The Humanist Institute: A History

By Wintermute, Carol | The Humanist, September-October 2011 | Go to article overview

The Humanist Institute: A History


Wintermute, Carol, The Humanist


The Humanist Institute is a graduate-level leadership education and training program founded by visionaries across the spectrum of the humanist movement who saw the need to pool resources in order to more effectively promote humanism in the face of declining interest in the late 1970s and early '80s. Paul Beattie, a Unitarian Universalist humanist minister, initiated the project to create an organization re presenting all humanist groups in North America. At several International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) World Congresses. Beatty met with Sherwin Wine (Society for Humanistic Judaism); Howard Radest (Ethical Culture); Paul Kurtz (Council of Secular Humanism); and Khoren Arisian (representing Ethical Culture and Unitarian Universalist humanists). With others they created the North American Committee for Humanism (NACH) whose first order of business was to create a school for training future humanist leaders.

In August of 1982, forty-five representatives of the American Ethical Union. the American Humanist Association. the American Rationalist Association. the Council for Secular Humanism, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Friends of Religious Humanism (part of the Unitarian Universalist Association), the Humanist Association of Canada. and the Society for Humanistic Judaism met at the University of Chicago to form the Humanist Institute. It was the first graduate program for the education of humanist leaders who serve organizations across the humanist continuum. Wine was elected president, Radest became the dean, and the New York Society for Ethical Culture offered their building as the home of the Institute. In March of 1984 the first class was formed.

To launch this enterprise in less than two years was a surprising feat. Some organizations provided scholarships, others provided classroom space, and members of all groups had to be solicited for financial support. To this day board members, deans, and faculty are all volunteers as they believe strongly in the mission of preparing humanist leaders to be advocates, innovative thinkers, and organizational experts who will advance the movement's influence in the public arena.

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The Humanist Institute curriculum is designed to immerse one in humanist history and philosophy, including the various forms of humanism in North America, and to contextualize the movement in light of other religions and philosophical movements. …

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