Humanist Chaplain at Rutgers October 10, 2009

Humanist Chaplain at Rutgers

There was a great profile in the Rutgers FOCUS about Barry Klassel, the Humanist Chaplain at the school.

Klassel, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, and a master’s degree in theater from the University of Pittsburgh, grew up in a Jewish household and gravitated to Humanism in college.

“It started with a sincere effort to try to understand what it is that human beings can know and cannot know,” he said. “My conclusion was that this world is something we can know while the spirit world is something we cannot really know.

“Why not pay attention to what we can know?”

As a chaplain, Klassel said he would draw on Humanist principles of compassion and respect rather than prayer and belief in God.

“What’s extremely important is compassion, the compassion of another human being who goes through issues, who has difficulties,” he said. “That kind of connection from one human being to another is just as powerful as any other type of connection.”

For those of you keeping count, that makes four Humanist chaplains currently serving at universities throughout the country.

In addition to Klassel, there is Greg Epstein (Harvard), Dr. Anne Klaeysen (Adelphi), and Boe Meyerson (Columbia).

(via @SecStuAlliance)


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I love it! I wish him all the success and send him warm fuzzies. ^_^

  • Frank

    I have disliked the idea of a humanist chaplain since I attended Epsteins new humanism conference in April 07 and was asked to recite a benediction. I’m not clear on what positive thing a chaplain generally, or a humanist chaplain specifically, is supposed to do. And I don’t see how anyone who is an atheist in any meaningful sense could call themselves a chaplain or accept a place in a religious structure. And the fact is two of these four chaplains come out of the ethical culture stuff, and one out of humanistic judaism. And while I’m sure both ethical culture and humanistic judiasm can be useful allies on social issues, I just can’t see them as part of our movement. They consider themselves religious, they are registered as religious nonprofits, so whatever they are they are not part of the secular movement. And while I certianly see these humanist chaplains as less of an evil than, say, evangelical christian chaplains, I still see them as religious entities that our goal should ultimately be to do away with.

    Also, isn’t Rutgers public? So how could they have chaplains? Isn’t that a clear violation of church/state separation?

  • Erp

    He is not paid by Rutgers (in contrast to Harvard’s humanist chaplain who holds an endowed position). Instead he is recognized by Rutgers (along with over 20 other chaplains from other traditions). Recognition probably means he is allowed on campus, can reserve rooms for humanist meetings, is listed on the university info pages for religious groups, etc.. In return he and the other chaplains have to abide by university rules (pdf).

    Rutgers did have a chaplain from 1926-1974 but when the holder retired in 1974 (after over 25 years of service) the position was eliminated.

    Its current situation is probably an attempt to balance the free exercise rights of students and government establishment especially in the residential colleges.

    BTW I should point out that a Humanist holds a similar status as Stanford though he is not called a Stanford chaplain.

  • I’m pretty certain Boston University has a humanist chaplain. Or at least used to — I was there as an undergrad during spring 07, and went to the vigil for VA Tech massacre victims. They introduced all the chaplains to us, and one of them was humanist. It was the first time I’d ever thought of their being any sort of society or community for non-theists.

  • Erp

    I think a difference might be between a chaplain paid for by the university such as Greg Epstein of Harvard and a chaplain paid for by an outside group who serves and is recognized by a university such as the other 3 in Hemant’s list. Brown seems to have six staff chaplains; no current humanist chaplain as either staff or affiliate (though there is a UU). Of course I could be wrong.

  • muggle

    Frank, I agree. I find even the whole secular humanist movement too religious for my taste.

    While it lacks a belief in God, it still sets up with a set of rules and it’s leaders tend to think they know better than you how to decide such things as moral behavior etc.

    What a turn-off! No God isn’t necessary to live a moral life but I don’t need a bunch of self-righteous old farts like Paul Kurtz telling me what’s moral and what isn’t either.

    Common sense would dictate that. No, the Golden Rule doesn’t always apply. It’s egotistical at best to assume what you’d want is what the other person would. Common sense should tell anyone that you need to evaluate each situation and the individuals involved.