Sunday, January 29, 2023

The Happy Consolidation of Humanist Organizations

Something that I'm really enjoying is seeing how the Humanist movement is reorganizing and, to some extent, consolidating. For years there were separate organizations doing their own thing to promote Humanism in the United States. Sometimes there was coordination, and sometimes not. In recent decades this has started to change. Here's an overview of the history behind Humanist Society and the Humanist Institute, which both have come into the fold of the American Humanist Association after running independently for years.

The American Humanist Association was founded in 1941, but its story began before that.
In 1927, an organization called the "Humanist Fellowship" began at a gathering in Chicago. In 1928, the Fellowship started publishing the New Humanist magazine with H.G. Creel as first editor. The New Humanist was published from 1928 to 1936. The first Humanist Manifesto was issued by a conference held at the University of Chicago in 1933. Signatories included John Dewey, but the majority were ministers (chiefly Unitarian) and theologians. They identified humanism as an ideology that espouses reason, ethics, and social and economic justice.

A group calling itself the Humanist Fellowship began gathering in Chicago, and the following year it started publishing New Humanist magazine. It ran from then until 1936, and during this time the first Humanist Manifesto was issued, in 1933. The majority of signatories were Unitarian ministers. The main features of Humanism to them were commitments to reason, ethics, and social justice. In 1935 the Humanist Fellowship became the Humanist Press Association (HPA). In 1941 the HPA was reorganized to become the American Humanist Association (AHA), and in 1952 it became a founding member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

Independently, a group of Quakers took inspiration from the Humanist Manifesto, and so in 1939 they started the Humanist Society of Friends. It was a religious nonprofit organization created to train and ordain ministers and issue charters. It has been the source for most Humanist celebrants through the years. In 1991 it officially became part of the American Humanist Association, operating separately but in service to the AHA and thus to the Humanist community at large. 

Meanwhile, in 1976 Rev. Paul Beattie, a Unitarian Universalist minister, had conceived the idea of an organization to promote training and education for Humanists. In 1982 the Rabbi Sherwin Wine organized a gathering of Humanist leaders at the University of Chicago, where the North American Committee for Humanist was formed. This group, under the leadership of Rabbi Wine as president, voted to establish the Humanist Institute. 

It was two years later, in 1984, when The Humanist Institute was officially launched. As I indicated above,  its purpose was to train leaders for the Humanist movement, from organizers to advocates and for every organizational setting. Through the years it has continued to offer educational services in defense of Humanism, and just five years ago, in 2018, it officially became part of the American Humanist Association. Here's how a recent article in The Humanist described it:

It’s been five years since The Humanist Institute joined the American Humanist Association (AHA) ranks, forming the Center for Education (CfE). Over that time, CfE has changed and grown from a small independent organization focused on a graduate-level certificate program, online self-guided studies, and open lecture series to a robust center with diverse educational opportunities for all ages—supporting AHA members, local groups and the Humanist Society endorsees (celebrants, chaplains, and lay leaders).

Much to my delight, last year (2022) the AHA Center for Education entered into a partnership with the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities to offer a Humanist Studies track for both the Master of Divinity and Master of Arts programs. Students can sign up and receive credit for Humanist Studies courses that are offered by the CfE through the seminary. The potential for Humanist leadership development across organizations is truly great. 

With the Center for Education, training of Humanist leadership is provided, and through the Humanist Society leaders are endorsed, be they Celebrants, Chaplains, or otherwise. The American Humanist Association brings them and other groups together for a common cause, while advocating for separation of religion and state as well as freedom and social justice.