Affiliate Group of the Week

Affiliate Group of the Week #21: McMaster Association of Secular Humanists (MASH)

August 1, 2013

Sonya Elango discovered the atheist movement when she stumbled upon PZ Myers' blog Pharyngula. After that, she knew she needed to find a local community of nontheists to join.  When she learned that there was a now-defunct group at her school called the McMaster Association of Secular Humanists (MASH), she joined with some friends to revive it. Sonya Elango and Philip Lauman, two members, recently joined us for the Student Leadership Conference in Amherst, New York. We know they they will take the skills they learned back to Hamilton, Ontario to do amazing things!

First, please introduce yourself. Where you go to school, graduation year, your background. What’s your “atheist/secular conversion story,” if you have one?
Hi! My name is Sonya Elango and I am a student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. I'm a biology student graduating in spring 2014.

I was raised as a Hindu and was quite religious as a kid. I started drifting into "weak" atheism around the seventh grade (a few personal things happened that made me start to question my faith) and remained there until about two years ago. During that time I did not concern myself at all with the atheist/secular movement. I (misguidedly) saw it as somewhat unnecessary. This changed when one day I stumbled upon the atheist blogosphere. Reading all these new viewpoints made me quickly transition from a "weak" to a "strong" atheist.

Sonya Elango visits the Rare Book Room at CFI—Transnational while attending the CFI 2013 Student Leadership Conference.

How did your group get started? What year was it founded? Was there a specific event or incident that motivated you or the founders to create the organization?
After becoming more interested in the secular movement, I went looking for a secular group at my university. I soon found out that a group (MASH) used to exist but was no longer running. Because I really wanted an active community for nontheists to exist at McMaster, a few of my friends and I decided to revive MASH. We started up the club in January 2013, so it is still very, very young.

What is your group’s name? How did you decide on that name?
We stuck with the name MASH because it is short and snappy and also because we felt that using the term "secular humanist" was more inclusive.

How many members does your group have? What kinds of events do you hold? 
Our club has about 10 active members though we technically have around 200 on our mailing list and in our Facebook group. Since the club has been running for less than half a year, we have not yet had too many events so far. The main event we do run is a weekly discussion group which has (in my eyes) been successful so far. We've also held a couple of pub nights throughout the semester. The thing that I am the most proud of is that we actually started the club up and that we were able to establish some sort of member base.

How did you hear about CFI On Campus? How have you worked with CFI On Campus in the past, and how do you hope to work with us in the future?
We first heard about CFI from doing research about various secular organizations. CFI was great and actually contacted us first. We've received resources (like pamphlets) and advice from them so far. In the future it would be great if we could also run events in conjunction with them.

What is your vision for the secular movement?
Personally, my hope is that the secular movement is eventually rendered obsolete and that there is no need for nontheists to build a separate community outside of regular society.


About the Author: Sarah Kaiser

Sarah Kaiser's photo

Sarah Kaiser is a field organizer for CFI On Campus. Prior to her work at CFI, she got her start in the freethought movement as the co-founder and president of the Secular Alliance at Indiana University, where she helped organize a nationally recognized atheist bus ad campaign and large campus speaking events. As an atheist, a feminist, and a small part of the universe's way of understanding itself, she is thrilled at the chance to help advance CFI's mission. On Twitter: @sarahebkaiser.




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