USC Welcomes Ryan Bell as Humanist Chaplain

The Office of Religious Life (ORL) at the University of Southern California (USC) is proud to welcome Ryan Bell as Humanist Chaplain.

Forty-four percent of incoming USC Freshman this year have no religious affiliation. We are at a unique moment in American religious history as the fastest growing religious demographic are those who are unaffiliated with formal religion. Traditionally, very few resources have been allocated on college and university campuses to meet this need, but USC is changing that,” said Dr. Varun Soni, Dean of Religious Life.

In his role, Ryan will serve as Advisor to the Secular Student Fellowship and provide programing and resources to the growing number of atheist, agnostic, humanist, secular, and questioning students at USC.

Ryan joins USC after 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, first in the Philadelphia metro area and then in Los Angeles. He was the Senior Pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church from 2005 to 2013 after which he parted ways with the Adventist Church due to theological and practical differences. In January 2014 Ryan began a personal and professional project he called “Year Without God.” In a blog by the same name, he wrote that he would spend the year exploring atheism and the problems with Christianity in an effort to answer questions that had long bothered him. A year later, Ryan revealed to Arun Rath on All Things Considered that he was an atheist and a humanist. His story appeared on the cover of the Los Angeles Times in December 2014 and covered by media outlets around the world, including the BBC, CNN, NPR, Washington Post, to name a few.

Today, Ryan is the National Organizing Manager at the Secular Student Alliance and hosts a podcast called Life After God.

“The future of the humanist chaplaincy is bright,” says Associate Dean Vanessa Gomez Brake. “Our office is not oriented around God, but around meaning and purpose. This sets us apart from other universities, so it was only logical Bell join our team, and continue to expand our support to those students and staff who have a secular worldview.”


  1. Mason on March 12, 2018 at 11:24 pm

    What role does a humanist play in a religious organization?

    • Ryan Bell on March 13, 2018 at 5:59 pm

      Hi Mason,
      Humanist chaplains serve the secular humanist and non-religious students on campus. They do many of the same things religious chaplains do—build relationships, help the students organize their meetings and activities, do one-on-one counseling, and provide social support. The organization I and other campus chaplains serve is is a university, not a religious organization, though we do serve alongside other religious groups and chaplains.


  2. Stephen Ross on March 14, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    In our disheartening ,fragmenting and dysfunctional society, the formation of a secular student alliance, and appointment of a secular humanist chaplain on campus, is auspicious. After letting down our hair, reinventing sex, liberating women, and desegregating the south, we of the ’60s thought our work was done. The world was fixed. We cut off the hair (most of us), donned the suits and ties, switched from pot to booze, and went to work, got married, had your parents, got divorced, and basically, tuned out again. Thus the inroads made by the relentless, undaunted, insidious religious right., joining forces with the mega wealthy – thus the Donald. You of college age now bare the burden of our inattention to the “common good”. You are now the future, and ” The Future is History”.

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