Who is Greg Epstein? Harvard's atheist chaplain isn't looking to 'a god for answers'
Harvard University’s organization of chaplains has appointed a devout atheist and "humanist chaplain" to lead the Ivy League school founded by the Puritans to educate their ministry with the motto "Truth for Christ and the Church."
New York's Greg Epstein, 44, who was raised in a reformed Jewish household in Queens was selected as the president of the chaplains for the religious community at the school after serving as Harvard's "humanist chaplain" since 2005. He is a self-avowed devout atheist who wants to serve fellow nonreligious believers as well as agnostics and humanists at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, school. The school was founded by the Puritans in 1636 and named for pastor John Harvard.
“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 said. “We don’t look to a god for answers,” he added. “We are each other’s answers.”
Some of Epstein's special interests include ethics in technology, meaning and purpose beyond religion, secular humanistic Judaism, racial justice and healing, and the philosophy and practice of interfaith work, according to his biography page on Harvard's website. Epstein has received ordination as a humanist rabbi from the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism in 2005. After working as the humanist chaplain for Harvard since 2005 and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 2018. Epstein himself served as the national chair of the organization 'Humanists for Biden/Harris' during the 2020 election.
“Greg was the first choice of a committee that was made up of a Lutheran, a Christian Scientist, an evangelical Christian, and a Bahá’í,” said Lutheran chaplain Rev. Kathleen Reed, chairwoman of the nominating committee. “We’re presenting to the university a vision of how the world could work when diverse traditions focus on how to be good humans and neighbors.” Harvard's school year will commence from September 1, 2021. Epstein and the other chaplains intend to be involved with the students, which will involve coordinating religious events and helping counsel students through spiritual struggles, according to Relevant magazine.
Margit Hammerstrom, the Christian Science chaplain at Harvard, said that Epstein's elevation displays how people of different faiths can communicate together and serve at a progressive university. "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?' she said. 'But in this environment it works. Greg is known for wanting to keep lines of communication open between different faiths."