The new head of Harvard's Divinity School is an atheist

Originally published at: The new head of Harvard's Divinity School is an atheist | Boing Boing


So, the headline is somewhat misleading.

HDS is an academic institution. (I’m a graduate student at another institution very much like it). You can study for a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Theological Studies, or a PhD.

Greg Epstein is essentially the administrative head of Harvard’s 40+ chaplains – people who provide religious (or, in his case, humanist) counseling services to students and faculty.

These are obviously similar fields, but analogy Harvard’s Chief Physician ≠ Head of Harvard Medical School


Unless I’m missing or misreading something, he is now the head chaplain at Harvard. Which would seem to be a totally different thing from the head of Harvard Divinity School.


It makes a lot of sense to have a neutral arbiter between the different faiths.


The headline isn’t misleading. It’s just plain wrong.


I may be mistaken, but I believe the terminal degree at HDS is Th.D. “Theologicae Doctor”


Yup, because if history teaches us anything, it’s certainly that religious groups do not play very well with each other if left to their own devices.


“In 2014 Harvard Divinity School changed its doctoral designation from ThD to PhD. All future doctoral students in religion at Harvard, beginning with those entering in fall 2015, will enter as PhD students. Those currently in the ThD program in the Study of Religion will continue to be candidates for the ThD.”

(p82, course catalog)

Some religions treat HDS as a seminary. Others demand extra coursework.

Under Judaism.

The course offerings at Harvard Divinity School, as well as the many opportunities for community engagement and meaningful work, can be a great preparation for rabbinical studies. Students can strengthen their skills in Hebrew, deepen their knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, and expand their knowledge of Jewish history and literature.

Great Preparation? Well,at least it’s not a total waste of time.

On the other hand

UCC Members in Discernment are able to complete all academic requirements for ordination through coursework and field education at Harvard Divinity School.


Thank you for updating my outdated info!


Seems legit.

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He provides a nice contrast to “New Atheists” like Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens. I can see why his election to the post received unanimous support from the other chaplains.




Even the most devout believers are atheists when it comes to 99% of available gods.


And now, the university’s 40+ chaplains — each representing a different religious community — have unanimously elected Epstein as the new Chief Chaplain.

Please excuse Greg from being Chief Chaplain. He just doesn’t believe in any of that “God” stuff! Signed, Epstein’s mother


Seems like he can remain neutral. Or as a dyslexic would say: He doesn’t have a dog in the fight.


Quite so.

I’m not sure of the practice in USA, but in many countries university chaplains won’t even be employees of the university. They will be people employed in nearby places of worship who volunteer to be on campus for consultation for a few hours each week as part of their “community outreach” role.

I’m thinking maybe the university administrators don’t want to have to talk to all the chaplains on a regular basis so they ask the chaplains to elect a chief chaplain to act as a conduit. So yeah, when they say “elected unamiously” it might mean that he was the only volunteer and many of the unanimous votes were of the form “I don’t know who this guy is but I’m just happy it’s not me.”

The Guardian report describes him as “Harvard University’s new chief chaplain”, not the Divinity School’s chief chaplain.

In a high school setting, a comparable error would be referring to the person at the top of the volunteer chaplains’ telephone tree as the head of the social science department.


It used to be. Other Div schools still grant the Th.D. or the D.Min., while Catholic ones ether grant those or the Catholic Ecclesiastical Degrees. (S.T.B., S.T.L., S.Th.D.).

Harvard changed over to granting PhDs in religion in 2015, since Harvard has no religion department, for weird Hah-vahd reasons. 🤷


The Div School is one of the very oldest faculties, and would’ve had dibs on religious studies and degrees, I figure.

Also note the articles wrongness in the purported original motto of the school. It was “Christo, Ecclesiastae, et Veritas”


Since the school is a business, his role is that of an executive, which does not require him to have faith in any god except the almighty Dollar.


There are way more than 100 gods, though. Heck, some specific beliefs have orders of many magnitude more than that all by themselves. (Apparently some Vedic scripture posits that for every known god - 33 of them - there are a million - or ten million - others.) So it’s more like 99.999999%. For those that only believe in one, that 0.000001% is basically a rounding error, so they’re totally atheists.