors, like Gary Bauslaugh, produced very high-end content, with largely university professors or past professors as the authors. Gary himself was the vice president of what is now called the University of Vancouver Island, which was called Malaspina University College back then. He’s highly educated, so the content was rather high-end, more philosophical, and aimed at a highly educated audience. It wasn’t at the grade 10 level but higher than that. While that may only be ideal for some, it resulted in a very high-quality product.

We’ve had other editors over time. Henry Beissel, a well-known Canadian poet and humanist who was also a university professor, served as editor for a while. The content has generally been geared toward educated readers. It may not interest everyone, but it has maintained a certain level of intellectual rigour.

Lately, I have become the editor and have been for a few issues. I’m gearing the magazine more towards having something in there for everybody who thinks of themselves as humanists. Some of my authors are the same highly educated university professor types that Gary Bauslaugh employed, but I am also inviting all humanists to contribute articles if they can write well. This opens up the articles to a wider variety of writers. The issues generally have a theme. Some of our recent themes have been artificial intelligence and the future of democracy, and the current issue has a theme of imagination. There are a few articles on that. However, not all the articles are on theme; half are, and the other half are on different topics to make it more interesting. We’ve also introduced more content beyond just articles.

We have archives. We’ve always had the archives since we went digital. The archives are online and include all the past issues for several years. We also have a poetry archive because we occasionally feature poetry in the magazine. I’ve recently hired a poetry editor, so there will be poetry in every issue—just one or two poems that would interest humanists, and these will go into the archive of every issue. We’ve introduced a news section in the magazine featuring eight to ten news stories from around the country and maybe even worldwide, where humanism is in the news. This should be of great interest to our readers.

There’s something else in the archives, too, besides poetry. Let me check here… Yes, book reviews. That’s another archive we have. We also have an archive of interviews like the one we’re doing now. Because we’re online and not restricted to print, we can publish different kinds of content, like interviews. We’ve also introduced a community section to our website, where local associations can sign up and contribute content regarding their events. They can post all their events so that everyone can see what’s happening in their groups. If people in their area want to attend or even travel for some of their events, they’ll know what’s happening. This will be a useful tool for Canadian humanists. There isn’t a national register anywhere like that for humanist events. So, this is another feature we have added.

I mentioned the news, events, and archives. We also have another tab called “Groups” where several Canadian humanist associations are listed with their contact information. So, that’s what we have in addition to articles.

Jacobsen: What are you hoping readers will take away from what is becoming an online repository of more or less strictly humanist content, from strict academic writing to poetry, news, interviews, book reviews, and so on? What do you hope readers will gain from all this?

Parcher: Yes, well, it will be a great resource for anyone who is a humanist or thinks like a humanist, with humanist philosophy or whatever. It’s good for educated people. I’ve recently added a lot of universities and university philosophy departments to our mailing list. It will be interesting to see how they engage with it. But it will interest every humanist because there’s a variety of content. For example, in our last issue, there was an article titled “Love in the Time of Turkeys.” It could be more academic, and people might wonder about it. Well, you read the article and see, it’s something light and fun.

It’s not all serious. We do have serious issues, like what’s happening to democracy worldwide right now, which is a very important issue. We also have articles on people standing up for their rights, maybe protesting or speaking out in public for or against issues they think need to be addressed, or on being activists. So, a wide variety of humanist, atheist, and agnostic topics are covered.

It can interest people who want to learn what humanism means. It might attract them to the humanist outlook if they come across the magazine and start reading it. They may not become card-carrying members, but it will reinforce their way of thinking if they align with humanist values and help validate their perspective.

Jacobsen: Thank you for taking the time today to discuss Humanist Perspectives.

Parcher: Yes, well, thank you for asking and for the interview. It’s been very interesting. Thank you.

Photo by Pavel Moiseev on Unsplash

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