11/20/2008

Talk About Faith

  • http-blogs-fandm-edu-wp-content-blogs-dir-29-files-2012-04-chaplain-jpg Susan Minasian  

Christyne McCutchen ’11 has discussed it with her friends, but it stopped there.

Brad Nelson ’12 hasn’t spoken to anyone about it. He’d like to, but how to start the conversation?

“It doesn’t come up in lectures or student conversations,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to me that there is a concern about it.”

It’s not necessarily something comfortable to talk about, students say, but for many, their spirituality is important to them, and most said they wouldn’t mind hearing more about the faith of others.

Perhaps Susan Minasian can help.

It is her goal as campus chaplain to get students to explore their spirituality and to understand and appreciate the beliefs and values of others.

“I’m not interested in being a chaplain here to give people answers. I celebrate stories and I celebrate questions,” Minasian said. “A college campus is a safe space to have conversations about what we believe.”

Minasian co-pastors St. Andrew’s United Church of Christ on the corner of Lime and New streets in Lancaster city. In her second year as College chaplain, she said her focus has turned to increasing students’ awareness of their own spirituality and encouraging them to discuss their beliefs with others.

“People are very interested in opposing points of views about religion, but we are not as interested in how we incorporate spirituality into our lives,” she said.

In fact, a recent survey of college students nationwide suggested only about 20 percent believe their college or university does a good job promoting a discussion about spirituality.

Although she’s agnostic, McCutchen believes there is an interest among students in spiritual matters, and although students have options, there could be greater discussion.

“There is a lot of interest on campus about religion and that’s healthy. A lot of my friends go to Catholic mass, and we do spend some time talking about spirituality.”

Tara Bakaya ’09 and Shimoni Shedh ’09 are Hindu and would welcome interest in their faith tradition.

Hinduism is the world’s third-largest religion and has more than a billion followers, Bakaya noted, and she has never heard a discussion about it on campus.

“I think there is a general curiosity about spirituality,” but it doesn’t go much farther than that, said Shedh.

“Perhaps with the comfortable environment,” Bakaya added, “people could explore that curiosity.”

Exploring personal faith and the beliefs of others is important to understanding the world around us, said Virginia Maksymowicz, associate professor of art and faculty adviser to the John Newman Association, a Catholic student organization on campus.

“Intellectual life is absolutely linked to spiritual life. Knowing history, theology, philosophy… struggling with moral issues, asking the hard questions, debating those who disagree with you… considering such things helps one define belief,” Maksymowicz said.

Psychology Professor Michael Penn, a follower of the Baha’i faith, said one of the most important aspects of spirituality centers upon “evoking a sense of the sacred through prayer and meditation.

“It seems to me important that forums be created that enable people of diverse religious and spiritual backgrounds to come together to share in this,” he said.

Penn noted that options for prayer and meditation exist on campus.

There are a host of Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist and other religious resources available to students.

One of the goals of the newly opened Klehr Center for Jewish Life is to provide students of the Jewish faith, and of all faith traditions, a “space for religious conversation,” said Ralph Taber, associate dean of the College and Klehr Center director.

“We hope to be able to hold interfaith dialogues and programs here. One of the goals on campus, in terms of spiritual and religious life, is to promote dialogue. I think it is important for our campus to have a variety of spaces for spiritual conversation,” Taber said.

That’s why Minasian is founding a multi-faith resource center.

Currently, Minasian is cloistered in a small, out-of-the-way office in the Steinman College Center. But in December, she moves near the post office in the College Center lower level. Her office will be in the multi-faith resource center, which will have space for informal talks and lectures.

Earlier this year, Minasian started “The Big Tent” series that brings a different Protestant minister to campus each Sunday for a 6:30 p.m. worship service in Nevin Chapel in Old Main.

On Friday, Dec. 5, at 4:30 p.m., Minasian will host a 30-minute period of contemplation in the Phillips Museum’s Dana Gallery, inviting students to meditate on the artwork of Cleve Gray.

“When we take time to be quiet and contemplate a piece of art, it is a way to become in tune with the transcendent,” she said.

Visit the Religious and Spiritual Life page on the F&M Web site for information about and links to the various religious communities at Franklin & Marshall and in the greater Lancaster area.

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