This collection of essays by 27 authors comes from the United States, where a far larger proportion of the population than in Britain follows the formalities of religious observance. Although the Republic was founded by avowed secularists, political nemesis would await any modern candidates for the presidency who declared their agnosticism. There are humanists who insist that their standpoint is shared by people who embrace a broad range of social and political philosophies and that we limit its appeal by suggesting that a variety of ideological approaches should accompany our rejection of religious attitudes. But there are also humanists who argue that a series of political imperatives inevitably follow from the repudiation of supernatural assumptions.

The book is structured around the Humanist Manifesto 2000 drafted by Professor Paul Kurtz, reproduced here in summary with a preliminary quotation from him, declaring that "If we are to influence the future of humankind, we will need to work increasingly with and through the new centres of power and influence to improve equity and stability, alleviate poverty, reduce conflict, and safeguard the environment."

Many readers of this journal may actually remember the valedictory 'Rationalist Notes' of its long-term editor Nicolas Walter in his column in this journal for December 1999. He remarked there that "the document, in its original form, has been signed by several leading humanists all over the world, but not by me. I know little which is more likely to put most ordinary unbelievers off Humanism for good. As well as being badly written, it is too long, too vague, too pompous, too rhetorical, too unrealistic and too boring. I suggest that Humanism needs fewer manifestos and more manifestations."

I don't know what any author could do to respond to such a devastating put-down. But the same issue of New Humanist included Paul Kurtz's defence of the text, faced by Jim Herrick's far more gentle criticism.

The editors may, indeed, have taken the rebukes to heart, since that Humanist Manifesto now reappears as one chapter in a book which in many ways is considerably more informative than the usual news media on the issues behind some of today's 'insoluble' conflicts. For example, Tanar Edis discusses the issue of 'democracy vs. secularism' in the Muslim world, observing that "there is nothing more heartening to Muslim conservatives than signs that the Enlightenment is faltering in the West." But he also discovers that one impulse towards secularism comes from Iran, simply because that country experienced the Islamic revolution, so that many Iranians "would like to move towards a less explicitly religious form of government".

Barry Seidman reminds us that without American support, Sharon and his supporters could never have taken office in Israel, "as they only got in by creating the situations which lead to the fear which in turn supports their hard-line policies". He knows that the older generation of both Palestinians and Jewish settlers remember harmony and co-operation, before the religious zealots took over the dialogue and ended it. Seidman urges the creation of the equivalent of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Another instance of the harm done to ordinary civil society by religious rivalry and divisiveness is provided in the chapter on Nigeria by Leo Igwe of the Nigerian Humanist Movement. He observes how religion has caused "and is still causing so much darkness, decay and misery in Africa" since "much more than slavery, racism or colonialism, the religious faiths were responsible for the under-development of Africa and the black world." And to this he has to add the subsequent riots and clashes between Christians and Muslims.

Several contributors discuss the state of humanism in the light of the political situation in the United States. Katherine Yurica describes the influence of a political religious movement called Dominionism on the Republican Party and thence on the White House. Laurence Britt examines George W Bush as 'The Anti-Humanist', while Douglas Kellner's critical reflections on the Bush administration see it as an Orwellian nightmare with strong religious overtones.

This latest version of the book is dedicated to the memory of one of its contributors, Edward Said (1935–2003), very appropriately, since he "epitomised humanism by giving voice to the oppressed and disenfranchised everywhere", and since he was a spokesman for "the environmental, human rights, and libertarian impulses that bind us together in this tiny planet".

Towards a new Political Humanism is available from Amazon (UK)