Rationalist Association

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The Rationalist Association
Laurie Taylor
Chair of Trustees
Clive Coen
Chief Executive
Tom Smith

The Rationalist Association, originally the Rationalist Press Association, is an organization in the United Kingdom, founded in 1885 by a group of freethinkers who were unhappy with the increasingly political and decreasingly intellectual tenor of the British secularist movement.[1] The purpose of the Rationalist Press Association was to publish literature that was too anti-religious to be handled by mainstream publishers and booksellers. The Rationalist Press Association changed its name to "The Rationalist Association" in 2002.[2]


The impetus for the creation of the Rationalist Press Association can be traced back to Charles Albert Watts, the publisher who printed the National Reformer and a majority of Charles Bradlaugh's books.[1] In 1890 Watts formed the Propagandist Press Committee, with George Jacob Holyoake as President, in order to circumvent the problem caused by booksellers who refused to handle secularist books. Holyoake remained president as the committee changed its name to the Rationalist Press Committee and finally settled on the Rationalist Press Association in 1899.[3] Members of the association paid a subscription fee and received books annually to the value of that fee.[1]

The Association became quite successful after 1902, when it started selling reprints of serious scientific works by authors such as Julian Huxley, Ernst Haeckel and Matthew Arnold. It achieved even greater success through the Thinker's Library series of books, published by Watts & Co. from 1929 until 1951 under the leadership of Charles Watts's son Fredrick. The Association's continued success in selling books of a heretical nature, mostly by agnostic or atheist authors, contributed to a growing rationalist zeal and a growing demand for this type of literature. By 1959 the Association had reached its highest membership, with more than 5,000 members. Yet its success also contributed to its demise: rationalist literature became so popular that the Association's readership was taken by larger, more established mainstream publishers. The result was a steady decline in membership.[1]

In 2002 the Association changed its name to The Rationalist Association. It currently publishes a quarterly magazine, the New Humanist.

In 2006 Jonathan Miller was chosen to be its President. He said in response to being chosen: "Not believing in religion is very widespread, but I think this community gets overlooked. I am flattered and honoured".[4]

Presidents and chairs[edit]

Presidents and chairs of the Rationalist Association
1913–1922 Herbert Leon[5][6]
1926–1929 Graham Wallas[7]
1929–1933 Harold Laski[7]
1933–1940 Harry Snell, 1st Baron Snell[7]
1940–1947 Charles Marsh Beadnell[7]
1948–1949 C. D. Darlington[7]
1949–1954 A. E. Heath[7]
1955–1970 Bertrand Russell[7]
1970–1973 Barbara Wootton, Baroness Wootton of Abinger[7]
1973–1981 Peter Ritchie Calder[7]
1982–1999 Hermann Bondi[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Colin Campbell. 1971. Towards a Sociology of Irreligion. London: MacMillan Press.
  2. ^ "A very brief history of the Rationalist Association". Retrieved 27 October 2013.
  3. ^ Joseph McCabe. 1908. Life and Letters of George Jacob Holyoake, Volume 2. London: Watts & Co.
  4. ^ "Sir Jonathan Miller CBE » British Humanist Association". Archived from the original on 7 June 2013. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
  5. ^ Watts, Charles A. (1917), R.P.A. Annual, The Rationalist Press Association
  6. ^ Whyte, Adam Gowans (1949), The Story of the R.P.A. 1899–1949, London: Watts & Co., p. 93
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Cooke, Bill. (2004). The Gathering of Infidels: A Hundred Years of the Rationalist Press Association. Prometheus Books. p. 325. ISBN 978-1591021964
  8. ^ Goldman, Lawrence. (2013). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2005-2008. Oxford University Press. p. 121. ISBN 978-0199671540


External links[edit]