From Harvard to Berkeley, Colleges Teach Courses on Humanism

Did you know that at least forty-six colleges and universities in the United States include a course on humanist philosophy? Many universities offer humanism as part of a general introduction to religion or philosophy, including Harvard, George Mason, Brandeis, the University of Chicago, Gonzaga, Middle Tennessee State, University of North Dakota, Wesleyan, Vanderbilt, and more. Others have specifically designed courses on humanism, atheism, and secularism in reaction to the growing number of nonbelievers in the United States.

Bellevue College in Bellevue, Washington, offers a course titled, “Without God: Freethinkers, Atheists, and Humanists.” The course description states: “Nonbelief is on the rise, especially in democratic nations and among young people. However, atheists are more despised than any religious group. What does it mean to live without God? What happens to morality, a sense of belonging, rites of passage, and a possible afterlife? What if nobody is in charge and we have only ourselves? In this class we explore the many ramifications of godlessness and discuss contemporary freethought, atheism, and humanism.”

Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences offers “Atheisms and Theologies,” which aims to teach students about “classical atheism” and the “new atheism” of recent years. Similarly, Connecticut College in New London has a history course called “Secularism in Global Contexts,” which covers the separation of church and state and “secularisms” in South Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

As part of its online master’s and certificate program, Johns Hopkins University includes a course on humanism with topics such as “What is Humanism?” and “The Basis of Humanism’s Morals and Charitable Work by Humanists.” At Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona, as part of the New Frontiers for Lifelong Learning program, the “History of Humanism” is led by longtime AHA and Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix member Dr. Harold Saferstein.

For fans of 1981 Humanist of the Year Carl Sagan, the University of California-Berkeley offers “Carl Sagan: Works and Visions,” where students “develop familiarity with basic cosmological theories and formulate informed decisions about the possibilities for life in the universe. Subjects that will be covered include the history of scientific thought, earth and planetary science, exobiology, cosmology, secular humanism, and astronomy.

Georgetown University’s “The Problem of God” examines “the religious dimension of human experience and consciousness in relation to a number of problems and challenges: the problem of knowledge; the relation of faith and reason; various historical, social, and existential determinants of belief; the challenge of atheism and humanism; [and] the impact of secularization on religion.”

Yes, even religious institutions offer courses on humanism, but probably not in the way we’d like. Calvary Chapel Bible College in Indianapolis offers “Cults and World Religions,” which is an introduction to the history and philosophy of major non-Christian religions such as the Vedic religion, Hinduism, Buddhism, secular humanism, Islam, the New Age movement, and pseudo-Christian cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism. The couse examines these beliefs to “equip the student for effective evangelism.” Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond teaches a similar course which covers secular humanism and non-Christian religions, but “studied in light of biblical teachings.”

The Kochhar Humanist Education Center of the American Humanist Association is putting together a resource on humanist courses on college campuses. If you know of a college or graduate-level course that includes the study of humanism, please contact Bob Bhaerman at bbhaerman@americanhumanist.org.

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  • Bob

    In a few centuries, I’m hoping that religion based on the supernatural will die of attrition and humanity will finally leave it infancy.

  • Harrytttttt

    I think the philosophy depts at many (most) public colleges have some decent coverage of “world religions” that includes some humanist, agnostic and atheist content. What is really needed more and more these days as the population grows more diverse and less religious, is a general course for public PRIMARY schools on world religions and belief systems. Me and my neighbors want our kids to be more culturally literate, but we are not religious so they know almost nothing about bible, koran, and belief systems in general. Maybe AHA could create such a course and offer it to public schools?