A Website About Humanist Chaplaincies December 10, 2011

A Website About Humanist Chaplaincies

In case you’re curious what Humanist Chaplains are all about, where you can find some, and how you can start a chaplaincy at your school, the American Humanist Association has just launched a new website to answer those questions:

Religious chaplaincies are a staple at any university. Often catered to specific religious traditions, they offer advice, counsel, and community. As nonbelievers, atheist students usually do not have access to this type of community, and humanist chaplaincies offer an alternative.

Many see the university chaplaincy as an essential part of the larger humanist movement. At the 2011 AHA conference, in a breakout session entitled “The Future of Humanism,” many of the panelists agreed that the university chaplaincy was essential to the movement’s future: it not only provides support for humanist students, but offers a humanist viewpoint in religious discussions, has the potential to influence policies, and are able to connect alumni to humanist communities after graduation — aiding the transition from humanist student to the post-college adult.

As Rutgers University Humanist Chaplain Barry Klassel put it, “Chaplaincies have a distinct and complementary function. Chaplaincies can provide a permanent humanist presence and can help student groups stay strong as their leadership changes with graduation. We can maintain contact with students beyond their graduations and help them find groups to join when they settle down with jobs and families.”

There are only four Humanist Chaplains at universities right now, but more may be in the works.

I hear a lot of complaining from people who don’t like the terminology they use (which isn’t a big deal) or the notion that they’re advocating traditions/ceremonies/things-that-churches-do (which are neither bad nor mandatory).

Regardless, it’s hard to argue against the services they provide. Someone to preside over my wedding? Act as a counselor when I need one? Give me an opportunity to connect and network with other like-minded people after I graduate? Those are privileges usually reserved for the religious.

We deserve the same.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Trace

    “…can help student groups stay strong as their leadership changes with graduation.”Exactly.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t get it. I can find marriage officiators, secular-friendly organizations, and counselors without resorting to parroting religious hierarchies. Google pretty much covers all of that.  We may “deserve” it, but who needs it?

  • Erp

    But on campus?  Though this does depend on the university and some universities are more isolated than others.

    Universities like the military can be conservative and don’t like creating new titles if they can shoe horn something into an old title.  This does not mean the role is the same just as a Jewish chaplain is different from a Catholic chaplain; a Humanist chaplain would be different from both. 

  • Anonymous

    I’m not aware of any campuses that don’t have Google.

  • Jfigdor

    Google is not a replacement for a community of engaged intellectuals, although it is certainly an important tool for keeping Atheists and Humanists connected. And by the way, we’re about to announce a new Chaplaincy (the fifth) pretty soon…

  • ThereMightBeASecond

    I have never heard of religious chaplaincies at Universities. Is this another American thing?

  • Anonymous

    The name “chaplaincy” is somewhat unfortunate, because it does have an explicitly religious connotation, but it’s a very useful term because it describes the functions quite well, so I think it’s acceptable.

    As for the objection that it is re-constructing religion:

    – Things like community, ritual, and charity do not belong to religion. By arguing that Humanism becomes a religion in doing these things we actually play into the theist argument that these things are wholly owned by religion and no one else has the right to use them.
    – Though certainly not everyone requires the services of Humanist chaplaincies (or, outside the military and college settings, Humanist groups) some people do. How many times have we talked about how many people resist leaving their religions because they fear the accompanying loss of community that goes with it? How many people do you personally know who remain nominal members of their faith simply for weddings, funerals etc.? If we want that to change, we have to offer alternatives for people who want them. Humanist chaplaincies do that.
    – There is no coercion in Humanism. There is no implication that you cannot be a good person without being a Humanist. There are no threats of punishment, real or supernatural, for those who do not conform to Humanism. This alone makes it very different from many religions.

    Humanist chaplaincies or groups are not for everyone, and that’s cool. But a group that meets regularly, gets together for charity, and performs weddings, baby-namings and funerals does not a religion make.

  • bigjohn756

    Humanist chaplain is an oxymoron. The term makes no sense at all. How about Humanist advisor, or, Humanist personal consultant. Anything but chaplain which clearly describes a religious person only.

  • Rod Chlebek

    They call them celebrants as well.

  • Rod Chlebek

    The actual application is for a celebrant, a term that fewer people are familiar with. Maybe that’s why there sticking with chaplain.

  • I attend one of the universities which has a Humanist chaplaincy, and I am extremely proud of my university for adding this resource.  I am an atheist, but I grew up in a Christian church. There are non-religious people who do and will benefit from additional support and counseling from a humanist leader.  Also, many atheist/skeptical groups in college have less institutional help than religious groups because we don’t have a dedicated adult leader helping us all the time. We’re on our own. But now, we have someone to back us up, and someone to talk to. College can be a vulnerable and perilous time, so I am thankful that there are more resources for atheist, agnostic, and humanist students on my campus.

  • Anonymous

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  • You said, “Act as a counselor when I need one?” – Here in Idaho, religious folks can act the same as qualified MFCC’s (marriage, family and child counselors)… their only qualification being religion!  How would you like to be an atheist seeking grief or marriage counseling, and unknowingly finding yourself receiving faith-based counseling?  Do not allow religious exemption for what is an otherwise licensed profession!

  • Frank Bellamy

    It’s very easy to argue against humanist chaplaincies.
    Firstly you need to understand that religious chaplaincies are not a staple of
    many universities. The University of Delaware, the University of Virginia, and
    the University of Maryland Baltimore County are three that I know of that do
    not have chaplains at all.


    As far as ceremonies, we have celebrants to perform private
    ceremonies already through CFI’s Secular Celebrant Program and AHA’s Humanist
    Celebrant Program. There is no logical reason to combine the role of celebrant with
    counseling or organizing a community or anything else that a humanist chaplain
    is supposed to do. The only reason these chaplains want to combine the roles is
    to imitate religious institutions, and that is a terrible reason to do
    something. The other problem with these chaplains is that sometimes they
    participate in university wide ceremonies, either interfaith vigils of some
    kind or graduation ceremonies. Humanism has no place at those kinds of events.


    As far as counseling, what qualifications do these chaplains
    have? They are trained in theology, not psychology, and I can’t imagine what
    possible use an atheist could have for counseling from a theologian. We base
    our views on science. If what one means is psychological counseling, universities
    generally have counseling centers where students can get that from trained
    mental health professionals. If what one needs is to have a discussion about
    values or whatever, one can have that conversation with other students in an
    atheist student group or in any number of other contexts, what makes a chaplain
    any more qualified than anyone else to have that conversation? Nothing that I
    can see. And giving these people titles gives the false impression that they
    have some kind of authority that they don’t, and that is a problem.


    As far as community, those are great, but there is an alternate model of organizing communities
    for secular students on college campuses exemplified by the Secular Student
    Alliance and CFI On Campus. Students can organize and lead themselves through
    university recognized student groups supported by national organizations. This
    model has had a lot of success and has a lot of room to grow. Chaplains
    are completely unnecessary.


    And as far as helping alumni
    connect, the SSA recently hired an staff person to do exactly that, so again
    there is no need for chaplaincies.


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