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Greg Epstein, unanimously elected by his fellow university chaplains, says: ‘I want to be a positive force’
Harvard University, originally founded with a mission to educate clergymen in order to minister to New England’s early Puritan colonists, has a new chief chaplain. His name is Greg Epstein – and he is an atheist.
Epstein, author of Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, has been the university’s humanist chaplain since 2005 before being unanimously elected by his fellow campus chaplains as the university chaplains organization’s new president, the New York Times reported.
The 44-year-old, who was raised in a Jewish household, has been described as a “godfather to the [humanist] movement”, a secular, values-based philosophy that focuses on people’s relationships with each other instead of with God.
As Harvard University’s new chief chaplain, Epstein will coordinate activities of over 40 chaplains from more than 20 different religious, spiritual and ethical traditions.Advertisementhttps://a01b75ed1ef070b8859045fb4b64ae34.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
“I want to support students and the university community together around the fact that it’s been an extraordinarily trying time and almost anybody could be expected to have lost a little faith in humanity in recent years,” he told the Guardian on Friday.
“We have a lot that divides us theologically but we have a tremendous amount in common when it comes to our shared desires … to support the human beings in our community as they try to live lives of meaning and purpose in a world that can sometimes threaten to rob us of [those senses], regardless of our beliefs,” he added.
Epstein’s other priority is ensuring that he and his colleagues serve the university’s most marginalized communities.
“I want to be a positive force … against the vision of Harvard that some people have as an institution of privilege and prestige over justice and equity … We want them to feel, regardless of their beliefs … that Harvard is equal for them and that the better world we are all trying to build at Harvard involves justice and equity for people like them,” he said.
Although the appointment of an atheist as president of the university’s chaplains may seem unorthodox, many Harvard students attest to the influence that Epstein has had on them.
“Greg’s leadership isn’t about theology,” Charlotte Nickerson, a 20-year-old electrical engineering student, told the New York Times. “It’s about cooperation between people of different faiths and bringing together people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves religious,” she added.
Adelle Goldenberg, a 22-year-old student who grew up in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community and longed to find people struggling with issues beyond academic achievement, has found solace in Epstein’s mentorship, she said.
“He showed me that it’s possible to find community outside a traditional religious context, that you can have the value-add religion has provided for centuries, which is that it’s there when things seem chaotic,” she said.
As many young people increasingly identify as spiritual but not religiously affiliated, Epstein promotes human connection.
“What’s most important to me is human relationships … I want to inspire nonreligious and religious people alike to reach out to one another because we need each other, we really do,” he said.