HUMANISM 101 | AHA’s Center for Education Celebrates 5th Anniversary

It’s been five years since The Humanist Institute joined the American Humanist Association (AHA) ranks, forming the Center for Education (CfE). Over that time, CfE has changed and grown from a small independent organization focused on a graduate-level certificate program, online self-guided studies, and open lecture series to a robust center with diverse educational opportunities for all ages—supporting AHA members, local groups and the Humanist Society endorsees (celebrants, chaplains, and lay leaders).

With its redesigned curriculum, our foundational Humanist Studies Program expanded into partnership with the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities to offer a Master’s of Divinity and a Master’s of Arts Leadership with a concentration in humanism, as well as continued its Certificate in Humanist Studies option. This program is the only one in North America bringing valuable humanist education and career options to light. Humanists desiring a career as a chaplain—in hospitals, universities, prisons, military, and other institutions—no longer must piece together their education to acquire the professional qualifications necessary for national board certification. Community leaders who seek to work in humanist or interreligious settings can gain a nondogmatic and nondoctrinal approach to learning leadership within an interfaith seminary community.

The Center’s online studies now have twenty-nine courses—available for free or a one-time fee—covering a broad range of topics from Humanist Philosophy to Humanism and Pop Culture. We anticipate adding our 30th course in 2023, titled Humanist Family Life Ceremonies, authored by Ethical Culture Leader Dr. Anne Klaeysen and EthicalNYC Children and Youth Program Coordinator Audrey Kindred. This self-guided study is a treasure trove of beautiful ways to build rituals and traditions to celebrate life’s important moments, adding to our rich repertoire of courses on ceremonies like weddings and memorials. We are excited to help enhance your family’s daily humanist practice and bring joy to those special occasions.

As many of us shifted to Zoom events during the pandemic, the education team expanded previous events and developed new programming online. Our monthly Speaking of Humanism series grew from a local D.C. gathering to an international audience using Zoom, YouTube, and sometimes Facebook Live—enabling us to better highlight leaders, academics, authors, and members of the global humanist community. Over thirty events have occurred so far, discussing various topics like religious nationalism, healthcare, youth activism in science, criminal justice, children’s literacy, death and dying, private school vouchers, animal rights, hate crimes, and much more. We spoke to individuals like Dr. Krishana Sanka from the University of Toronto about Tackling Misformation During a Global Pandemic; Steve Hurd, Trustee Chair of the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust, about the Community Impact of Humanist Schools in Uganda; and Sikivu Hutchison, writer and educator, about her latest novel Humanists in the Hood: Unapologetically Black, Feminists, and Heretical.

We tapped into our creativity by turning the in-person Open Lecture Series into the new webinar enrichment series Critical Minds and the instructor-led multi-session series Further Reflection to continue bringing together various organizations and notable scholars to address topics connected to humanism. These two series have offered everything from the neuroscience of dogmatic beliefs to the impact of religious experience on mental health. It has highlighted experts such as Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood for the St Louis region and Southwest Missouri, featured on MSNBC and The Rachel Maddow Show for her work to maintain abortion rights in Missouri. And it brought forth emerging scholars like Jé Hooper, who examined Alain Locke as an inspiration in looking at the complexities of human ingenuity and imagination in curating cultural humanism. We also began hosting special topic webinars to directly confront societal issues like Humanism During COVID-19 and the Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade.

CfE has helped over 500 humanist celebrants and chaplains become endorsed by The Humanist Society. In addition, it expanded professional development opportunities through onsite and online celebrant training, informational teleconferences, and networking events. We manage and support over 235 local AHA Chapters and Affiliates to help spread humanism across the country. We provide monthly resources and quarterly informational sessions on such topics as fundraising, member support, working with media, building community, and dealing with difficult people in your group. We engaged incarcerated humanists by helping them form chapters, providing educational materials, connecting them with pen pals, and publishing their experiences in The Humanist magazine’s Inside the Walls column. CfE also embraced the Humanist Environmental Response Effort (HERE) for Climate to raise awareness, provide tools to live more sustainably, and find ways for our humanist community to connect with other organizations to combat climate change.

One of CfE’s significant accomplishments over the past five years has been refreshing and promoting the Ten Commitments. As some have experienced, humanism can be challenging to define and equally difficult to implement. What does it mean to “do your humanism”? How does one live their humanist values and be “Good Without God”? The Ten Commitments offer a solution by outlining humanist values and principles in broad and relatable terms. They provide a guide to putting our beliefs into action and ultimately holding us accountable to our shared values—to be responsible for the collective welfare of humanity, other beings, and the resources of our shared planet. As a result, the Commitments resonate with individuals worldwide as a framework and common ground for humanists and non-humanists alike.

Because the Ten Commitments are such a unifying and foundational aspect of “putting humanism into action,” we are celebrating CfE’s 5th anniversary by uplifting a different Commitment each month. In February, we will start by focusing on empathy as a critical aspect of being human and practicing humanism. Without empathy, it is hard to follow the other Ten Commitments. Empathy enables understanding of others and their experiences, motivating us to be more compassionate within our communities and the larger society. The February Speaking of Humanism with Leika Lewis-Cornwell will examine how we, as humans and humanists, choose each other through empathy. Next, we will host a roundtable for AHA Chapters and Affiliates and endorsees of The Humanist Society that looks at empathy and how we practice it in our community work. And then, a Further Reflections class with David Breeden and Jé Hooper will discuss the notion of metanoia and whether we can open ourselves to change empathically. Finally, we will end the month in partnership with Camp Quest engaging parents in learning how to build empathic skills for themselves and their families.

We want to thank you for supporting humanist education during these last five years. We appreciate everyone who participated and attended our vast array of programming. And we look forward to engaging with you all each month as we further explore the meaning and purpose of the Ten Commitments for humanists.