Photo by Ines Hegedus-Garcia via Flickr

Photo by Ines Hegedus-Garcia via Flickr

University of Miami affirms America’s first academic chair for Study of Atheism

The Appignani Foundation recently donated an amount of $2.2 million to the University of Miami to endow America's first academic chair for the study of atheism, humanism, and secular ethics.

Louis Appignani is an entrepreneur and philanthropist. He is also an atheist. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Appignani severed his affiliation with religion once he discovered the works of Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, logician, and Nobel laureate.

The Appignani Foundation, established in 2001, supports secular activities that address significant, viable and long-term human goals. In an interview given to the New York Times, Appignani said that the reason why he would like to have an academic discipline that deals with atheism and secularism established, is to “eliminate discrimination against atheists.” This would pave the way for atheism to be made “legitimate.”

The University of Miami has been cautious and reluctant at first, about the notion of secularism and atheism as a stand-alone academic discipline. Their main concern has been that the discipline would be seen by many people as an advocacy position for atheists. The University has a religion department, however, they do not take an advocacy position while teaching about various religions. The University wanted the word atheism dropped from the title of the chair. They also proposed to call it a chair in philosophical naturalism. Louis Appignani refused. The initiative wouldn’t have been implemented had the University not relented. Thomas J. LeBlanc, Executive Vice President and Provost of the University of Miami, in an interview, made it clear that the University would not be taking an advocacy position while teaching about atheism or secular ethics.

According to Harvey Siegel, a philosophy professor at the University of Miami who helped Appignani to broker the arrangement, they started discussing this idea more than 15 years ago. It took a lot of persuading from their side to make the University agree to their proposal.

Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, said that it is very important for the study of morality to be shackle-free of religion. The University of Miami has just taken a very bold step in that direction.

According to a Pew Research Center report, the number of people in America who claim no religious affiliation is on the rise. In 2014, about 23 percent of the American population identified themselves as people with no religion. In 2007, the statistic was 16 percent. As per the report, young Americans are even less religious. About 35 percent of millennials are either atheists or agnostics or people with no religion in particular.

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