A recent survey carried out with the graduating senior class at Harvard revealed 38 percent of the students are atheists or agnostics.
The study was carried out by the university’s daily newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, and only half the graduating class participated in it. 758 students replied to the email survey that was conducted over a weeklong period from May 13th to 20th and not all of them answered every question. Yet, it appears that Harvard’s graduating class constitutes more non-believers than the public at large.
When atheist blogger Hemant Mehta asked Greg Epstein, humanist chaplain at Harvard, what the numbers of the survey meant, he said the following:
It means the Harvard student body is consistent with a huge trend that has swept the nation and that is not going to change any time soon: this is what the future looks like. America is going to become much, much less religious. And that will be a great thing for religious and nonreligious people alike, provided we can encourage and nurture the many positive qualities these nonreligious young people are, in my experience, likely to demonstrate: thoughtfulness, critical reasoning, compassion for the less fortunate; acceptance of all people and welcoming diversity; comfort with ambiguity; comfort with diverse sexual identities; creativity; humor and wit; passion to improve the world and make a difference.
However, we also need to work at addressing some of the drawbacks to being nonreligious, and not just the obvious and quite annoying fact that we still face prejudice and discrimination in too many ways. We need to work on creating communities that can address isolation and help with the loneliness of modern life, especially after graduation.
We need to support one another better in emphasizing that Humanist values mean we don’t need to be perfect or win every award or achieve every goal or earn every last dollar — though we do need to be ethical citizens of the world, while also building lives that can fulfill us as individuals. Secular and Humanist communities need to be relevant to the lives of these young secular people, otherwise we’re never going to gather and mobilize enough of them to make political change.
At Harvard, where we’re proud to have been able to build the Humanist Hub, the first on-campus “Center for Humanist Life” supporting atheist, agnostic and nonreligious students (as well as the general public), being relevant can sometimes mean simply providing a safe space where high-achieving young people don’t need to achieve anything other than allowing themselves to relax, be themselves, and truly connect with one another.
Photo Credit: Joe Hall