The College of Liberal Arts received a $1 million endowment to establish a new professorship in secular studies from a retired psychology professor from the Illinois Institute of Technology and University of Arkansas.
The Brian F. Bolton Distinguished Professorship in Secular Studies will make UT the first public university to have an endowed professorship geared towards secular research, according to the Austin American-Statesman. David Ochsner, director of public affairs for COLA, said an existing senior faculty member will be selected to fill the position.
“This area of study will add to our already substantial course offerings in the study of belief systems,” Ochsner said in an email. “Departments of religion have, for many decades, included courses studying wide ranges of belief systems, including atheism and agnosticism.”
Brian Bolton, who is also a humanist minister said humanism is a “focus on life and the here and now,” according to the Statesman. Although Bolton has never taught at UT, he has lived in Texas for 18 years since retiring and decided he wanted to make an impact at UT.
“One way or another, you have to do something as you come near the end of life,” Bolton said. “I’m 80 years old, so I’m not going to be around too much longer.”
In the United States, 26% of the adult population identifies as “atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular,’” according to the Pew Research Center. The percentage of religiously unaffiliated people is greater among young adults at 38%, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.
“It’s just the way ... younger people think about philosophical issues that has caused them to move in this direction,” Bolton said. “It’s been a dramatic change in the last 20 years.”
Psychology freshman Marcus McDonel said the endowment is an important step for advancing research in a subject that has traditionally lacked scholarly attention.
“Secularism and the way it’s involved with schools and the state is very interesting to me,” McDonel said. “There are a lot of religious studies classes you can take (at UT), but no (classes) that focus on (secularism).”
Bolton said the UT faculty member ultimately chosen for the position will determine the course of the research that’s done, such as secular studies with a focus in psychology.
“(I’ve spent) 40 years promoting free thought and the secular view of life,” Bolton said. “I promote the humanist philosophy, humanitarian values and scientific principles.”