While we’re on past blog/articles, some Google-ing has brought me an old post by President Roth in Feb 2008. He was also quite surprised at the religious life at Wesleyan, apparently much more active and significant than the infamous Princeton Guide’s award of “least likely to seek god” or whatever. There was a special task force to investigate the religious and spiritual life at Wes. And here (see bold), Roth says that he doesn’t know how to create “the required space”, maybe Interfaith could help him out? 🙂
(of course, I’m not saying interfaith could replace different religious traditions, absolutely not. that’s not the meaning nor purpose of the interfaith movement. What I’m trying to say is that with such religious diversity on campus, interfaith work could create a safe space for these student groups to interact.)
Yesterday I met with a thoughtful and dedicated group of students, faculty and staff who had spent the last several months studying religious and spiritual life at Wesleyan. I had heard about the group even before I started my presidency, and I confess that I was taken by surprise. Wes has a reputation for, as the Princeton Guide puts it, being a great place ‘to ignore God on a regular basis,’ and I suppose I’d bought into that stereotype. But the task force painted a compelling picture of the diversity of religious practices on campus – from a vibrant Christian fellowship to Buddhist House, from an increasingly active Muslim prayer group to the Jewish students who gather for Shabbat. Although I did not think that we needed a Dean of Spiritual Affairs (an early suggestion that seemed only to increase our bureaucracy), I did recognize that religion was playing more of a role for our community than I had realized.
The task force members with whom I met yesterday had some very powerful recommendations for creating a campus climate in which religious practices can become more informed by different faith groups, and in which students of faith can be as open about their beliefs as other groups are about their own political and personal convictions. Although I pushed back a bit because of the institutionalized and theologically justified intolerance that does characterize some major faith groups, I certainly recognize the need for our campus to be open to religious and spiritual expression and practice. And although I don’t yet know how to create the required space, I can also see that we need places for practice that allow members of our community to explore their faiths in an appropriate context. I had started off the conversation thinking that the spiritual life of our campus was a great part of our diversity, and that all the administration had to was to ‘get out of the way.’ Alas, it’s not that simple. Some support could enrich our students’ experience. We’ll find it.
PLUS an even older blogpost on an interfaith sermon in Wesleyan
Yesterday, the rabbi asked Imam Sohaib Sultan, the Wesleyan Muslim chaplain, to join him for the sermon. Since Ramadan has just begun, he explained that his voice might be weaker than usual, since he had not eaten or had water since sunrise. In fact, he spoke quietly and powerfully about his traditions. It was a new year’s gift. It was also a “teaching moment,” time for us to think about how our practices overlap, how they differ, how we can learn from one another. Perhaps Sohaib was “turning,” too.
In a community that so values innovation and experimentation, it is also good to find our traditions thoughtfully explored and thus preserved.