Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Keeping the Faiths

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Keeping the Faiths

Article excerpt

Faced with America's stratified religious landscape, colleges and universities work to embrace spiritual diversity through inclusive discourse, initiatives and programs.

A formerly Methodist church at Johns Hopkins University these days serves a multitude of purposes. At midday on Fridays, Muslim students assemble there for Jummah prayer. At sundown that same day, Jewish students file inside to begin Shabbat services. When Sunday comes, the church's stained glass windows, depicting Christianity's iconography, are once again in open view as a Catholic Mass is administered.

"All those groups are able to use the same space because we transformed it, for example, by placing shutters over the stained glass so the non-Christians can worship without [looking at] Christian idols or images," says the Rev. Albert Mosley, head chaplain and director of the Johns Hopkins campus ministry office and its Bunting Meyerhoff Interfaith and Community Service Center. The private, secular university established the center in an old Methodist church it purchased in the late 1990s.

Like many academic institutions in the U.S., that sprawling Baltimore university has adapted itself to the changing face of the religiously devout in an increasingly ethnically, racially and spiritually stratified America. Nationwide, some campuses have focused on the rise in religious diverthe religious fractures sity and mending have crafted programs that persist. They aimed at letting a shifting religious landscape follow an unfettered path forward. Even the White House is ramping up its religious diversity initiatives, as reflected in its Advancing Interfaith and Community Service on College and University Campuses conference in June in Washington, D.C. The half-day event convened a dialogue on interfaith with university presidents, faculty, chaplains and religious and community leaders. A Wellesley College professor who co-created Beyond Tolerance: A Campus Religious Diversity Kit - a guide to resolving interreligious conflict, developing multifaith facilities and encouraging student engagement across religious lines - is one of 60 consultants on Advancing Interfaith Cooperation on College and University Campuses, an ongoing White House initiative that grew out ofthat June gathering.

Embracing its role in that movement, Johns Hopkins, Mosley says, has spent the last 15 years in a protracted effort to welcome and promote religious diversity. "In our Interfaith Center, on any given day, you'll find a Jewish kid and a Muslim kid engaged in serious dialogue," Mosley says. "And that's not happening in the real world to the extent that it should."

Media Manipulation

Clashes over religion are apparent throughout the world. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, sided with the University of California Hastings Law School in a suit filed by the Christian Legal Society, a student organization that ran afoul of the university's mandate that every student group be open to any participant, including those who disagreed with an organization's mission. The society had been ordering its members to sign a "statement of faith" that they were indeed Christians who, for example, believed homosexuality is a sin.

There's also the debate over whether Muslim leaders in New York should be given the go-ahead to build a proposed Islamic center and mosque two blocks from the former World Trade Center site. News media reports suggest that the project's opponents outnumber the supporters of religious pluralism, though that has not been empirically proven, says practicing Muslim Aisha Asif, a junior journalism and biology major at Brooklyn College. Islamic women in head scarves or head-to-toe hijab and Muslim men in kufis, the ritualistic head caps, are a comparatively common sight at Brooklyn College.

"The media has this bad habit of juxtaposing issues that aren't necessarily related," Asif says. "But I've never been treated badly at Brooklyn College. …

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