Profiles: Faith on Campus

by Rebecca Asoulin | 8/13/15 7:41pm

by Kate Herrington and Kate Herrington / The Dartmouth

Josh Pearl '17

What is your religious affiliation? What organizations are you involved with on campus?

JP: I am the president of Dartmouth College Hillel, one of the Jewish organizations on campus, for [the summer term].

How do you engage with your faith on campus?

JP: I wouldn’t necessarily call it faith — I would more call it observance. I usually try throughout my day doing things like trying to keep kosher as best I can. And attend religious programming at Dartmouth Hillel that we run — the holidays and Shabbat every week.

Are there any challenges to observance?

JP: Sure, sometimes when the calendar doesn’t align right or you have a midterm or paper when it’s a holiday. You just have to talk to a professor, there all understanding.

Do you think Dartmouth students engage with religion?

JP: No, they don’t, or at least I feel that way. We have good participation at Hillel for our social events, cultural events and even our major religious events, like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. There’s no shortage of people, but when you look at the regular weekday service for Shabbat you tend to not have those people that show up to other events. The reason you don’t see many weekly is not a reflection of Dartmouth, but more a reflection of American Judaism.

Why is your religion an important part of your identity?

JP: It’s who I am. At this point — you can’t separate the two.

How did that come to be?

JP: Being raised in a Jewish household, going to Jewish day school for 12 years, living in a Jewish neighborhood. The idea that you have a secular life and a religious life implies you can only have one or the other rather than varying degrees. To say that you’re going to strip away part of that identity is impossible when it’s so intertwined with everything else you are. It’s making it into a black and white situation and I cant believe it’s that way for anyone. There’s no such thing that you can press on and off on your religious life — it’s always part of your identity.

Terren Klein '17

How do you religiously identify yourself?

TK: I would probably in most contexts say that I’m Jewish. I was raised in a Conservative Jewish household and I attended Jewish day school for most of my life. At school, I’m not particularly involved in many religious organizations. I am not particularly observant of many Jewish practices at this time. I would describe myself in this liminal place between Judaism and un-affiliation.

Have you been involved with any Dartmouth programs or groups structured around religion?

TK: I am involved to some degree with both Hillel and Chabad, mostly attending Friday night Shabbat dinners. Another thing I’m very involved with is the Tucker Center. I am the student director for that, but I wouldn’t call any of the activities that I run or participate in underneath the Tucker Center as pertaining to one religion ever. While there are a lot of activities and organizations under the Tucker Center that are dedicated to specific religions, I find I gravitate towards the organizations like multi-faith conversations or a former program called Tucker Leaders in Community that revolve around the concepts of spirituality and not a particular religion.

How do you feel like you engage with religion/spirituality while on campus, if you do?

TK: It’s hard for me to define spirituality. But I think there definitely is a core aspect of a search for meaning that I identify with. I guess the way I search for meaning is trying to expose myself to as many different worldviews as I possibly can on campus and I think the best way to expose yourself to a lot of philosophies or religions or otherwise is involving yourself in the Tucker Center. That really is the center for students of all different religious faiths and nonreligious faiths to come together and share their identities with each other. A part of my search for spirituality is understanding and aligning myself with other students as they search for their spirituality or practice their religion. I think the religious identity of students is an identity factor that is often overlooked. It’s truly remarkable that they have prescribed to a particular worldview and practice a set of religious observances that not many students are aware of. I think that if you heard that a student ascribed to a particular philosophy, not religious, and lived their life obediently by that practice, I think that people would be truly amazed.

Do you think Dartmouth students engage with spirituality, and if they don’t, why not?

TK: I certainly can’t compare it to other schools or anything, but I don’t think that religious identities come up naturally in conversations. I would say that the Dartmouth environment — I don’t think it’s exclusively a Dartmouth thing — is to not share with others your deeply held beliefs about life and obviously religion would fit under that category. I think that same norm of not talking about what’s most important to you in life — it carries out beyond the religious context. Unfortunately, you can’t start a conversation with someone asking them directly what their worldview is. Obviously, there are natural obstacles to that sort of question like first getting to know the person, but beyond that there’s definitely a social stigma to talk about what’s important to you in terms of deep, existential, philosophical matters. I see that in the classroom and in everyday conversation.

Why is spirituality or faith an important part of your identity — or is it? And why is it or is it not?

TK: I think that your spirituality and your religion is how you form your identity and that’s something I’m constantly seeking to do. I think one of the only ways to find out what’s important to you is to find out what’s important in life. I think that broader question is one of the central questions that guides spiritual and religious matters. And so while I would say Judaism is a key part of my identity for cultural and social reasons, at this point in my life I’m not particularly religious, but I would definitely describe myself as spiritual because I like to see myself as someone who searches for meaning in his or her life.

Abraham Herrera '18

What is your religious affiliation? What organizations are you involved with on campus?

AH: I’m a practicing Christian, but I also have Jewish ancestors so I attend both Christian services and also go to Hillel. On campus, I’m a part of three major Christian groups — there’s Cru, Christian Union and Agape [Christian Fellowship]. I attend their large sessions, but I also attend bible studies. I find that being in a community with other believers allows me to gain a deeper understanding of my faith, whereas when it’s just you alone learning about your faith, you can only learn so much, but having different viewpoints is great.

Do you think Dartmouth students engage with religion?

AH: I’d I say I definitely did not expect as many students to be engaged with their faith here, but that’s been a welcome surprise for me. The Christian community here is pretty large, same as the Jewish — although we have a smaller Jewish community than some of the other Ivies, it seems like it’s a very vibrant religious community here.

Is your faith an important part of your identity?

AH: I would say my faith is probably where my identity stems from. I know my identity before God and that kind of influences my outlook on life in general. It’s definitely one of the main identifications of my identity.

Jake Casale '17

What is your religious affiliation? What groups are you involved with on campus?

JC: I’m a Christian, born and raised in a Christian family. During the school year, I’m the new editor-in-chief for The Dartmouth Apologia which is the journal of Christian thought on campus. I’m involved with Christian Union and this summer because all of the fellowships are collapsed into one I’m involved with the Summer Christian Fellowship.

How do you engage with your faith on campus?

JC: For me, my faith is a very central part of my identity. I’m kind of always tapped into it regardless of whether or not something on campus is helping me or hindering me. I’ve found the fellowships on campus a great environment to grow more in my faith.

I went to a Christian high school before coming here and felt like I had a lot of knowledge coming in. I had a view of myself as being pretty spiritual mature, but a huge part of my Dartmouth experience in general has been learning so much more than I thought I ever would about God, about what it means to be a Christian in the wider world. I’ve learned how to own and articulate my beliefs to people who don’t share them, how to be a better Christian friend with my friends who are Christians by learning more how to support other people with their own journeys with God and learning how to be in community.

I had a faith community back home, but even my definition of what it means to be in a Christian community has expanded so much at Dartmouth. The Apologia has been a great avenue for me to continue to critically examining faith and learning that faith is not separate from reason, but the two actually go together really well.

Do you think Dartmouth students engage with religion? Why or why not?

JC: It’s really dependent on individual conversations, people and groups. On my freshmen floor, I had a lot of great conversations with friends who weren’t believers, which was awesome. In certain other places, like with people in my co-ed fraternity, or from places like theater I’ve had really good conversations.

I’ve found it depends on the individual person. I haven’t found a huge cultural resistance to at least hearing my story. There are sometimes when I will be having conversations with a friend, say about what I believe, and I think sometimes it seems like people don’t quite know what questions to ask. I think because sometimes there can be a lot of complexity or nuance within the belief system of Christianity.

Sometimes I’m not sure if people are curious and want to learn more, but just don’t know what questions to ask or if there just not interested beyond, ‘This is your thing, you do you.’ I think more within the last year I’ve had more conversations that stopped a little bit. I do think Dartmouth in general has a ‘you do you vibe’ which is great.

I have not personally experienced that much animosity or venom for being a Christian which is not necessarily that case on other campuses. I do sense the flip side to that is that people can display a sort of apathy in regards to learning about any sort of belief system that is not necessarily their own.

Anything you would like to add?

JC: The Apologia, starting this next spring, we will have been around for ten years. The mission of the apologia is to articulate Christian perspectives in the academic community. Oftentimes, faith is seen as something that is not intellectual and doesn’t belong in academia. We really wanted to have an avenue to start those conversations on an academic level about the veracity of faith.

The founders when they were freshmen did receive a lot of ‘Oh, you believe that? that’s not reasonable or very coherent.’ It’s funny because there are some ways the cultural vibe at Dartmouth in relation to religion has shifted. From my experience, there isn’t that cultural freedom to say ‘Why do you believe that, that’s stupid.” That’s an encouraging thing for me.

I would love if people had a desire to understand where were all coming from which might entail having some conversations that are not as comfortable just because the nature of the topic. I think that could help us to become a lot stronger of a community because we would be a community that understands deeper parts of each other that I feel like individual friends understand now, but community as a whole less so.

These articles have been edited and condensed.