So Figdor is the last guy you'd tag with the "A" word.

But, yes. The chaplain is an atheist.

"People are shocked when I tell them," Figdor said. "But atheist, agnostic and humanist students suffer the same problems as religious students - deaths or illnesses in the family, questions about the meaning of life, etc. - and would like a sympathetic nontheist to talk to."

Figdor, 28, is one of a growing number of faith-free chaplains at universities, in the military and in the community who believe that nonbelievers can benefit from just about everything religion offers except God.

Hired in July by the Humanist Community at Stanford, a nonprofit group independent of the university, Figdor is one of 18 "professional leaders" at the Office of Religious Life who typically work with sectarian student groups that pay their salaries. A graduate theological degree is required for the job, and the leader is entitled to office space on campus, a parking spot and a Stanford e-mail address. The leaders guide students in whatever way is needed, whether offering advice or organizing events.