I knew little about Alain de Botton before his talk yesterday at the Dublin Writers Festival. I knew roughly what kind of stuff he wrote about and that he had a Twitter account with "inspiring" tweets. My husband is a fan, and managed to persuade me to go see the talk. The Liberty Hall Theatre, where the talk was held, turned out to be a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing venue, which was stuffed to the gills with enthusiastic listeners.
De Botton turned out to be an excellent speaker, a pleasure to listen to even if you didn't know his work or didn't always agree with him. He spoke mostly about his latest book, Religion for Atheists, which discusses what dedicated atheists, such as he himself, might have to learn from religions. His main argument was that the secular should not automatically consider religions stupid and childish, but instead appreciate and be inspired by their methods of teaching, creating communities and producing art. He had insights into education and organisation of the humanities as well as such diverse material as the calendar year, functions of art and the necessity of beauty in architecture. Unfortunately he only touched these topics; I would have been interested to hear more about them. I suspect that he could have easily done an entire series of talks. On a number of occasions he directly or indirectly addressed Richard Dawkins (albeit not in a particularly agreeing manner), and it occurred to me that scheduling his talk the day after Dawkins's created a very interesting two-day theme of Atheism Today, or, the Problem of Religion Today, if you prefer.
You can see photographs of the talk on the festival website. The festival continues until the weekend.