Experiments in Forming a Humanist Community: The Humanist Chaplaincy at Rutgers University

By Paul Chiariello

There is certainly a lot of good to be said for all of the bestselling books and the wide variety of rallies for reason. They have galvanized a new humanist and atheist movement in the United States over the past decade. Through them, I and millions of others have had so many cherished beliefs shook to the point of breaking. 

At the end of my undergraduate experience at Rutgers University, a little more than three years ago, those books and YouTube videos left me with a new worldview. But then I graduated and went off into the world like so many still searching newly grads. Looking back, I can now distinctly make out feelings of what was then only vagueness in the back of my mind. I felt like I had lost something and was a little bit less after that de-conversion.

But I want to make something clear: this article  isn’t about me at all. In fact, it’s about a group of people, a community. And more specifically, it’s about the formation of a community.

During the same year I left the religious community I had grown up with and graduated from Rutgers, a new community started its first year: The Humanist Chaplaincy at Rutgers University (HCRU).

From its first days in 2009, HCRU has tried to nurture a stronger humanist and atheist community at Rutgers. We hoped to develop a place where secular students can  learn about the larger Humanist/atheist world,  express new ideas with similarly searching minds, and build friendships with people they can identify intimately with in virtue of the values and perspectives they share.

Two student clubs which started around the same time as the Chaplaincy, the Rutgers Pastafarians and the Atheist Student Alliance, formed the initial nucleus of this community. Now, after only a few short years, we’re proud to announce that last semester several students, with inspiration from HCRU, established the Rutgers University Secular Humanists (RUSH) student group.

In HCRU’s further efforts to expand community involvement and provide a home for Rutgers humanists and other non-believers, we have also launched a new and expanded website. We hope that this new website will be an informative resource for Rutgers undergraduates, alumni, New Jerseyites and beyond. These resources include information about humanism, book and movie lists, resources about a wide variety of organizations, videos from across YouTube that express imagery you can’t get on paper, access to The Humanist Institute’s online course in humanism, and much more.

Featured on the website is our brand new newsletter and blog. With the blog, which is sent out weekly to subscribers, members of our growing community can now stay in touch more easily with both each other and with student clubs and HCRU’s activities. The Chaplaincy holds monthly events, from parties to lectures by a range of philosophers, activists, and scientists. We also invite original guest posts aimed at introducing humanist and atheist organizations, commenting on humanist issues and proposing engaging discussion threads on relevant topics.

During first year orientations I and the other HCRU volunteers get the chance to talk to incoming Rutgers students at our information table. One of the most common sentiments I hear now is a grinning surprise that groups–communities–such as the Humanist Chaplaincy and related student clubs exist. And equally as interesting, when I talk about the Chaplaincy’s work to older alumni and others, I consistently hear the parallel surprise that something like this was not done sooner.

Paul Chiariello is currently the Director of Outreach at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Rutgers University.  He is also a Yale Ph.D. student in Philosophy and has a M.Sc. in Comparative Education from Oxford.

To learn more about the Humanist Chaplaincy at Rutgers University, visit www.rutgershumanist.org. To learn more about Humanist Chaplaincies across the United States, visit www.humanistchaplaincies.org