New leader of chaplains at Harvard, founded on religious beliefs, is an atheist

New England college was founded in the 1630s by Puritan colonists building churches, wanting to make sure their clergy would be educated.

Published: August 27, 2021 12:08pm

Updated: August 27, 2021 12:24pm

Harvard University, founded roughly four centuries ago on religious doctrine, now has an atheist to lead its organization of chaplains.

The Ivy League college was founded in the 1630s by Puritan colonists building churches in New England and wanting to make sure their clergy would be educated.

Now, the school's organization of chaplains has unanimously elected 44-year-old Greg Epstein, who starts this week in his new post, according to The New York Times.

Epstein – author of the book “Good Without God,” – will as president of the school's chaplains coordinate the activities of roughly 40 other chaplains, who lead the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious communities on the Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus.

He  teaches students about the progressive movement that centers people's relationships with one another instead of with God, The Times reports. 

While Epstein’s appointment appears a departure from the founding principle of the school  – "Truth for Christ and the Church" – many students reportedly say he’s had a positive influence on their spiritual lives.

"Greg’s leadership isn’t about theology," Charlotte Nickerson, an electrical engineering student, told the newspaper. "It's about cooperation between people of different faiths and bringing together people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves religious."

Epstein, raised in a Jewish household and Harvard a humanist chaplain since 2005, said: "There is a rising group of people who no longer identify with any religious tradition but still experience a real need for conversation and support around what it means to be a good human and live an ethical life."

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