Rationalist Association

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Rationalist Association
Formation 1885
Location United Kingdom
Jonathan Miller
Chief Executive
Jose Gonsalves

The Rationalist Association, originally the Rationalist Press Association, is an organization in the United Kingdom, founded in 1885 by a group of free thinkers who were unhappy with the increasing political and decreasingly intellectual tenor of the British secularist movement.[1] The purpose of the Press Association was to publish literature that was too anti-religious to be handled by main stream publishers and book sellers. The RPA 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 settling 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 in 1902 when it started selling reprints of serious scientific works by authors like Julian Huxley, Ernst Haeckel and Matthew Arnold. They achieved even greater success through the Watts and Co. Thinker's Library book series, published from 1929 until 1951 under the leadership of Charles Watts' son, Fredrick. Their continued success in selling books of a heretical nature, mostly from agnostic or atheist authors, contributed to a growing rationalist zeal in the British public and a growing demand for this type of literature. By 1959 the Association had reached its highest membership, with over 5,000 members. Yet its success also contributed to its demise. Rationalist literature became too popular in future decades and their readership was stolen by larger more established mainstream publishers. The result was a steady decline in membership.[1]

In 2002 the RPA changed its name to the Rationalist Association, and currently publishes the bi-monthly New Humanist magazine. 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]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Colin Campbell. 1971. Towards a Sociology of Irreligion. London: McMillan 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 May 2014. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 


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