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Religion News Service: Humanist Chaplains Guide Nonreligious Students on Quest for Meaning

By June 17, 2022June 30th, 2022No Comments

The Society’s Leader Emerita Dr. Anne Klaeysen spoke to the Religion News Service about her work as a ‘Spiritual Life Adviser’ to the growing number of religiously-unaffiliated college students at Adelphi University, Columbia University, and New York University over the past two decades:

When Anne Klaeysen first applied to be the humanist chaplain at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, in the mid-2000s, the deans interviewing her went straight to the point: “The other chaplains want to know,” they said, “if you’re a religion-hating atheist.”

Klaeysen readily assured them that no, she didn’t hate religion, but wasn’t surprised by the assumption. At the time, humanist chaplains on American campuses were practically unheard of, and those who had heard of them were usually puzzled by a chaplain who didn’t believe in God.

Klaeysen, who served at Adelphi for several years, is now the humanist chaplain at both Columbia University and New York University. She’s still just one of a handful of humanist chaplains at American universities, but the number is growing as Gen Z comes to dominate campuses. According to a 2020 survey from Springtide Research Institute, some 40% of the current generation of college students are not affiliated with a religion.


Some of the work for humanist college chaplains is talking to students who are leaving a religious tradition behind. Klaeysen recalls a formerly Mormon student wanting to know how much to disclose about her lack of faith to her family over winter break. Instead of doling out advice, Klaeysen asked the student what she believed in and what had changed, in the hopes of helping her clarify her beliefs before making a proclamation to her parents.

“It’s about deep, empathetic, nonjudgmental listening,” explained Klaeysen, who goes by “religious life adviser” or “spiritual life adviser” to avoid the religious connotations of “chaplain.” “And there’s very often a presenting issue, what caused them to send the email, and then there’s also the underlying issue that you’re really listening to — what’s vibrating.”

Read the full article here.

Watch Now: Leader Anne Klaeysen’s June 26th Sunday Platform talk about her work as a Humanist adviser:

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