Early life and education
Epstein grew up in Flushing, Queens, New York as an assimilated and disinterested Reform Jew. He studied Buddhism and Taoism while at Stuyvesant High School in New York City and in college went to Taiwan for a semester aiming to study Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism in its original language and context. Finding that Eastern religions do not necessarily have greater access to truth than Western ones, he returned to the US and shifted his focus to rock music, recording and singing professionally for a year after college. Soon thereafter, he learned of the movement of Humanism and the possibility of a career as a Humanist rabbi and chaplain.
Humanism at Harvard
Epstein sits on the executive committee of the 36-member corps Harvard Chaplains. In 2005, Greg received ordination as a Humanist Rabbi from the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, where he studied in Jerusalem and Michigan for five years. He holds a BA (Religion and Chinese) and an MA (Judaic Studies) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Masters of Theological Studies from the Harvard Divinity School.
Greg began serving as Humanist Chaplain at Harvard in fall 2005, when the Humanist Chaplaincy’s total annual budget was $28,000. In the years since then, he has raised over $1 million in gifts and pledges to the organization, while organizing and launching a range of new programs and initiatives.
While at Harvard, Epstein has blogged for CNN, Newsweek and The Washington Post; and his work as a Humanist rabbi and Chaplain has been featured by ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. ABC News Network, Al Jazeera and others. He is an adviser to two student groups at Harvard College, the Secular Society and the Interfaith Council, and to the Harvard Humanist Graduate Community. From 2007-2010 he chaired the Advisory Board of the national umbrella organization the Secular Student Alliance, joining such renowned nonbelievers as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.
In an interview, Epsteins says that being a Humanist Rabbi "means I combine Jewish culture with the belief that this world is all we have." He is not anti-religious and "he is happy to work with the religious left (as he calls it) to help beat off the fundamentalist religious right." The Guardian compares his influence in American humanism to Richard Dawkins influence in the UK.
- "Greg Epstein Humanist Chaplain". Harvard University Humanist Organization. January 8, 2014.
- "Entries by Greg M. Epstein". Huffington Post. January 8, 2014.
- "Godless in Boston mourn, too". CNN. 18 April 2013.
- John Crace (25 January 2010). "Humanist chaplains head to the UK". Guardian.