Religion is making a comeback on college campuses
...Schools admit they have been feeding their students' minds but neglecting their souls. God has been a taboo subject, confined to the margins of college life for decades, with the result that ethics, values, and beliefs were not discussed.
...One indicator of the changing college scene is the massive response to a national conference exploring the spiritual dimensions of higher education Sept. 27-28 at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Organizers expected a regional audience from a few dozen universities, but more than 800 representatives from 350 colleges and universities attended. At least 100 people were turned away when the conference ran out of space. Those who attended included 38 college and university presidents as well as chancellors, faculty, administrators, students, alumni, trustees, and religious-life staff. A few Christian schools were represented, Wellesley said.
...The conference, titled Education as Transformation: Religious Pluralism, Spirituality and Higher Education, included workshops, panel discussions, and the role and impact of spirituality and religious diversity. Participants sat around 80 round tables under a huge tent. Speakers included those from the American Association of Higher Education, Harvard University, and Columbia University. A service closing the conference was led by Brown University and Wellesley students representing Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, Native African, Sikh, Unitarian Universalist, and Zoroastrian traditions.
...The conference initiated a five-year national effort, based at Wellesley, to get colleges and universities to talk about ways their schools deal with spirituality. Co-founder and senior adviser for the effort is Victor Kazanjian, an Episcopal priest who heads the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, which represents various faiths at Wellesley. He will help organize dialogues and update schools around the country on the progress of the discussions.
...A "religious vacuum" has existed on campuses because religion has been seen as divisive, a minefield that made administrators nervous, Kazanjian said. But when higher education "appropriately rid itself of the constraints of institutional religion," what also was lost was "any notion of the spiritual dimensions to learning," he said.
...Students are inherently spiritual, he said. They have told him story after story of "moments of being awakened to some realization, whether it was in the study of a cell and suddenly seeing the organic, the life of all things; whether it was a moment of enlightenment reading part of a poem in their English class; or the wonder of a piece of African art."
...He expects that the new trend will be to allow students of various faiths to talk freely about and worship God and that "themes of common humanity" that emerge will "bind us together."
...People do not have to "give up their own traditions in order to be open to the beauty of the others," Kazanjian told Religion Today. A former community organizer in the Bronx, N.Y., who has worked with students for 20 years, Kazanjian said he has had the delightful experience of "falling in love again with my Christian faith" as the result of contacts with people of other faiths. He advises Christians to "learn the art of listening" to others. Listening deeply to someone else's story is "an act of love," he said.
...Kazanjian said he rejects Christianity's "claims of exclusive ownership" over truth. "As I hear you speak and as I look into your eyes, I see God. I feel God. I experience God in you, not just a partial reflection of my Christian God, but the creator, the divine spirit in whom we all live and move and have our being. How magnificent is this divine force that it should appear across the earth like the flowers of a garden in so many different shapes and hues."
...Those views are challenged by others who say there is a fundamental difference between the Christian understanding of God and the understanding of God by other faiths. The Bible says that "it is only in Christ that God has truly revealed himself," Episcopal Church member Victoria Fischer wrote in the publication Episcopal Life in response to Kazanjian's assertions. "The final revelation of God given to men is that of Christ as the redeemer, fulfilling the work of atonement. God desires that all peoples of this world receive and embrace the true revelation of him in Christ Jesus."
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