In the fall of 2009, Tufts Freethought Society (TFS) inquired about the need and viability of hiring a Humanist chaplain for the benefit of the Tufts community. TFS communicated with university officials and alumni and, after a series of meetings, increased the likelihood of the realization of this goal.
As TFS starts the new school year, we feel the need to address particular reservations that members of the Tufts community maintain regarding issues utility and funding for a Humanist chaplain.
While TFS services the needs of its current membership through weekly meetings and the sponsorship of lecture series, its club status limits its ability to accommodate the needs of the broader non−religious community. The establishment of a Humanist chaplaincy at Tufts would provide non−religious Tufts students an organizational infrastructure and legitimacy greater than what TFS can provide.
The Enrolling Student Survey of the Class of 2012 reported that of the nearly 60 percent of students who responded to the question concerning religious affiliation, over 30 percent marked "none." While not all of these non−religious students would utilize the services of a Humanist chaplaincy, it is likely that a Humanist chaplaincy would see a rate of participation similar to other chaplaincies on campus.
In an article for the online publication Inside Higher Ed, Alexander W. Astin, the founding director of the Higher Education Research Institute at University of California, Los Angeles, wrote, "Most students — religious and non−religious — have an interest in what we consider to be spiritual issues: the meaning of life, their most deeply felt values, why they're in college, what kinds of lives they want to lead, how connected they feel to others, etc."
While the apathetic, solipsistic atheist has become a popular social perception of Humanists, we feel that this generalization of our worldview is detrimental to the Tufts community as a whole, and we are actively working to change this perception.
Some have raised the point that secular students can use other resources to fill their desire for community — that is, one could use the Leonard Carmichael Society to fulfill his philanthropic desires, or one could inquire about existential issues with one of her professors. While this may be true, the argument could just as easily be employed to counter the necessity of all other chaplaincies on campus as well. A Humanist chaplaincy is just as necessary as any of the existing chaplaincies.
We freethinkers desire one place on campus that can serve as a hub for secular guidance, philanthropy and community. The establishment of a university−supported Humanist community will not only provide a resource for students to contemplate secular answers to traditionally "spiritual issues," but it will also allow the secular worldview to have a valued social presence equal to that of the other belief systems present on our campus.
TFS desires to establish a Humanist chaplaincy that facilitates communal contemplation by promoting secular morality among non−religious people. We seek a prominent, published freethinker holding a degree from a divinity school to serve as the Humanist chaplain. The primary role of the chaplain will be to facilitate Humanist dialogue on campus through lectures and events and to help integrate the philanthropic efforts of the Humanist community with the efforts of other chaplaincies on campus. Furthermore, a Humanist chaplain will be able to extend the reach of TFS's philanthropic efforts to outside the Tufts community through collaborative efforts with local and national Humanist organizations, including the Center for Inquiry, the American Humanist Association and the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy. All funding for the Humanist chaplaincy will be provided by prearranged private donors. The chaplaincy will, however, utilize school facilities to host events.
Ultimately, the decision to approve the establishment of a Humanist chaplaincy at Tufts rests with the university president and the Office of the University Chaplain, led by University Chaplain Father David O'Leary. We hope that university officials will recognize the need to establish a Humanist chaplaincy and that secular thought can be comfortably integrated under the umbrella of the Tufts Chaplaincy.