By Hannah Frishberg
This spiritual leader doesn’t need a higher power.
Harvard University’s organization of chaplains is getting a new president to coordinate the campus’ Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and assorted other religious communities. Only the new president, 44-year-old Greg Epstein, does not identify with any of those traditional religions himself.
He is an atheist.
Despite his disbelief in any higher power, Harvard chaplains felt Epstein — author of the book “Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe” — was a good choice for the position due to young people’s increasing lack of religiosity.
“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,” Epstein, who grew up in a Jewish home, told the New York Times in an interview published Thursday.
“We don’t look to a god for answers,” he added. “We are each other’s answers.”
Harvard’s liberal values and desire to prioritize engagement over tradition make Epstein a great fit for the job, many insiders feel. Indeed, his election was unanimous.
“Maybe in a more conservative university climate there might be a question like ‘What the heck are they doing at Harvard, having a humanist be the president of the chaplains?’ ” Margit Hammerstrom, Harvard’s Christian Science chaplain, told the Times. “But in this environment it works. Greg is known for wanting to keep lines of communication open between different faiths.”
At a time defined by a strained, “war”-like identity culture for many college-age individuals, Epstein’s focus on collaboration is more relevant than one of simply maintaining the status quo of worship, students said.
“Greg’s leadership isn’t about theology,” 20-year-old electrical engineering student Charlotte Nickerson told the Times. “It’s about cooperation between people of different faiths and bringing together people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves religious.”
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