This week’s Chronicle of Higher Education has a feature commentary entitled, “Atheist Students on Campus: From Misconceptions to Inclusion” by Kathleen M. Goodman and John A. Mueller. Goodman and Mueller are in the process of publishing a more in-depth research article about atheists in higher education (that I’ve had the privilege of already reading). It’s very exciting to be on the cusp of this rousing paradigm change!
Since the Chronicle is a pay-site, I thought I would excerpt some of the article here.
People who follow trends in higher education are aware of a renewed emphasis on religious plurality and spirituality on college campuses. But all the articles, conferences, and campus activities surrounding religion and spirituality rarely, if at all, acknowledge one group: students who are atheists. If colleges are to be truly inclusive, they should embrace atheist perspectives as well.
Embrace! I like that word.
Few scholars, for example, have focused on atheist students…
For the most part, however, atheists have been neglected as a topic of student.
As a result, misconceptions about atheism and atheist students abound.
These are incredibly important conversations to be having! Obviously, making these same kinds of points is one of the goals of this very blog.
For example, the research shows that many students who identify as atheist — or related designations, such as humanist or free thinker — are, in fact, quite thoughtful about their purpose, morals, and values. They suggest that being good for the sake of goodness is equivalent to, or perhaps better than, being good to follow Scripture or to get into heaven, because it comes from a more personal and authentic place. They state that their life purpose is to use their skills and talents in service to the environment, humanity, and all living creatures. Their purpose and morality are less about personal salvation after death and more about celebrating and contributing to the human condition.
Yes! Yes! Yes! It is so validating to see these truths being published widely. So many people do not understand just how much thought atheists have put into their worldviews!
Atheist students, however, tend to be cautious about whom they share their perspective with because they do not want to offend others or make them uncomfortable. Nor do they want to be put in the position of having to defend their worldview. To avoid being thought of as people with no morals or life purpose who are destined for hell, they choose to remain invisible.
That is one of the biggest reasons I write this blog. I want to create visibility. Instead of always having to react and defend myself, I want to be proactive and educate and advocate. Simply being an atheist should not be offensive to people who believe. That such offense is taken speaks to the root of religious privilege and “undeserved respect.”
Making the changes that we’ve suggested offers obvious benefits for atheist students, most notably the chance to affirm their beliefs and openly communicate their perspective with other students. The benefits to nonatheist students are substantial as well. The challenge of accepting atheism as an alternative outlook can help them continue their own inner development and broaden their worldview.
That is what is most important, I think. We all need to learn how to be more inclusive and understanding of difference. I hope the work of Goodman and Mueller really raises some eyebrows in the Higher Education community.