The new head chaplain at Harvard? An atheist.

“When the pandemic hit, I was like, ‘Greg, do you have time to talk about the meaning of life,'” recalls Ms. Goldenberg. “He showed ...


“When the pandemic hit, I was like, ‘Greg, do you have time to talk about the meaning of life,'” recalls Ms. Goldenberg. “He showed me that it is possible to find a community outside of a traditional religious context, that you can have the added value that religion has offered for centuries, that is, it is there when things seem chaotic.

Ms Goldenberg reflected again on the improbability of her path when her mother asked to see the college directory: “I said to her, ‘I don’t think you’re going to like it,'” said Mrs. Goldenberg. “It says I was co-chair of Harvard Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics. And you can see my shoulders.

Non-religiosity is increasing far beyond Harvard limits; it is the fastest growing religious preference in the country, according to the Pew Research Center. Over 20 percent of the country identifies as atheist, agnostic or non-religious – called the “nuns” – including four out of 10 millennials.

The reasons why more young Americans are disaffiliating in the world’s most religious developed country are varied. Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith attributes the trend in part to the growing alliance between the Republican Party and the Christian right, a decline in trust in institutions, growing skepticism of religion following the attacks 9/11 terrorists and a distancing from the traditions of family structures centered on church practice.

Mr. Epstein’s community tapped into the growing desire for meaning without faith in God. “Being able to find values ​​and rituals but not having to believe in magic is a powerful thing,” said AJ Kumar, who served as chairman of a group of Harvard humanist graduate students advised by Mr. Epstein.

Other Harvard chaplains have applauded Mr. Epstein’s efforts to provide a campus for those who are not religiously attached, skeptical but still seeking. Some said his selection to lead the group, following its former Jewish leader, seemed obvious.

“Greg was the first choice of a committee made up of a Lutheran, a Christian Scientist, an Evangelical Christian and a Baha’i,” said Reverend Kathleen Reed, a Lutheran chaplain who chaired the nomination committee. “We present to the university a vision of how the world might work when various traditions focus on how to be good humans and good neighbors. “

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