The year 2020 has posed huge challenges, for many of us on a personal level to the human species as a whole. There has been so much to interrogate, report and reflect upon. The New Humanist team took great joy in reading over the wealth of material published over the last 12 months in an effort to select the very best of the year. In no particular order, below are our Top 20 of 2020. Thank you for your readership, and see you on the other side.


1. Why so much preaching in British pop? by Caspar Melville

Our erstwhile editor asks why, from Stormzy to Kanye West, chart-topping artists are increasingly keen to proclaim their commitment to Christianity. Do we want faith mixed up with our funk, God in our grime, Jesus in our jazz?

2. Engineering Nature by Peter Forbes

"If we have caused global heating and spread plagues around the planet, it’s also true that we have – just in time – developed the technologies to mitigate these horrors." A hopeful and inspiring piece on the new techniques in chemistry using the power of nature to fight existential challenges.


3. Battle Lines by Will McCallum

The veteran climate activist and Head of Oceans at Greenpeace UK makes an important intervention on climate change and the culture wars. A sharply polarised debate is stifling progress. How do we break the impasse?

4. The Chains of the Past by Ayo Awokoya

Ayo Awokoya investigates the controversial theory of inherited trauma. Could it help explain why black people are overrepresented in the psychiatric system?


5. Stop Talking About Loneliness by James Robins

The pandemic has accelerated a trend ongoing for centuries. Let’s call it what it is: alienation.

6. A Molecular Affair by Alice Bell

How did carbon dioxide go from a 19th-century health fad to a planet-destroying pariah? Alice Bell charts the history of humanity's relationship to the compound CO2.

7. Q&A with Raymond Tallis

The philosopher, poet, novelist and cultural critic – previously also a physician and clinical scientist – discusses his latest book “Seeing Ourselves: Reclaiming Humanity from God and Science”.

8. Giving Away Our DNA by Giovanni Tiso

The dramatic rise and fall of genetic testing company 23andMe shines a light on issues ranging from personal health to collective surveillance, from privilege to inequality, from genealogy to race (and a great deal of racism).


9. The Class of 2020 by Samira Ahmed

Capturing the historical moment when more than a million British teens missed out on their big summer exams, Samira Ahmed talks to poets Simon Armitage and Andrew McMillan about education, testing, loss and liberation.

10. A Secular Pilgrimage by Cliff James

When Cliff James won compensation for abuse from the Church, he used it to search for a better society – and ended up confronting his past.

11. Should Trees Have Lawyers? by Nicola Cutcher

An uplifting piece on the campaigners around the world successfully arguing that mountains, trees and rivers should have legal rights.


12. Leaving the Black Church: an interview with Audrey Simmons

A key member of the Association of Black Humanists discusses the unique challenges faced by black apostates and the need to ensure that humanism is welcoming to all.

13. Quarantine by Michael Rosen

Our "In a Word" columnist returns after a long battle with Covid-19 to consider a word that was suddenly on everyone's lips this year.

14. Fear and Loathing in Hong Kong by Ting Guo

"Am I a coloniser? I find myself increasingly asking this question, as a woman from mainland China living in Hong Kong." As Beijing’s political dominance intensifies, Ting Guo writes about rising tensions between ordinary citizens.


15. Watching the Watchmen by Kaya Genç

As we covered in our autumn issue Democracy Under Threat, authoritarian regimes around the world have used Covid-19 to solidify their control. From Istanbul under lockdown, Kaya Genç reports on the return of the "Watchmen", Turkey's brutal auxiliary police force.

16. Save the Children by Richard Scorer

The conspiracy cult QAnon is undermining vital child protection work, as abuse lawyer and author Richard Scorer reports.


17. Miracle of the Plague Year by Marcus Chown

What did you do during lockdown? While bubonic plague was raging in London, a 22-year-old man named Isaac Newton made a discovery while isolating at his family farm...

18. What is the Meaning of Good Health? by Peter Salmon

Many of us are currently self-diagnosing, but as philosopher Georges Canguilhem argued, disease is not a fixed category.

19. Losing Faith by Preeti Jha

Leaving Islam in Malaysia poses social and legal challenges – but a new generation is demanding change.


20. I'm a New Man by Laurie Taylor

Finally, there were moments of light and laughter in the general 2020 gloom. Laurie Taylor spent the lockdown body-building and learning Italian.

To all of our readers: Felice anno nuovo!