The Value of Humanist Chaplaincies


  • University-based Humanist Chaplaincies can offer many benefits to students and the broader community which are currently unfulfilled by other university organizations.
  • Nonreligious students are entitled to the same support as all other students, and Chaplaincies can help provide opportunities for community, experiential education, growth, mutual support and mentoring.

Humanist Chaplaincies are an idea whose time has come. In October 2011, The Humanist Chaplaincy at American University was recognized and welcomed by the American University Rationalists and Atheists (AURA, an affiliate of the Secular Students Alliance) and by the American University Chaplains Council to serve University students, faculty, and staff who embrace or are exploring a Humanist philosophy of life – It will serve University students, faculty, and staff who embrace or are exploring a Humanist philosophy of life, and becomes the fourth university Humanist chaplaincy after Harvard, Rutgers and Columbia (Stanford University previously had a Humanist Chaplaincy, but the post is currently vacant). The Humanist Chaplaincy at American University, like other Humanist chaplaincies, seeks to serve the University and the wider community in the following five ways:

  1. Offering educational programs, services, and materials to promote the wider and deeper understanding of Humanism, its meaning, history, forms, and pragmatic relevance to our lives, as well as its relationships with various traditions, philosophies, and fields – from the religious to the secular, from the arts and sciences to the full spectrum of disciplines and professions taught at the University.
  2. Supporting and fostering the personal development and well-being of students and the broader community, with particular focus on the moral, emotional, psycho-social, and philosophical facets of life, including the human search for and creation of meaning and purpose in our lives.
  3. Facilitating the development of a healthy and vibrant Humanist community at AU that fulfills a measure of our common need for interpersonal connectedness and friendship, intimacy and love, and participation in and belonging to a circle of like-minded others committed to the greater good.
  4. Actively engaging with and benefiting the larger community, society, and world in which the University operates through service and advocacy that applies the vision and values of Humanism such as affirming, defending, and advancing the equality, liberty, and humanity of all, as well as standing with and aiding the unfortunate and disadvantaged, the exploited and oppressed.
  5. Educating ourselves and others about the imperative of mutual respect, tolerance, and co-operation to achieve humanity’s shared goals in a free, fair, and pluralist democracy.

Humanist Chaplaincies offer a broad range of benefits to nonreligious university students, and I encourage you all to consider lobbying for the creation of such an institution at your college or alma mater. Students at Tufts recently mounted a spirited campaign in favor of establishing a Humanist Chaplaincy there: as one student remarked, there is an “unfulfilled need at Tufts for a non-religious community that addresses the spiritual needs of secular students”. The same could be said of many campuses across America. As the number of nonreligious students grows, so will the need for Humanist Chaplaincies.

About Ben Biber

Chaplain Binyamin Biber is an ordained Humanistic rabbi who has for a decade served a DC congregation called Machar, the Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism. He is also currently the President of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis - North America, a member of the Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street – working for a just peace between Israel and Palestine, and a board member of the Humanist Society, the professional organization of chaplains and officiants active within the American Humanist Association (AHA).

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