Conference Speakers

Learn more about our conference speakers below. A full schedule of conference events can be found here.


Debbie Allen

Secular Coalition for America | USA

Debbie Allen, Acting Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America, has been active in the humanist movement since attending her first local chapter meetings in 2007 and her first AHA conference in 2008. In 2009 she founded the San Diego Coalition of Reason, a cooperative coalition of atheist, humanist and freethought groups. While assuming leadership roles in several organizations, she started a Recovering from Religion support group, a MAAF Meetup, a chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and she volunteered two summers for Camp Quest West. In 2011 Debbie became certified as a Humanist Chaplain in order to better serve and advocate for non-theists in the military.

Debbie was elected to the American Humanist Association Board of Directors in 2012, and served until April 2018. She also served as President of the Board of the Humanist Society, an adjunct program of the AHA that certifies and educates Humanist Celebrants.

Prior to her activism in secular causes, Debbie was an active member of her Reform synagogue — “out” as an atheist, serving on the board of directors and chairing several committees including Education, Social Action, and Outreach to Interfaith. She is retired from a career as a psychotherapist in private practice and research associate in neuropsychological at the UCSD School of Medicine.


Ryan Bell

Secular Student Alliance | USA

Ryan serves as the National Organizing Manager for the Secular Student Alliance and also as the Humanist Chaplain at University of Southern California.

He is a former Seventh-day Adventist pastor, who became an atheist after spending a ‘year without God’ as an experiment. Bell opened his church to those who were not sure about organized religion. After this daring move, Bell lost his position & income at two Christian Universities, yet he did not relent. He became an advocate on social justice, speaking for gay rights and marriage equality. He is a regular contributor at The Huffington Post and also podcasts to discuss his and other people's apostasy, and how they live their lives now without religion.Ryan Bell


Dr. Gary Berg-Cross

Washington Area Secular Humanists | USA

Gary, Cognitive Psychologist, is a long-time free thinker and secular humanist. He has taught at several colleges (SUNY, Widener, University of Delaware, George Washington University, and George Mason.) His professional has included research and publications on human cognition, artificial intelligence, data semantics and sharing as part of open science.

Gary serves on several advisory boards and committees including the Washington Area Secular Humanist, the US Research Data Alliance Leadership group, the Places and Spaces Advisory Board, the Ontology Forum, the F Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival and Friends of the Library Montgomery County. Upon retiring he has been an active contributor to the Secular Perspectives site.


Sonjiah Davis

RS Davis Health & Wellness | USA

Sonjiah V. Davis, LICSW, LCSW-C is a psychotherapist in private practice in Washington, DC. She specializes in depression, anxiety, LGBTQ+ issues and Narcissistic Abuse, and is part of The Secular Therapist Project. She obtained her Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and her Master of Social Work (MSW) from Howard University. She has served the Washington, DC community through several avenues fighting for human rights as a Human Rights Commissioner, an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, and women and children’s rights activist.


Fred Edwords

American Humanist Association | USA

Fred Edwords was executive director of the American Humanist Association for 15 years, editor of the Humanist magazine for 12, national director of the United Coalition of Reason for 6, and sat for 8 years on the Broader Social Impacts Committee of the Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. He is past president of Camp Quest, has served on the board of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (now called Humanists International) and the founding board of the National Center for Science Education, and has, over the past forty years, appeared on local and national radio and television in the United States and Canada, been interviewed on radio and for newspapers around the world, and has lectured in North America, Europe, and India. Now retired, he volunteers as the American Humanist Association’s historian and is a Humanist Celebrant Emeritus with the Humanist Society.


Debbie Goddard

American Atheists | USA

Debbie Goddard is an organizer with experience in secular and skeptic organizing, queer activism, and racial justice work. Recently hired as VP, Programs at American Atheists, she now oversees American Atheists’ organizing, activism, and outreach programs and is a senior member of the leadership team. Before joining American Atheists, Debbie worked at the Center for Inquiry directing Campus & Community Programs and African Americans for Humanism. While there, she launched a national billboard campaign highlighting black freethinkers, coordinated an international campaign on blasphemy laws and free expression, and organized the Women in Secularism 4 conference and the annual CFI Leadership Conferences.


Prof. Dr. George L. Hart

UC Berkely | USA

George Hart is Professor Emeritus of the Chair in Tamil Studies, at the University of California, Berkeley. His work primarily focuses on Classical Tamil Literature and Indian Civilization, Literature & Religion. He has written extensively on Premodern Tamil and South Indian Culture. He has translated several works from Classical Tamil into English, the latest one being ‘The 400 Poems of Wisdom and War’ (puRanaanooRu).

He is well-acquainted with comparative linguistics and literatures of other languages like Sanskrit, Russian, German, French, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi. He wrote on the position of Tamil as a Classical Language and subsequently, the Government of India awarded to Tamil Language, an official Classical Language status within the Republic of India. He was also awarded the title of Padma Shri, the third highest civilian honor of India.


Dr. Soma Ilangovan

Periyar International USA | USA

Soma Ilangovan is the President of Periyar International and is a doctor by profession. He is also the President of ISHV (Institute for Science and Human Values) and is very passionate in the cause of Social Justice and Tamil Language. He is a member of the Tamil American Peace Initiative, a group of Tamil Americans formed to advocate for lasting peace, justice, democracy and good governance in Sri Lanka.

Dr. Ilangovan is also the Coordinator of the Organizing Committee of the 10th International Conference-Seminar on Tamil Studies (ICSTS) otherwise called as the World Tamil Conference, held for the first time in the United States at Chicago. He is on a constant mission to propagate the humanist ideas of the great social reformer of South India - EVR Periyar, to the whole world.


Philipp Möller

Giordano Bruno Foundation | Germany

Möller is a bestselling author who serves on the advisory board of Giordano Bruno Foundation. He is best known for his “without religion the world would be a better place” speech at the first Disput\Berlin! Event. He shares his critical views on Religion, and is passionate about Humanism & Reconnaissance. Möller has stated that religion had hardly played a role in his upbringing and at age 10, he decided not to participate in religious education.

Möller's books in German: ‘I go to the Schoolyard’, ‘Am I freak, or what’ & ‘I have ghost flash’ and his book in English: ‘Godlessly Happy: Why We Would Be Better Without Religion’ are all best sellers. Via his podcasts, he interviews people on the subject of religion and raises funds to improve the awareness on discrimination against atheists. He is a strict teacher, yet a friendly speaker on the above social topics.


Dr. Ulrike Niklas

U. Cologne | Germany

Ulrike Niklas is a Professor and Managing Director of Institute of Indology and Tamil Studies (IITS) at the University of Cologne. Her focus is on Tamil Literature, Rural Culture, Dalit Movements, General Indology and Relations between South India & South East Asia. She is also a pioneer of the ThirukkuRaL Study Center at the Cologne University.

Her thesis was on an ancient Tamil text Muththolaayiram, but she has also worked on commentaries & prosodies on many other literary & grammatical texts. She has expanded her research on Dalit & Tribal Groups like the Irulars of Tamilnadu and is adept in handling both the Bhakthi & Rational Dravidian Literature. In addition to Tamil & German, her language skills include Latin, French, Sanskrit, Pali & other Dravidian languages.


Amanda Poppei

Washington Ethical Society | USA

Amanda Poppei is the Senior Leader at Washington Ethical Society in Washington, DC, a 400-person humanist congregation in Washington, DC. A graduate of Yale University (with distinction in Religious Studies) and Wesley Theological Seminary, Amanda has expertise in religious studies, ethics, humanism, feminism, and social justice work. She was the ministerial intern at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda, MD, and served as a chaplain at the Washington Hospital Center, where she completed a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. Amanda is a Unitarian Universalist minister as well as a certified Ethical Culture Leader, and has a strong background in interfaith work. She has served on the City-Wide Strategy Team of the Washington Interfaith Network and now is part of Faith Strategies, a DC-based clergy collective focused on shared action. Amanda also serves as President of the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association, and is a co-founder of the Humanist Clergy Collaboratory. She is a member of the Spiritual Advisory Committee for the TraRon Center, which works to support families affected by gun violence.


Dr. Madhvi Potluri

South Asian Humanist Association | USA

Dr. Madhvi Potluri is a staunch humanist and human rights advocate, and a strong proponent of free speech and free thought. She is a firm believer in equality among all human beings as well as an animal and nature lover. She is philanthropic and altruistic by nature and has been supporting several causes across the globe.

Dr. Madhvi currently holds the position of Secretary-External relations for South Asian Humanist Association (SAHA). Since its inception, she has participated in many humanist activities catering to South Asian diaspora and also presented on behalf of SAHA, at the Indian Humanists training camps conducted in India. By representing SAHA, she built a strong relationship with the Norwegian Humanist Association and Indian Humanists. Dr. Madhvi proudly represented SAHA at the Humanists International (formerly IHEU) annual congress in 2017.

Dr. Madhvi is also part of the core founding leadership team of “Science For Society.” She has been instrumental in providing expertise and thought leadership to promote and popularize science in third world countries.


Dr. R. Prabhakaran

Ulaga Tamizh Changam | USA

Prabhakaran is a pioneer in advancement of the magnum opus of the Tamil language – ThirukkuRaL throughout North America. He is also serving on the editorial board of the World Tamil Sangam, instituted by the Government of Tamil Nadu at Madurai, India. He is a technocrat and an expert in Tamil computing.

Prabhakaran has authored commentaries on classical texts of the Sangam Literature in Tamil – kuRunthogai and PuRanaanoorRu. He champions the cause of Pure Tamil without the mix-up of foreign adverse elements like Sanskrit. He is a passionate speaker at various forums on the Humanist Values in ThirukkuRaL and keeps striving to propagate it to all levels of generations – from the children to the parents of Tamil diaspora.


Rep. Jamie Raskin

US House of Representatives (D-MD) | USA

Congressman Jamie Raskin proudly represents Maryland’s 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. The district includes parts of Montgomery, Carroll, and Frederick Counties. Congressman Raskin was sworn into his second Term at the start of the 116th Congress on January 3, 2019.

Congressman Raskin is a returning Member of the House Judiciary Committee, the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and the Committee on House Administration. This Congress, he joined the House Committee on Rules and now Chairs the Rules Subcommittee on Expedited Procedures. Raskin is Vice Chair of  the House Administration Committee, Chair of the Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Vice Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution. Raskin is the Caucus Leadership Representative for the 116th Congress, a role in which he represents Junior Members of the Caucus (those who have served five or less Terms) at the leadership table. He was also appointed to serve as a Senior Whip for the 116th Congress.

Prior to his time in Congress, Raskin was a three-term State Senator in Maryland, where he also served as the Senate Majority Whip. He quickly earned a reputation for building coalitions in Annapolis, and delivered a series of landmark legislative accomplishments. He was also a professor of constitutional law at American University’s Washington College of Law for more than 25 years. He authored several books, including the Washington Post best-seller Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court versus the American People and the highly-acclaimed We the Students: Supreme Court Cases For and About America’s Students, which has sold more than 50,000 copies.

Congressman Raskin is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School. He and his wife, Sarah Bloom Raskin, live in Takoma Park with their dogs, Potter and Toby. They have three children: Tabitha, Tommy, and Hannah.


Dr. Kannabiran Ravishankar

U. Paris | The Netherlands

Ravi (or KRS) is a Researcher and Adjunct Professor at the CNRS Paris - Sorbonne University. Prior to moving to Europe, he was an adjunct scholar at the Columbia University, New York. He focuses primarily in Comparative Linguistics. His specializations are Classical Tamil Literature, History of Tamil Grammar and Social Principles & Concepts of Science in the Language Corpus. He is a full time Investment Banker by profession.

His publications include: Comparative Analysis of Drama in Shakespeare & Chilapathikaaram, Painting Patterns in the Word Cloud of ThirukkuRaL and Comparative Studies of Master Poets - Ilango and Kamban from a Social Justice & Humanist standpoint. As he is well versed in Sanskrit (Sama Veda) he highlights the socio-linguistics struggle of the Tamil language against Sanskrit. He is adept in handling both Devotional & Rational Literature. KRS has authored the books: ‘The Unknown Tamil Language’ & ‘What is Tamil?’


Roy Speckhardt

American Humanist Association | USA

Roy is the executive director of American Humanist Association (AHA), which is the oldest & largest groups of humanists & atheists in the United States, based in Washington DC. He also serves on the board of directors of Humanist Institute and on the advisory board of Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute.

He is a fundraiser for various causes, including AIDS research and wildlife conservation. He has also taken up the cause of equal protection and engaged in legal battles to remove the phrase ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance. He appears on CNN, Good Morning America, and National Public Radio and regularly writes columns for The Huffington Post and Patheos. Roy has authored the book: Creating Change Through Humanism.


Dr. Thol. Thirumavalavan, M.P.

Thol Thirumavalavan (fondly called Thiruma) proudly represents the Chidambaram constituency of the State of Tamilnadu in Parliament of India and was sworn into his 2nd term at the start of the 17th House of the People (Lok Sabha) in May 2019.

Annan (Elder Brother) Thiruma is a passionate Tamil Activist and a Humanist. He strives to end the caste based oppression of the under-privileged people in the state of Tamilnadu and throughout India. He is a field worker and at the same time a prominent leader, who engages in democratic activism and humanism to fight for social justice to the minorities and all of the oppressed communities including the Dalits. He is the founding President and heads the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) party and advocates grass root resistance to end inequalities in any form.

Dr. Thiruma is not only a Social Reformer and a politician, but also an accomplished Writer, Tamil Scholar and a Poet. He has authored more than 10 books and his recent book ‘Amaippaai Thiralvom’ is a best seller. He was recently conferred a Ph. D. for his socio-academic work ‘Meenatchipuram Religious Conversions – A Research Study’.


Pa. Thirumavelan

Kalaignar TV | India

Thirumavelan is a Journalist, Media Analyst, Author, Essayist and a contemporary Speaker.

He works at the Kalaignar TV and has held challenging roles and positions in various media houses of Tamilnadu, India. He is an avid interviewer, passionate speaker, and a data driven political analyst. His deep knowledge in the Social Justice movements of Tamilnadu, India, Sri Lanka and the World has earned him great accolades in the media world.

His publications include: Elders & Mothers, Today’s Eezham, The History of a Nation Exploited, and Is Periyar’s Social Justice only for the middle classes? He laces his essays with documentary evidence from historical journals and is considered a media savvy author and one of the very few journalists who has widely read about the Dravidian Movement for Social Justice.


Toni Van Pelt

National Organization for Women | USA

Toni Van Pelt, a longtime feminist and humanist activist, was elected president of NOW in July 2017. She is also president of the NOW Foundation and chair of the NOW Political Action Committee, and serves as the principal spokeswoman for all three entities. Van Pelt oversees NOW’s multi-issue agenda, which includes: achieving constitutional equality for women, advancing reproductive rights and justice, promoting racial justice, stopping violence against women, winning civil and human rights for the LGBTQIA+ community, and ensuring economic justice.

Spurred to action by attacks on reproductive rights in her home state of Florida, Van Pelt has served in leadership positions at all levels of NOW since 1989. She is a past president of Florida NOW (1996-2003) and past director of NOW’s southeast region–in addition to serving two terms on the national board (2010-2014). Van Pelt began her journey with the organization as the treasurer of the Upper Pinellas NOW chapter, and remains fiercely devoted to grassroots activists working at the local level.

Van Pelt is a longtime advocate for secular humanism, and the separation of church and state. Prior to joining the National Action Center full-time, she lobbied for policies driven by the empirical scientific evidence as opposed to faith. She is co-founder, president, and public policy director for the Institute for Science and Human Values. A former vice president and public policy director of the Center for Inquiry, Van Pelt organized and directed one of the first public policy offices of the secular humanist movement in Washington, D.C.

Van Pelt is a former member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and her past career as the owner of a travel agency specializing in international travel has given her the opportunity to expand her worldview through global travel. She is committed to building an inclusive, intersectional, and intergenerational feminist movement.


Dr. K. Veeramani

Dravidar Kazhagam | India

Veeramani (or Aasiriyar as he is fondly addressed, meaning ‘The Teacher’) is the President of the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), the Parent Organization of all Social Reformation in Tamilnadu. Great social reformers of the century like EVR Periyar & CN Annadurai have adorned this seat at the DK.

Veeramani is a Social Worker and has pioneered various efforts in the cause of Social Justice and the Tamil Language. He began working with Periyar and assisted him in editing Viduthalai, the rationalist daily. He now runs four magazines for children & the budding rationalists.He is always active in social campaigns and agitations in support of the socially discriminated people. Periyar International USA has instituted an annual award, named in his honor and its first recipient was the former Prime Minister of India, Mr. VP Singh. Aasiriyar Veeramani is also an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist International.


Dr. Sven Wortman

U. Cologne | Germany

Sven is a Researcher at the Institute of Indology and Tamil Studies (IITS) at University of Cologne. He also specializes in Psychology (part-time) at the University of Hagen. He was also a Research Associate at the Ruhr University Chair of Religious Studies, on the project ‘Semantic-Social Network Analysis as an Instrument for Researching Religious Contacts’.

His publications include: Strategies of the Vedic-Brahmanic Religion for Coping with Religious Plurality & Periyar EV Ramasamy - a short biography. He is very passionate in the areas of Tamil Teaching & Inter religious perceptions. Sven has developed deep ties with South India and the Tamil land.