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The atheism of Fritz Müller

University of Greifswald Request not to swear an oath to God submitted by Müller to the German universityUniversity of Greifswald

In 1848, naturalist Fritz Müller (1821–1897) asked the University of Greifswald, Germany, where he was studying his medical degree, to excuse him from making the traditional oath to God during his graduation ceremony, a mandatory part of the service at the time. The university refused his request and Müller did not collect his diploma, despite having finished the course. His letter of request and five other documents related to the school’s response were identified earlier this year by historian Ana Maria L. Moraes, from the Blumenau History Institute in Santa Catarina State, during a survey of the institution’s archives. According to Moraes, who has been studying Müller since 2010, the university’s rejection was a key factor in the naturalist’s decision to come to Brazil in 1852, where he lived in Florianópolis and Blumenau, the city where he died and where his body is buried. “The story of him refusing to swear to God was already well known, but the primary source of the information had not previously been found,” she says. Moraes believes the discovery will create new opportunities for studies on the circumstances in which the physicist declared himself an atheist, as well as the consequences. “Müller’s scientific work is well known, but there are aspects of his life that still deserve to be studied in greater depth.”