Bill Cooke

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Bill Cooke
Dictionary of Atheism, Skepticism, and Humanism (2005)

Bill Cooke (30 August, 1956 - )

Cooke, the son of Geoffrey and Patricia Cooke, was born in Nairobi, Kenya. He was christened Charles William Newton, but it was the family's intention that he would be known as Bill, as his grandfather was.

He was raised in the last years of colonial rule in Kenya and through its first years as an independent country. In 1965 the family migrated to New Zealand, where he has spent most of his life. Cooke has also lived in the United Kingdom and the United States.


Cooke's primary education was in Kenya, Britain, and New Zealand. His tertiary education was in New Zealand, beginning with an M.A. Hons) in political science (Auckland University, 1977); two postgraduate diplomas (both with Distinction), one in history and philosophy (Massey University, 1991), one in religious studies (Massey University, 1995); and a Ph. D. in religious studies (Victoria University of Wellington, 1998).


From 1996 till 2002, then again from 2005 till 2008, Cooke was Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer, then Programme Leader, at the School of Visual Arts, University of Auckland at Manukau], where he taught courses in philosophy, comparative religion and mythology, and supervised senior students. He served for four years as co-editor of Probe, the academic journal of the School of Visual Arts and represented the department on the Institute’s ethics committee.

Between 2002 and 2004 Cooke worked as the International Director at the Center for Inquiry, a humanist think-tank, based in Buffalo, New York. In 2004 he became a Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion. Between 2003 and 2006 he held the honorary title of Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Buffalo.


Cooke’s main interest is in intellectual history, particularly the history and nature of the various forms of atheism, humanism and rationalism. His work revolves around re-articulating an authentic humanist world view for the twenty-first century.

His main books include:

Heathen in Godzone: Seventy Years of Rationalism in New Zealand (NZARH, 1998);
A Rebel to His Last Breath: Joseph McCabe and Rationalism (Prometheus, 2001); and
The Blasphemy Depot: A Hundred Years of the Rationalist Press Association (RPA, 2003).
This title was reissued in 2004 by Prometheus Books under the title The Gathering of the Infidels: A Hundred Years of the Rationalist Press Association.

He then wrote a Dictionary of Atheism, Skepticism and Humanism (Prometheus, 2006), an easy-reference source of information for non-specialists. His next work was A Wealth of Insights: Humanist Thoughts since the Enlightenment (Prometheus, 2010), a more sustained intellectual history of humanism since the word was coined in 1808.

Cooke has also written entries for the Encyclopedia of Anthropology (Sage, 2006), the New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (Prometheus, 2007), and the Encyclopedia of Time (Sage, 2009. He has contributed chapters to edited works, the most recent being Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics and Secularists (Greenwood, 2008), edited by S. T. Joshi. Cooke has written more than 170 articles and about 120 book reviews in international journals. Since 2000 he has written a column of art criticism for Art all, the magazine published by the New Zealand organisation, Artists Alliance.

Rationalist/Humanist Activities

Since 2004 Cooke has been a Senior Editor of Free Inquiry, the journal of the Council for Secular Humanism in the United States and was, from 1992 until 2008, Editor-in-Chief of The Open Society, the official journal of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (NZARH). Cooke held various offices in the NZARH between 1988 and 2009, serving as president between 1993 and 1997. In 2001 he was elected an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist International, based in New Delhi, India. He is a Life Member of the NZARH, the Rationalist Association in Britain, and the Atheist Centre in India.

Cooke is on the Board of Trustees of NZARH.


Bill Cooke is married to Bobbie Douglas Cooke, an artist. When not writing on the history of humanism, Cooke trawls secondhand bookshops, visits art galleries, listens to 1970s rock music, and enjoys generous quantities of curry and red wine.