First Ever ‘Atheist Studies’ Chair Endowed at University of Miami

For Immediate Release: May 20, 2016
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director - (207) 358-9785


The Center for Inquiry welcomed the news, published by the New York Times today, that University of Miami will establish a chair for atheist studies, the first such to be instituted at an American university. 

The University of Miami’s College of Arts and Sciences will establish the Appignani Foundation Chair for the Study of Atheism, Humanism and Secular Ethics at the College of Arts and Sciences, with an endowment of $2,200,000 from the Louis J. Appignani Foundation. The Chair will be a distinguished scholar whose research and instruction will focus on the interdisciplinary study of atheism, and will include a course on The History and Study of Atheism each semester.

“I wish to congratulate the University of Miami for agreeing to establish this position, and Lou Appignani for endowing it,” said Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and the first Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. “In the United States, those unaffiliated with religion make up almost a quarter of the population, and therefore it is only right that the nonreligious worldview, one that rejects the supernatural and embraces science and inquiry, should receive the kind of serious academic attention usually reserved for world religions.”

“I look forward to the fruits of this exciting development in American higher education,” said Dawkins, whose Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science is in the process of merging with the Center for Inquiry (CFI).

Several universities have endowed chairs focused on other religious belief systems, with chairs for Christian, Islamic, and Judaic studies not being uncommon. In 2011, Pitzer College established a major in the study in secularism. But this endowment at the University of Miami is the first at a United States university to specifically center on the academic study of atheism, and indeed is the first to have the word “atheism” in its name. 

Robyn Blumner, CEO of CFI, also heralded the announcement, saying, “The University of Miami’s mission statement declares that it is ‘absolutely committed to freedom of inquiry—the freedom to think, to question, to criticize, and to dissent,’ and this endowment is a powerful affirmation of that mission. We at the Center for Inquiry offer our congratulations to the university and the Appignani Foundation.”

In the New York Times article written by Laurie Goodstein, Louis Appignani says, “I’m trying to eliminate discrimination against atheists. So this is a step in that direction, to make atheism legitimate.” And Phil Zuckerman, a pioneer of the academic study of nontheism at Pitzer College, told the Times, “There is a real need for secular studies. As rates of irreligion continue to rise, not only here in the U.S.A. but all over the world, we need to understand secular people, secular culture, and secularism as a political and ideological force.”

The New York Times article is available at

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at