Year-End Letter and Appeal

At the close of a year of confined existence, and with hope for reconnection and renewal sometime next year, I’m inspired to begin this year-in-review letter (if no time to read, but you’d like to donate to support our ongoing work as the world’s first university humanist chaplaincy, providing community and ethical support to an important and often-ignored nonreligious constituency, please click here!) by sharing a few words from Adelle Goldenberg, current Harvard College senior and co-President of the Harvard Community of Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics (HCHAA). Below, Adelle reflects not on our collective yearning for the ability to safely leave lockdown, but on her personal journey from a world that was, in her young life, perhaps even more constricting. Still, the arc of her experience reminds me that our lives offer more…raw human possibility than we sometimes realize.
…I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.” This is how Jack Kerouac characterized the act of leaving in On the Road, and I have yet to find a description that resonates more with my experience of leaving home. For years, I had dedicated all of my energies towards leaving the Hasidic home – and inextricably, the Hasidic community – I was raised in. I had saved every bit of money I earned from babysitting; I hid away tubes of toothpaste for life after leaving; I tried to plan for any possible contingency which would result in me having to come back. For weeks prior to that sunny late-August morning, I had shipped out most of my belongings to Cambridge. I sent out one USPS box at a time, on Friday afternoons, when everyone was too busy preparing for the Sabbath to notice. On the day I planned to leave, I expected someone – or something – to stop me, but nothing occurred. I just walked out the door. The fact that the act of leaving was so physically easy seemed – and still seems – laughably absurd to me, because leaving was the most difficult thing I have ever done.
Ms. Goldenberg, whom I have been privileged to know and support since soon after her arrival at Harvard in 2018, rose from a home in which she was expressly forbidden from attending college and where attaining almost any level of secular education was difficult at best. Her brothers never had the option of attending or graduating high school; her sisters, while allowed because of their gender to receive a basic secondary education, did not graduate. Surrounded since birth by young people who were denied the opportunity to build a life outside of religious fundamentalism, Adelle found a way. She found a way to learn and grow as a human being, to attend college – first at a public school in New York City, then as a transfer student to Harvard. She built a new life while working selflessly to provide what has, in some cases, been life-changing guidance and mentorship to countless young people from similar backgrounds: her excellent guidebook (College 101: a Guide to Higher Education for Ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Yeshiva Graduates) was recently published online, with the ultimate aim of placing physical copies in the very same Brooklyn public libraries to which she once turned, on her own, for guidance about the unfamiliar secular world. 

This semester, Adelle was formally recognized by Harvard University as one of its officially endorsed candidates for the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships. The quotation above is from her application materials. While she did not ultimately receive one of those awards, her story reminds us there are many ways to define winning and achievement. As you can tell, I am so proud to know her and I am more than excited to see what unfolds as she pursues her passion for feminist philosophy, and for humanist life. Messages of congratulations or support for Adelle can be sent to
I am equally thrilled to announce that Adelle’s HCHAA co-president over these past two academic years, Nkaziwoh Nchinda-Pungong, will be a Rhodes Scholar this coming year. It truly feels like just yesterday that I met with Nkazi on a late August afternoon in 2017, before his freshman year began. In preparation for that meeting I found an article from his hometown paper about his many successes as a high school valedictorian; speaking with him about it then, hearing the humble and earnestly uncertain way he described his hopes and plans for college, I remember wondering: here is someone who can do anything — but what will he choose to do with his time and energy? Obviously Nkazi chose extraordinarily well, and again, congratulations can be forwarded to him via 
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on what should choose to do with my energy in this, my 17th year at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard (now at Harvard and MIT). Our organization has evolved considerably: last year, we ended a wonderful decade-long experiment in providing a full-service congregation to local humanists, returning to a focus on our now 40+ year mission as a humanist chaplaincy. 
As we have always been, we are a nonprofit organization serving and supporting the ethical and communal lives of humanists, atheists, agnostics, and nonreligious people affiliated with now two of the world’s leading educational institutions. For much of last year, I was on a paid 12-month research and writing sabbatical, and the organization was relatively inactive; I returned early to help Harvard and MIT communities cope with the Coronavirus crisis, but my work this year focused on responding to COVID-19 from a humanist perspective. 
2021, then, will mark the first time in years in which we will turn to supporters such as you for funding to support our regular operations as the world’s first and still largest university-based humanist chaplaincy (as always, we receive no financial support from either Harvard or MIT!)…so I want to offer a sense of what we are up to and planning.
During the pandemic, we’ve been busy with a wide variety of experimental and online activities, including being featured in a TED podcast, and writing for the Boston Globe, on transcending sectarianism by maintaining a humanistic faith in humanity over a difficult summer, and on how to stay human on campus as the pandemic dragged into the fall. A Boston Globe “Op-Talk” on whether we should have faith in America, where I talked with renowned Princeton scholar Eddie Glaude and Globe head opinion editor Bina Venkataraman, was another highlight. But there have also been many dozens of wonderful, quiet conversations with our humanist students and alumni: privately, in small groups, on text threads and Twitter, and even via their own podcasts and shows. There have been countless interfaith meetings with the many religious chaplains and student groups at Harvard and MIT, all of us trying, together, to construct a meaningful life in absurd times; also successful joint programs with the Secular Student Alliance and the American Humanist Association. In my personal time, I accepted an invitation to be national chair of Humanists for Biden-Harris; since the election I’ve been working to persuade the incoming administration to include humanists more fully than any White House in history. 
For the coming semester, things are still uncertain as you would expect, but we are hoping and planning — with your support — to expand our ability to produce podcasts…an initial special released just before the election was helpful to me in coping with the anxiety, distance, grief and injustice of the pandemic and political season, and I would love to continue to help others in that way. 
Given that we’re currently doing all of this and more with a ~$60,000 annual budget (this includes my half-time pay/benefits, along with limited administrative support and any/all of our programs, which we’d love to have the financial flexibility to expand) we’d be honored if you would keep us in mind as you make any charitable donations to close out 2020 and look forward to 2021. 

DONATE ONLINE HERE or send a check to “The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard and MIT” at 1953 Massachusetts Avenue, Unit 400405, Cambridge, MA 02140-9998

Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and MIT 
Convener for Ethical Life, MIT Office of Religious, Spiritual, and
Ethical Life (ORSEL) /

2020 Harvard Humanists of the Year Award Ceremony

We are thrilled to announce that our 2020 Harvard Humanist of the Year Award will be presented to Ijeoma Oluo, Sikivu Hutchinson, and Mandisa Thomas. We invite you to join us for our award ceremony on Thursday, September 17, 3-4:15pm ET. The event will take place via a Zoom Webinar and Facebook Live. The online audience will be able to ask questions.

The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard is delighted to partner with the American Humanist Association (AHA) to present the 2020 Harvard Humanist of the Year Award to these three inspiring humanists. This award, created more than 25 years ago, honors individuals whose lives and contributions to society exemplify the values of humanism: justice, equality, integrity, courage, and community, among others. Past Harvard Humanist of the Year honorees include filmmaker Seth MacFarlane; writer/producer/director Ann Druyan (“Cosmos”); author and professor Anthony Pinn; inequality critic and philanthropist Nick Hanauer; human rights heroes General Romeo Dallaire and Taslima Nasreen; world-renowned scientist E.O. Wilson; and psychologist and pioneering former NBA basketball star John Amaechi, OBE.

In such a tumultuous and distressing year, we felt it was particularly important to choose awardees whose leadership embodies the very best of humanism’s potential to inspire social change. We are honored to join the AHA in presenting this dialogue as part of the AHA’s monthly Speaking of Humanism series with these three extraordinarily brilliant and deeply humanistic thinkers and leaders.

This event, hosted on AHA’s Zoom and Facebook Live on Thursday September 17 at 3pm eastern time, will include a fundraiser for Black Skeptics Los Angeles, and Black Nonbelievers, Inc., the nonprofit organizations led by Hutchinson and Thomas, respectively. 100% of all donations to this link will be split evenly between the two organizations. If you cannot attend the live event, a recording will be posted to the AHA’s Youtube Channel

Our Awardees

Ijeoma Oluo is a Seattle-based writer and speaker, and the author of the recently #1 New York Times bestselling book, So You Want to Talk About Race? She has been named one of the The Root’s 100 Most Influential African Americans in 2017, one of the Most Influential People in Seattle by Seattle Magazine, and winner of the of the 2018 Feminist Humanist Award by the American Humanist Association. Oluo’s work focuses primarily on issues of race and identity, feminism, social and mental health, social justice, the arts, and personal essay. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, NBC News, Elle Magazine, TIME, The Stranger, and The Guardian.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the founder and Executive Director of Black Skeptics Los Angeles and the Women’s Leadership Project, a Black feminist mentoring and civic engagement program for girls of color in South Los Angeles high schools. She is also the author of several literary works, including the 2020 release Humanists in the Hood: Unapologetically Black Feminist, and Heretical and the play, NARCOLEPSY, INC., which premiered at the 2018 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Her book Moral Combat, released in 2011, is the first book on atheism to be published by an African American woman. Sikivu is one of the “Five Fierce Humanists” featured in the July/August 2018 issue of The Humanist Magazine and is also one of the co-producers of the Women of Color Beyond Belief conference. Sikivu was the recipient of the Secular Student Alliance’s Backbone Award in 2016 and was named Secular Woman’s 2013 Woman of the Year.

Mandisa Thomas is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc., based on Atlanta, GA. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. Mandisa has many media appearances to her credit, including CBS Sunday Morning,, Playboy, The Humanist, and JET magazines, and the documentaries Contradiction and My Week in Atheism. Mandisa currently serves on the Boards for American Atheists and the American Humanist Association, and previously for Foundation Beyond Belief, and the Secular Coalition for America. In 2019, Mandisa was the recipient of the Secular Student Alliance’s Backbone Award and named the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s Freethought Heroine. She was also the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association’s 2018 Person of the Year and was also featured as one of the “Five Fierce Humanists” in the July/August 2018 issue of The Humanist Magazine.

Black Nonbelievers, Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit fellowship headquartered in the Atlanta area that provides an informative, caring, festive, and friendly community. The organization connects with other Blacks (and allies) who are living free of religion and might otherwise be shunned by family and friends. Instead of accepting dogma, Black Nonbelievers determines truth and morality through reason and evidence.

Please join us for this wonderful event.

COVID-19 in Florida – Report by Board Member Joe Gerstein

    I spent 81 of my 84 years in the Greater Boston area. One year was spent at Bronx Municipal Hospital, where I met my Australian wife on a psychiatric ward. Two years ago, we sold our home in Wayland and moved to Miami to be near one of our sons and his family. We thought that hurricanes were all that we would have to worry about.

    Since then, Zika and West Nile virus scares, with Dengue loose just south, in Monroe County, have awakened us to the dangers of the sub-tropics. I had to rip out all my carefully-nurtured bromeliads because they retain water in a cup-like recess, where mosquitos can breed. We were relieved to have missed the dramatic impact of COVID19 in the Boston area, but obviously, in the event, we did not elude it. We are now in the midst of the plague.

    The recent statistics are daunting in Miami-Dade county: 10,000 cases reported yesterday (July 19); 2200 cases in ICUs (which are running at 127% [!] of capacity); 500+ on ventilators. 100 deaths. Total cases in FL during the epidemic: 327,000.

    Every so often I get a twinge of guilt about not aiding my medical colleagues on the front lines. Then the reality that I am 84 and carrying an inactive medical license intrudes and interrupts my musings. My own doctor’s husband is 65 and heads a local Emergency Unit. He has been living in a hotel for 4 months!  At present, we are living with an 8 PM curfew and required “face-coverings. Although restaurants are open, with stringent rules, alcoholic drinks are not available unless food is ordered. So, bars, per se, are out. As is the situations in many other states, the Mayor of Miami (Democrat) and the Governor (Republican) are dueling daily.

    I am currently reading Barbara Tuchman’s tome A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. It was written over 20 years ago. I finally dug it out of a friend’s library. It is truly fascinating and engaging. Of course, it encompasses the onslaught of the Black Plague in Europe, which, in several waves, killed about 1/3 of the entire population. It completely devastated all social and economic activity. In ignorance of its nature or origin, it was blamed variously on a God’s vengeance for the sinfulness of humans or a conspiracy of the Jews, although Jews were obviously impacted with about the same death rate as Christians.

    The usual curative treatment advocated was burning the ghettos and killing the Jews therein or self-flagellation. Parades of flagellants coursed through Europe and eventually became a coercive government of their own. Finally, the Pope excoriated the flagellants and threatened excommunication, after which this hysteria remitted.

    The most memorable vignette regards the selectivity of the second wave, which came 2 years after the first. Unlike COVID19, which spreads easily to children, but has modest health impact on them, this second wave decimated young males at 3 times the rate of young females. Perhaps this was because the first wave of the plague had eliminated most of the adult susceptibles. Remember the biblical plague in Egypt that was reported to have carried off the firstborn sons of those who did not identify their doors with a splash of blood as a Jewish home?  Might have some relevance. The impact of this selectivity on society was that for a generation, females greatly outnumbered males in the population leading to many laments from unmarried women and a situation in which high-born, even aristocratic women, were often impelled or compelled to marry well-below their social rank. Likewise, the dearth of agricultural workers resulted in laws compelling workers to virtual peonage or serfdom and the “Bloody Assizes” as courts enforced these drastic new rules, forbidding departure without the farm-owner’s’ permission. 

    One of my sons is a journalist and currently resides in Shanghai, where his wife is employed by NYU/Shanghai. He informed me just today that this NYU Unit will be accepting 3,000 additional Chinese students who cannot or will not attend foreign universities.  In addition to constraints, travel and political, imposed on American universities, Chairman Xi has discouraged Chinese students from attending Australian universities, as retribution of Australia’s decision not to utilize Huawei 5G products.

    My son and his family returned urgently from the US to China in anticipation of a possible exclusion of foreigners in March, where they had fled from Japan, which they were visiting during the Chinese New Year.  Even at that time, there were no direct flights, so they had to fly to Narita in Japan, thence to Seoul and finally to Shanghai. Indeed, China closed to the arrival of any non-Chinese citizens 3 days later. Although their experience is quite topical, he cannot write about anything going on in China because, due to the spat between China and the US and mutual expulsion of reporters, his employer chose not to seek a license for him. So, he is writing his DC political commentary from Shanghai.

    On their arrival at Pudong Airport, the family was interviewed, their temperatures checked, a COVID19 test taken. Then they were escorted to a row of vans, each heading to a different area of Shanghai. They were directly escorted to their apartment and a device attached to their door to monitor their 14-day quarantine. If the door was opened more than 3 times a day, a signal would be sent to the authorities, who would then transfer them to a quarantine hotel for closer observation. All restaurants were closed and food and groceries had to be delivered, which is fairly routine in Chinese cities. Their dog, already in a kennel, had to remain there for 14 days, since walking her for elimination, would be awkward. Schools were closed, so the children remained home. A dentist in full PPE regalia showed up at their door twice a day to test each person’s temperature. 

    Gradually, the crisis has receded and the few flare-ups have been rapidly controlled. Traffic is about 80% of normal. Restaurants and businesses are generally open. Factories and mines are close to full operation,. No one would dare be on the street without a mask.

    Although it is obviously easier for an autocratic regime to induce such intense constraints on citizens’ behavior, South Korea and New Zealand seem to have achieved similar beneficial results. You can draw your own conclusions as to why the US was unable to achieve this type of control and is now suffering through a horrendous epidemic in the face of its vaunted medical system. 

    On the final day of self-quarantine, my daughter-in-law noticed on her cell phone that a package had been left at that door. Because it was 2 AM, she considered that the quarantine was over, so opened the door to retrieve the package. At 8 AM an official arrived to transport them to the quarantine hotel! It turned out the officials were operating on an 8 AM to 8 AM “day” rather than a “Midnight to Midnight” day. Obviously it made no sense to transport them under that circumstance, so the official relented. Welcome to 1984 Redux!

VENUE CHANGE!! Naomi Klein to Receive Rushdie Award

The award ceremony, including a talk on Klein’s book On Fire and an extended Q&A, will be free and open to the public. It will take place at Sever Hall 113 in Harvard Yard (map) at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 26th. For questions contact

Sever Hall

The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard and the Harvard College Community of Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics (HCHAA), along with the American Humanist Association, are delighted to announce that Naomi Klein is the 14th annual winner of our Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award for Humanism in Culture: the ‘Rushdie Award,’ after first winner Sir Salman Rushdie.

Credit: Kourosh Keshiri

Klein currently serves as the inaugural Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University. An award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist and international New York Times bestselling author, Klein’s most recent work, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, tackles the climate crisis in a novel way. Hailed by critics as a clarion call to courage and ambition, the book is an impassioned and evidence-based plea for a Green New Deal that would avert climate catastrophe while creating a more just and equitable society. Published worldwide in September 2019, the book became an instant New York Times bestseller, and #1 Canadian bestseller.

Among Klein’s many other award-winning books are The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes On the Disaster Capitalists (2018), No Is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need (2017), This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (2014), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), and No Logo (2000). Films based on Klein’s work have been chosen as official and prizewinning selections at leading film festivals around the world.

The student-led committee of members of the Humanist Community at Harvard who selected Klein for this year’s ‘Rushdie Award’ noted the extraordinary depth and breadth of her lifelong work. “Her voice has amplified the crucial political, economic and social actions required for the preservation of our planet,” said Harvard College student and committee member Adelle Goldenberg. “Her writing and advocacy have made an outstanding contribution to the development of secular altruistic communities around the world, including on Harvard’s campus.” Klein will join a list of past awardees including author Anand Giridharadas, Steven Pinker, the late Carrie Fisher, Stephen Fry, and more.

Greg’s Sabbatical and Major Announcements

Dear friends and supporters,

I’m delighted to be in touch with some major announcements!  

First: I recently began a 12-month, paid sabbatical, through July 15, 2020, during which I will be researching and writing about humanism and the ethics of technology. My passion for this subject emerged last year, when I was invited to join MIT’s Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life as Humanist Chaplain at MIT (in addition to my ongoing work as Humanist Chaplain at Harvard) and as MIT’s Convener for Ethical Life. After what has now been 15 years as a Harvard chaplain, I am grateful for this opportunity to spend a year exploring technology’s role in shaping our shared human future, and investigating what it might mean to use technology ethically and humanistically today.

For an initial look at what I’ll be doing while on sabbatical, check out the column/interview series on tech and ethics I’m creating for TechCrunch, a leading publication chronicling the world of Silicon Valley and its startups. Here is a link to all of my TechCrunch pieces thus far (with many more to come) on themes such as economic justice and inequality; race, inclusion, and intersectionality; gender and “The Internet of Women;” climate change and the role of giant tech companies in addressing or exacerbating it; immigration ethics and tech (a personal one for me); and much more. Have a story tip? Message me on Twitter! Note: my articles are largely behind TechCrunch’s “paywall” though in most cases there’s enough publicly available to give you a sense of the key themes and ideas; over the course of the year I also plan to publish writing for a broader audience.

Meanwhile, it is also an honor to announce that Dr. Erik Gregory has been elected the new President of the board of directors for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, Inc., the nonprofit organization overseeing my work and the programs we’ve created over recent years. Dr. Gregory first became involved with us in 2015 when he moved his private psychotherapy practice into The Humanist Hub as our Humanist Therapist in Residence. A leading proponent of positive psychology, Erik has advised prominent clients in government, the non-profit sector, and the world of children’s educational television. His multiple Harvard degrees and other distinctions give him a bio as much worth reading as any bio I know. But what really distinguishes Erik in our community and makes this news so joyful is the wisdom, warmth, and dedication to humanism he has consistently demonstrated over the past several years. During my year away, Dr. Gregory will bring those qualities to the process of positioning our organization for many more years of success and good work. If you have questions about the role of our board and its work, you can send them to be passed along to Erik at:

Finally, for Harvard College students looking to get involved in the coming academic year, I’m very pleased to be working with a wonderful group of student leaders of the Harvard College Community of Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics (HCHAA) who will be leading that work.  Their bios:

Adelle Goldenberg (Co-President) is a rising junior in Dunster House from Brooklyn, New York. She concentrates in Philosophy, and has particular interests in the fields of existentialism, feminist philosophy, and philosophy of religion. On campus, she is a Student Mental Health Liaison, a board member of Harvard College Students for Scholars at Risk, and the merchandise chair on Dunster’s House Committee. She is thrilled to be contributing to HCHAA as Co-President for the 2019-2020 school year.

Nkazi Nchinda (Co-President) is a junior in Leverett House studying biomedical engineering and sociology. When he’s not working with Harvard Engineers Without Borders, Nkazi volunteers with Harvard Square Homeless Shelter’s street team and conducts microbial research with the Cira Lab. He also loves music, baking, and photography!

Stephen Casper (Discussion Chair) is a third-year Harvard undergrad studying Statistics and Computer Science. Also a member of Harvard College iGEM and Effective Altruism, he likes taking a humanistic approach to big questions in science and morality. He also likes to read, write, and binge watch videos on Youtube.

If you’re at the College, please reach out to them directly! 

At MIT, there is the award-winning Secular Society of MIT, led by the indefatigable graduate student Sohan Dsouza and colleagues. MIT students and affiliates can be in touch with them and can also reach out to MIT’s Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life directly with any questions; as an ORSEL Convener I will remain in contact with the office over the year, updating them about any opportunities of interest to humanists on campus.

Thanks again so much for your interest in our work and all you may have done to support us in the past. This is going to be a special year. I’ll be in touch with anything you need to know, and then we’ll see you again for fall 2020! 


Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and MIT

Our March event and Greg’s New TechCrunch Series

From Greg M. Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and MIT:

On March 2nd, we presented our 13th annual ‘Rushdie Award’ for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Cultural Humanism, to writer Anand Giridharadas. The event was one of the Humanist Hub’s biggest and best ever — cosponsored by the American Humanist Association and the Harvard College Community of Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics (HCHAA), our event was the opening keynote of the 20th annual Social Enterprise Conference, a joint production of students at the Harvard Business School and Kennedy School. A diverse group of 1000 current and future leaders in business and politics, from world-renowned philanthropists and scholars to undergraduates, gathered to hear Giridharadas give a passionate affirmation of humanism and an extraordinarily eloquent call for economic justice.

Here is his acceptance speech, which was followed by an extended conversation with Harvard’s Jason Furman, the former Obama Administration Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors. Here we are presenting the award in front of a packed Klarman Hall. Like so many of the wonderful student organizers, I was inspired by the event and believe the coming years can be a time of real progress toward equity. Meanwhile, I am excited to share that I’ve launched a new series on the ethics of technology, for TechCrunch. My first piece in the series was a dialogue with Giridharadas.

Last week, I was delighted to speak with James Williams, a former Google executive who won the Founders Prize, Google’s highest honor; then he went to do a PhD in tech ethics at Oxford and has now become one of the world’s leading critics of his former industry.”What led me to go to Oxford to study the ethics of persuasion and attention,” Williams told me, “was that I didn’t see [a focus on] people’s true goals and intentions ultimately winning out across the industry. In fact, I saw something really concerning happening in the opposite direction…” It was an incredibly enlightening conversation and I’d be honored if you’d read and share it: 

I won’t email for each installment, so do look out soon for my talk on the ethics of internet culture with the Atlantic’s Taylor Lorenz; and then a panel the following week on what “tech ethics,” certainly a hot topic these days, even is, with Kathy Pham, an ethical tech expert at Harvard; Hilary Cohen at the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford; and Jessica Baron, a writer on tech ethics at Forbes and TechEngage. Many more exciting guests to come.

Anand Giridharadas To Receive Rushdie Award

The Humanist Hub and the Humanist Community at Harvard, along with the Harvard College Community of Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics (HCHAA) and the American Humanist Association, are thrilled to announce that Anand Giridharadas is the 13th annual winner of our Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award for Humanism in Culture: the ‘Rushdie Award,’ after first winner Sir Salman Rushdie.

Giridharadas was selected for his extraordinary accomplishments as a writer, at a very young age; and most recently for his groundbreaking public advocacy for humanist ideals such as justice, equity, compassion, and intersectionality. Among many accomplishments, he is the author of three books; a prolific columnist, correspondent, and contributor to publications such as the New York Times, where he first interned and wrote articles at the age of 17, and at the Atlantic, the New Yorker, and others; an on-air political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC; and a visiting scholar at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.

Giridharadas’s most recent book, “Winners Take All,” is a bold and brilliant examination of the increasing concentration of wealth and influence among a new global aristocracy. In the book, and in a vigorous campaign across traditional and social media, he argues that America in particular has become a “functional oligarchy.” But for Giridharadas, wealthy and influential people have come to dominate not only the world’s financial resources, but also to hoard an outsized and unhealthy share of human dignity. With passion and precision, he shows how billionaires, corporations, consulting firms, and other elites have used philanthropy and other charitable endeavors to exert influence while diverting attention from the need for more comprehensive social and economic justice reform.

We are particularly proud to announce, therefore, that Giridharadas will accept our 2019 award as part of delivering the opening keynote for this year’s 20th annual Social Enterprise Conference, a joint production of students at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, set to bring together approximately 1000 top leaders, practitioners and students on March 2-3, 2019 to engage in dialogue, debate, and expression around Social Enterprise. Much of this year’s conference will effectively be an opportunity to respond to Giridharadas’s call for self-examination and change by precisely the sort of leaders that can often be found at HBS and HKS (and, perhaps, at some humanist gatherings!). We look forward to this year’s celebration as a special opportunity for open and critical dialogue.

For more information and an opportunity to purchase tickets for this event as part of the Social Enterprise Conference, see: A limited number of tickets have been set aside for humanist students at Harvard or MIT: please contact  

Come In From the Cold

Curious about a humanist winter holiday celebration?  We were streaming live from the MIT Chapel on December 13, 2018.  Click here to watch.  Happy holidays to you and yours!

The Humanist Hub’s electronic bonfire glowing in the MIT Chapel

Come In From the Cold: MIT Humanist Community Winter Celebration

Music by Nedelka Prescod, Musician-In-Residence, MIT Chapel

Invocation, Nina Lytton, Chaplaincy Intern, The Humanist Hub

Firestarting, David Whitlock, Science Advisor, The Humanist Hub

Hymn to the Light by David Breeden: Nina Lytton

Rise Up O Flame: Nedelka Prescod

Fight with the Fire, by Gajanan Mishra: Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain of MIT

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, by Nina Simone: Nedelka Prescod

The Body is Humankind, by Norman Cousins: Tomás Egeña

When Darkness Falls, by Josh Fox: Nedelka Prescod

Grateful, by Diane Warren: Nedelka Prescod

Sensory Awareness Meditation with Eucalyptus: Greg Epstein

Secular Sermon, Keystone Species: Nina Lytton

Seasonal Suggestions: TIM the Beaver

Some Type of Love, by Charlie Pluth: The MIT Chorallaries

Probably Up, by Lawrence: The MIT Chorallaries

Fire Extinguished: David Whitlock

Where is My Light? by Sherwin Wine: Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain, MIT

Arise O Ye of MIT +Take Me Back to Tech: The MIT Chorallaries

 Watch the video here

A Holiday Celebration for the Rest of Us

It’s cold. It’s dark. Are we seasonally depressed? Yeah. Tense over exams and work? Yeah. Difficult times for our country and our world? Double yeah.

If you’re passionately celebrating a religious holiday right now, great.

But if you’re not particularly religious, come and join atheists, agnostics and allies in the greater MIT community as we meet in the MIT Chapel (ironically enough!) on Thursday December 13th at 5:30 pm.

We’re going to create some cheer of our own, together. Emphasis on the together.

In the United States, some people cherish the idea that heroism is the ability to go it alone. But the American College Health Association’s 2017 annual survey of college students reports that 63% have felt lonely, with higher than average rates of loneliness in elite educational institutions. Self-care “solutions” are marketed as if loneliness is an individual problem divorced from the context of our lives, and anxiety is something that can be cured by spending money.

The notion of individual success or failure doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Life is first and foremost a collaborative endeavor. You’re not born alone, you don’t get educated alone, and what you accomplish you do by leveraging the contributions of others. You may not come to know all these people personally, but that doesn’t erase their contribution to your wellbeing. You don’t experience your full humanity alone.

The experience of loneliness depends significantly on how you’re embodied, and where. Many have difficulty because, at a macro level, our culture shames some, glorifies others, and that encourages tribalism.

We thrive places like MIT when we find ourselves among people who nurture us. The MIT community, with our inventive, compassionate people, is rich with opportunities for generative interdependence. The dark days of winter are a time to strengthen our friendships, build new links of connection, and relish the possibilities of our life together here on campus. This kind of togetherness is worth celebrating.

—Nina Lytton

Suggested Reading: Self-Care Won’t Save Us