The Many Faces of Spirituality

Tufts engages a Humanist in residence—the first in the country—and welcomes new chaplains and staff

the Tufts Chaplaincy staff

Finding meaning and purpose in our lives is part of everyone’s journey, says the Rev. Greg McGonigle, the university chaplain. But the search can be more complex for those who are nonreligious, atheist or agnostic. Some call themselves Humanists and are part of a growing movement that believes in the need and the potential for human beings to solve the world’s problems.

“A good percentage of our students identify as Humanists, and they are asking, without religion, what are our values, how do we define our spirituality, and how do we put our morality into practice in ways that satisfy our drive to care for people and heal the world?” McGonigle says.

This fall, Tufts became the first university in the country to add a Humanist to its official chaplaincy staff. It is one of four new hirings that reflect the multifaceted character of the Tufts community: international, diverse and dedicated to public service and civic engagement.

Tufts’ new Humanist in residence position, a two-year pilot program, was created at the urging of students, alumni and a chaplaincy that, along with the President’s Office, recognized a need for Tufts to take a leadership role in this area. While other universities have Humanist campus ministries, they are autonomous organizations that raise their own funds and hire their own staff who are somewhat independent of the university or college they may serve, McGonigle says.

“There is so much excitement around spiritual life here at Tufts. We have many strong religious and philosophical communities, including those who are spiritual but not religious,” says McGonigle. “In the chaplaincy, we work as a team seeking to fulfill the spiritual needs of the whole Tufts community.”

Walker Bristol, A14, is the new Humanist in residence at Tufts. As a Tufts student, Bristol was an active leader in Tufts’ Freethought Society, the student Humanist organization, as well as in many campus social justice movements. In addition to his familiarity with the Tufts community, Bristol brings experience working with Harvard’s Humanist community and volunteering at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and the Foundation Beyond Belief, an international charity. This fall he began work toward a Master of Divinity degree at Harvard Divinity School.

New Muslim and Protestant Chaplains

Also newly appointed is the Muslim chaplain, Celene Ibrahim-Lizzio, an internationally recognized teacher, writer and lecturer on Islamic law and Qur’anic studies, Islam in America, interfaith relations and gender and sexuality.

Ibrahim-Lizzio served as interim Muslim chaplain this summer, during the celebration of Ramadan. Concerned by the tragic conflict between Israel and Gaza, she reached out to Tufts Hillel and co-sponsored an interfaith iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break their daily fast during Ramadan.

“Everyone shared a meal and got to know each other better,” McGonigle said. “It was so appreciated, and organizing an event like that says a lot about the kind of person Celene is.”

This isn’t her only job—she is also Muslim scholar-in-residence and co-director of the Center for Inter-Religious and Communal Leadership Education at Andover Newton Theological School and Hebrew College. When asked why she would choose to work at Tufts amid so many other commitments, “she told me that she had been praying during Ramadan and got the feeling that her time with the Tufts community was not done. And so she applied to stay,” reports McGonigle.

The new Protestant chaplain, Chanta Bhan, is a Pakistani-American who has been involved with many expressions of Protestant community, McGonigle says. Her family attended a Pentecostal church when she was growing up, and she later served as a multicultural minister at Boston’s Park Street Church before becoming an Episcopalian.

She also served as Protestant chaplain at Babson College and then became a hospice chaplain for seven years, “counseling a wide diversity of people at very hard times in their lives,” McGonigle says. “Chanta has a big heart and is excited to bring her strengths in pastoral care to Tufts.”

Bhan still finds time to go to Pakistan to do relief and human rights work, all the while serving as vice chair of the Cambridge Human Rights Commission and the founding director of Global Compass, a consulting firm that helps individuals, families and businesses build bridges between cultures, religions and nationalities.

“She is very interested in working with international students and hopes to work closely with the Group of Six multicultural centers,” says McGonigle.

The other new member of the chaplaincy team is program and outreach specialist Zachary Cole, who will work to build partnerships and programs between the chaplaincy and other global learning, active citizenship and social justice efforts across all of Tufts’ campuses.

“People from different faiths and beliefs need to talk with each other and work with each other, because they share so many common values,” McGonigle says. “For many in our country and world, their lives are centered on deep faith. Others, even those who do not practice a traditional religion, are still seeking meaning—a way to put their lives in a larger context. Helping everyone at Tufts do that is what our chaplaincy is all about.”

Gail Bambrick can be reached at

Back to Top