Portraits of Belief

Hadley Rahrig

Hunger acts as a surprising mecha-nism for bringing people together. Last Wednesday, March 28, around two dozen Colgate students broke fast together in the back room of Frank Dining Hall af-ter a daylong period with no food of any kind. Around a long rectangular table, student leaders from Newman Commu-nity, the Colgate Jewish Union (CJU), University Church, the Hindu Student Association (HSA) and the Secular As-sociation of Skeptical Students (SASS), gathered together to break the fast that signified the struggles of hunger in Cen-tral New York. Colgate’s All Beliefs Com-munity (ABC) designed this ten-hour “Fast-a-thon” specifically for this pur-pose: to raise awareness of poverty in Central New York through the collabora-tive efforts of the different religious orga-nizations. Not only did fasting instill an understanding of the true nature of rural poverty, but also collective compassion appeared to unite these different faith groups on another level. That evening, students learned a great deal about rural hunger, its causes and the solutions that actually produce change. However, this is not the story of how the ABC mobilized to fight rural poverty. This is just one of the many steps interfaith advocates have taken to merge together into a passionate and peaceful force.

Interfaith cooperation isn’t accom-plished in a day. In fact, it has not fully de-veloped as a movement after several years on campus. However, when Eboo Patel spoke on campus this year, interfaith coop-eration between the religious communities became a higher priority than it has been in previous years.

“We had an interfaith council before, but their mission was more to advertise religious events,” sophomore Elisabeth Muehlemann said.

Eventually, due to her dual involve-ment with interfaith and with Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (COVE), Muehlemann was appointed the official Interfaith Intern by Universi-ty Chaplain and Catholic Campus Min-ister Mark Shiner. She helped organize weekly religious discourse in Heretics Club lunches, which have mimicked the evolution of interfaith.

“We’ve become more about service and dialogue run by students,” Muehle-mann said. With speakers like Assistant Professor of Religion Jenna Reinbold and President Jeffrey Herbst making star appearances, large groups of diverse stu-dents have found engaging in dialogue more approachable than ever.

Situated in the Memorial Chapel basement, an intimate group of students gathers weekly to make an active interfaith culture a reality. Sitting among them, it is evident that no one religious group has an agenda. Instead, these young students are a surprisingly cohesive unit. A regular meeting is characterized by a struggle to keep on task as jokes and laughter erupt be-tween platforms and planning events. Thick walls are usually thought to separate people of different faiths, yet those do not exist here. What’s equally impressive is that a large portion of the interfaith board is governed by passion-ate first-years. They record meetings, avidly search for funding and dictate the direction of the organization’s constitution.

A greater sign of developing peace ex-ists in the friendships derived from in-terreligious interactions on campus. The experience of first-year Christopher Don-nelly shows how people of religion tend to connect with each other on multiple levels. Arriving at Colgate, Donnelly had no idea that a series of coincidences would bring him to become involved in nearly every religious organization on campus.

Shortly after joining Newman Board in the fall, Donnelly applied to eight dif-ferent jobs on campus with no luck. Fi-nally, Shiner found him an open position at the Saperstein Center with the CJU.

“That’s when I met Rabbi Dena and I immediately liked her. Midway through the interview, she realized that I’m not Jewish. And she was like, ‘Great, we need someone like that.’ I’m not bound by Friday restric-tions so I can clean up after Shabbat. Now I’m very close with a lot of the members,” Donnelly said.

Then, another event led him to discover the HSA.

“In my first-year seminar, I met a boy named Sagar Saxena, who’s a Hindu from New Delhi. One day in passing he men-tioned he had to do a presentation for the HSA,” Donnelly said. “He gave me an intro-duction to Hinduism. The people were in-credibly nice, which was great as a first-year, and I thought I’d try it out.”

Further, the overlap between the HSA and MSA slowly introduced Donnelly to the Muslim group on campus.

“It was the same story. They were warm and inviting, so I decided to stick with them,” he said.

At the end of the day, religious as well as nonreligious beliefs bring color to our cam-pus. With Jewish students attending Catho-lic Mass, various faiths attending Shabbat or hundreds of people from all backgrounds celebrating Holi, genuine respect rises.

“It’s interesting to learn about some-thing apart from what you believe in,” Muehlemann said. “It can open your eyes.”

Contact Hadley Rahrig at [email protected]