Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

The Multi-Faith Center: Practical Considerations for an Important Campus Facility

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

The Multi-Faith Center: Practical Considerations for an Important Campus Facility

Article excerpt

There are six key physical space factors to consider when planning campus multi-faith centers.

INTRODUCTION

They were found praying in the stairwells. Something had to be done. Cultural diversity was a key celebrated component in the success of the college. In fact, the college was known for its international depth and breadth, not only in the diversity of its student population, but also in its rich selection of course offerings. If it did not recognize and facilitate its Muslim students' needs to adhere to strict times of the day to pray, then how deep was the commitment of the institution to embracing and understanding other cultures? Soon, a room was found, its furnishings cleared, and a cabinet for prayer rugs added along with a sign by the door reading "Quiet Room," a place for all to worship.

This story is familiar to many educational institutions. Increasingly, both private and public schools are recognizing the importance of the spiritual and religious lives and needs of their constituents. The necessity of creating spaces to serve these needs mirrors a larger cultural trend in the United States today. Our institutions are acknowledging and striving to provide facilities for the many faiths that have been on the fringes of our Judeo-Christian culture since the country's earliest years. The response to this facility need has taken several paths. Some colleges and universities refer their constituents to facilities in the surrounding community. Others have adapted the existing campus chapel, built new facilities, or provided space in existing administrative or academic structures. For each, the goal is to provide appropriately for any and all of a student's religious and spiritual needs. A multi-faith center, available to all, is often the solution.

THE MULTI-FAITH CENTER

Buildings to be used by more than one religion were constructed on some American campuses in the early years of the Cold War. At that time, religious diversity meant different groups of Protestants sharing a facility with Catholics and sometimes Jews as those were the most prevalent faiths on campus. These buildings were often called "nondenominational chapels" or, as at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), "the meeting house," and while some had simple crosses, often there was no religious iconography of any kind. Many of these facilities had fixed seating and a permanent altar, elements that limit if not obstruct the worship practices of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Native Americans, and followers of other faiths. However, the fact that there was a place for worship on campus signaled to most campus constituents that the institution was aware of the importance of providing for the spiritual needs of its students.

Today, multi-faith centers may be either freestanding structures or part of an existing building. Smaller urban campuses may have a room set aside for worship use that was once used for a classroom or administrative office, such as at Boston's

Bunker Hill Community College (figure 1) or at Suffolk University. At Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), a public institution, private donations made during the Eisenhower era enabled the construction of a centrally located chapel. Today, the Eisenhower Chapel is incorporated into a large privately funded addition that can serve many religions and includes a 750-seat multi-faith center (figure 2).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

The Pasquarella Spiritual Center on the left is attached to the Eisenhower Chapel. Source: Photo by author.

In addition to serving the spiritual needs of students, campus multi-faith centers can be the physical embodiment of an institution's commitment to the education of its constituents about the beliefs and cultures of others. These facilities enable opportunities for dialogue, informal meetings, shared experiences, and understanding. Too often, however, these opportunities are missed, or, even worse, preferences for one or more faiths over others are implied by the architecture of the buildings themselves. …

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