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New MA degree in humanist pastoral support and ceremonies

The MA represents the UK’s first academic route into paid employment as a non-religious pastoral carer

A new postgraduate degree from the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling (NSPC) will provide the UK’s first academic route into humanist pastoral care and humanist celebrancy. Humanists UK, the national charity representing non-religious people, has welcomed the new course.

The Master of Arts degree in Existential and Humanist Pastoral Care was developed by the NSPC and Humanists UK. The NSPC is currently recruiting for applicants to the course, which commences in September. The course lasts for 2-4 years and leads to both an MA degree from the University of Middlesex and probationary accreditation as a Humanists UK celebrant and probationary membership of the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network (NRPSN).

Humanists UK has been providing humanist ceremonies for over 120 years, and was recently awarded an internationally recognised quality mark for its celebrant and pastoral carer training. A recent analysis found Humanists UK, through its Humanist Ceremonies™ arm, was the fifth largest provider of weddings in England and Wales – surpassed in number only by the state and the Anglican, Catholic, and Methodist churches. Its provision of pastoral support has also grown enormously in recent years, with one in three NHS trusts and health boards now offering NRPSN members, and humanists taking up leading roles in pastoral support and ‘chaplaincy’.

In the Netherlands, the University of Humanistic Studies has successfully supported those looking to enter the ‘humanist professions’ or study aspects of humanism since 1989. Humanist pastoral support is widely available throughout the Dutch armed forces, health service, and prison service. The same is true in Norway and Belgium.

Commenting on the new MA degree, Humanists UK Head of Pastoral Support Simon O’Donoghue said,

‘We’re enormously proud of our involvement in this new course. We hope that it will help to accelerate the growth and availability of non-religious pastoral support in both institutional and community settings by providing the first direct academic route to employment.

‘A majority in the UK have a non-religious worldview, but most of us still don’t have the option of speaking to a trained and like-minded person during life’s most challenging episodes. The new MA degree in humanist pastoral care will help us address this inequality and help to raise standards across the UK.’

To enrol on the course, please visit the NSPC website.


For further information or comments, please contact our current Head of Pastoral Support Jessica Grace on, or contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs Richy Thompson on

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and campaigning work, we’re committed to creating a fair and equal society for all.

About our work in pastoral support

Read more about our provision of non-religious pastoral support:

Learn about the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network:

Research by Humanists UK shows that the term ‘chaplain’ is generally understood to be one that exclusively applies to Christians, and this can be a barrier to non-religious people in accessing non-religious pastoral support. For this reason Humanists UK uses the more descriptive terms ‘pastoral support’ and ‘pastoral care’ to describe its work.

We works for an end to irrelevant religious discrimination in publicly funded posts such as general pastoral support jobs in hospitals and elsewhere, which are often unfairly reserved only for religious people or people of certain religions, and for equal treatment of the non-religious according to need in the limited number of settings where belief-specific services are legitimately provided, including hospitals. Read more about our campaigns work on chaplaincy and pastoral support:

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