This month, I have been hosting a book club in the Pride Center on Wednesdays from 12-1 to discuss the book Faitheist by Chris Stedman. 25-year old Stedman tells the story of his journey from a family that he names “irreligious” through coming out as queer in an Evangelical Christian environment, to finally settling into his identity as an atheist humanist that engages in the interfaith movement. As the current Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, Stedman highlights the need for interfaith cooperation in order to establish significant change in our diverse world.
I was drawn to Faitheist for several reasons. First, I met Chris this last summer and he is a generous, energized, gracious person. He is an atheist that validates the importance of faith and invites relationships around him to be honest and safe. Second, the number of Americans who identify as religiously unaffiliated is rising to be as many as 20% of the entire adult population. How do we recognize this rising population in higher education? Specifically within student affairs, how do we care for students and help them through this process of atheist identity development?
As an individual who identifies as religious, I recognize that there are certain privileges that I have in our society that “the nones” do not. In our government, it is the common practice for people to swear into office by placing their hands on a holy book. In movies and media, it is often a religious individual who sagely gives wise advice to a hero or provides a safe place for refuge. For many people who identify as atheist, going through the identity development process is incredibly painful and difficult within their social structures. Atheist student identity development has been paralleled to the marginalization that the LGB community experiences, feeling they are an invisible minority group that often has to hide their identity to protect themselves.
Fatheist prompts conversations of how the religious and the unaffiliated can engage in meaningful relationships through the collaborative action of community service, finding common ground in their desire to express their values through helping others. As I continue to develop as a student affairs professional, I want to know how to come alongside students who do not share my identities. I believe that the Faitheist book club is both a place of personal growth for me, as well as a caveat for beginning interfaith conversations on campus that recognize “interfaith” as an inclusive word for all spiritual, humanist, scientific, and religious identities.
Chris Stedman is coming to campus on February 20th to talk about his book and the interfaith youth movement. Join us in The Valley Library Rotunda on Wednesday, Feb 20th from 6-8pm. Click here to read a bit more about the event and to find out more about the Faitheist book club.- Hannah Pynn Graduate Assistant, Office of the Dean of Student Life College Student Services Administration Masters Program