In 2016, the University of Miami announced that it would become one of only two schools in the nation to have an entire program dedicated to studying atheism and atheists from an academic perspective. That’s because atheist benefactor Lou Appignani was donating $2.2 million to the school to help create the Appignani Foundation Chair for the Study of Atheism, Humanism and Secular Ethics.
“I’m trying to eliminate discrimination against atheists,” said Mr. Appignani, who is 83 and lives in Florida. “So this is a step in that direction, to make atheism legitimate.”
The meat (apologies to vegans) of the article is farther down on Friendly Atheist:
"But what will the courses look like? And do they ADVOCATE atheism the same way [endower] Appignani does in his personal life?
"The Atlantic‘s Isabel Fattal takes a close look at those questions in an article published today, and there’s actually more of a difference than I would have suspected. Part of that is because of the interests of Anjan Chakravartty, a professor of metaphysics and philosophy of science currently at Notre Dame who will hold the seat created by Appignani. (Appignani had nothing to do with Chakravartty’s selection.)"
As the Atlantic article itself says,
"The creation of the University of Miami chair calls attention to the age-old multiplicity of definitions for the word 'atheism”'—and the many conflicting ideas on what its role in public life should be. Some of the discourse around the new faculty position has focused on whether it’s a vehicle for advancing an 'advocacy' agenda in favor of atheism or an avenue for neutral scholarship of a cultural phenomenon. The university, a private nonsectarian research institution, has been careful in clarifying that this chair is not intended to proselytize on atheism’s behalf. . . . This emphasis is noteworthy given Appignani’s ["faith is stupid"] views on religion. . . .
"In light of the word atheism’s controversial status, Appignani insisted that the University of Miami include it in the chair’s title—and as the first word—despite some hesitation on the part of the university. Still, he seems to care about its other stated focuses, humanism and secular ethics, too, and he even equates the term 'atheism' with these focuses. These words are all 'one and the same in my book,' he said, adding that 'when you’re studying atheism you’re studying secularism … it’s just the word [atheism] itself [that] conjures up negative things.'"
“I think it’s a very bold step of the University of Miami, and I hope there will be others,” said Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and atheist luminary who is the author of “The God Delusion.”
“It’s enormously important to shake off the shackles of religion from the study of morality,” Mr. Dawkins said in a telephone interview from his home in Britain.
This wasn’t just a vanity move. With the rise of non-religious people in recent years, there’s a lot to explore in terms of how we think, what motivates us, and our role in the traditionally religious fabric of the country. Universities everywhere have professors (and majors) dedicated to the study of religion — and specific religions — but, so far, only Pitzer College in California (with Professor Phil Zuckerman) lets you major in Secular Studies.
Now students at Miami, religious and not, would get a chance to study atheism beyond just “New Atheism” or the ancient philosophers.