A place for people of faith and no-faith to explore shared values, build respect and mutually inspiring relationships, and pursue common action for the common good

Help! My campus isn’t multi-faith!

In Better Together, Elmhurst College on February 25, 2011 at 10:07 am

Elmhurst College Chapel

Things I didn’t think about when applying to colleges: the party atmosphere, proximity to grocery stores, the importance of a fabulous library, whether the sidewalks are heated (Elmhurst’s are!), and a plethora of other things…including the religious make up of the campus. I didn’t know, coming to college, I would expand so far beyond my 17 year-old Lutheran-youth-group-church-nerd-self in acting on my beliefs and convictions regarding social change and faith-based organizing; I didn’t consider that I might want to attend a college with more religious diversity (or heck, diversity in general). I don’t know that I even thought about religious diversity in much earnest until, in my first week of college, someone invited me to Spiritual Life Council and I went because they did service work.

Elmhurst is 42% Roman Catholic and 21% Protestant, with 29% of our student body “Other, not affiliated, not reporting”, we have all of five active student organizations centered around a religious identity (out of more than 100 clubs and organizations), and yes, sometimes that makes interfaith cooperation an up-hill battle- on a campus of 2,600, 37% non-Christian is a pretty small number. Sometimes it’s a struggle to have a conversation about our different beliefs because most of the people in the room hold similar core belief systems (or end up at the point of thinking another doesn’t practice the “right way”), sometimes we get caught using only Judeo-Christian– wait, strike that– Christian language to talk about values and practices– “othering” any person of minority faith who may try to enter the conversation. Yeah, sometimes interfaith work on such a homogeneous campus can be tough, especially when I hear about campus’ demographics of my peers in IFYC.

But, you know what? It also means that people tend to be more curious about other faiths, as they may have never had a working interaction or conversation with a Jew, Hindu, Sikh, or Mormon. Elmhurst’s small number of non-Christian students (and staff & faculty) can mean our conversations that are held in multi-faith groups are richer, we are more excited to learn, and those of us who do not follow the predominant religion are all the more engaged in our faith and interfaith work (from my perspective, as a person whose practice is in transition).

Now, even though sometimes I wish I could walk out my door and talk with people who openly identify as Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, or Mormon, and sometimes I yearn not to have to pull teeth in discussion, I have grown to appreciate that we are still able to become more religiously literate and grow in respect for people of other faith and philosophical traditions.

At Elmhurst, we are still figuring out how to reach beyond our campus to engage multiple faiths– by visiting various houses of worship, planning a fall retreat in Chicago– a heart of world religions in the United States– exploring what faith traditions are doing in the city, worshiping, serving, engaging the metro and our community.

So, if your campus seems homogeneous, take heart, interfaith cooperation can happen, engaging faith and philosophical values of any tradition (even if everyone claims the same one) is important because we all interpret and act on our values differently– talk about those interpretations- that’s interfaith cooperation!

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Whats Your Calling? and Chris Stedman, Rae Nelson. Rae Nelson said: Help! My campus isn't multi-faith! http://wp.me/p15fWF-3r […]

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