In an effort to promote a welcoming environment for students of non-religious backgrounds to speak openly about their spiritual views, the Harvard College Humanists, Agnostics, and Atheists is hosting a series of events this week for “Atheist Coming Out Week.”
“There is a lot of stigma surrounding the word ‘atheist’.... This is an attempt to reclaim a word that has been turned negative,” said HCHAA President Julia M. Bruce ’15.
The kickoff event on Monday provided a safe space for students to share stories about coming out as atheists. On Wednesday, HCHAA members met for a discussion with members from the on-campus student organization Harvard Effective Altruism.
Bruce noted that the goal of HCHAA and its coming out week is not to aggressively promote atheism, but to provide a “support network” for students who may feel uncomfortable for any variety of reasons to express their true spiritual views.
“What we offer is a community for people who want a safe space to discuss really interesting things about life that they may not get in another arena,” Bruce said.
While she said that many students who have attended events so far are HCHAA members, she has also seen some students unaffiliated with the Humanist group at its events.
Harvard Humanist Chaplain and Vice President of the Harvard Chaplains Greg M. Epstein said that this week’s worth of events put on by HCHAA is part of ongoing efforts to celebrate the Humanist community at the University, especially in light of the recent opening of the Humanist Hub at 30 JFK St., which serves as a gathering place for all members of the community to discuss, meditate, and bring in guest speakers.
“The mission here is to create a network of communities...that are diverse, inclusive, and inspir[e] ways for humanists, atheists, agnostics, and non-religious [individuals] to connect, act, and evolve,” Epstein said.
He added that while he generally thinks the University is very welcoming to the Humanist community, there have been instances where he felt that his community was not recognized in the same way as peer organizations.
Epstein pointed to a promotional video earlier in the year that was created by the University about religious life at Harvard. While the video highlighted members of many different religious communities and organizations, no Humanist groups were included nor was Epstein contacted about the video.
“I was a little disappointed not to be included in that video...but I understand that not every resource that is created will be included,” Epstein said. “But I would like a chance to sit with the makers of the video and help educate them about how meaningful it can be if our community is involved in a resource like that.”
Lucy A. Forster-Smith, who joined the Harvard community in February as the Sedgwick Chaplain to the University and senior minister to the Memorial Church said that she is excited to engage in discussion and learn more about the Humanist community at Harvard.
“I am completely not only open, but also covet opportunities to...be involved in efforts to deepen the multiplicity of perspectives of spirituality,” Forster-Smith said.
On Friday, Atheist Coming Out Week will culminate with the Humanist Community at Harvard awarding former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank '61-'62 the 8th Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism at 8 p.m. in the Science Center lecture hall C.
—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @trdelwic.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: April 6, 2014
An earlier version of a photo caption accompanying this article misspelled the name of Angie Jo '16.