Committee analyzes religious life



The Committee on Religious and Spiritual Life has completed its research and is now finalizing its yearlong report, which the committee will present to Yale President Richard Levin this December.

The report, the first in 14 years, will analyze religious life at Yale from a wide variety of perspectives. The committee has focused on ways to better coordinate University resources with the growing diversity of faiths on campus.

Committee member Susan Henry-Crowe, the dean of religious life at Emory University, said the report will aim to strengthen the faculty and forge a stronger relationship between the Yale College and the Divinity School staffs.

“There is a great staff there, and so our concern is about helping them find ways to strengthen the work they’re doing already,” Henry-Crowe said.

All of the committee members — including former Georgetown President Leo O’Donovan, Episcopal Bishop of Washington D.C. John Chane and preacher Barbara Brown of Piedmont College — have extensive experience working with college students on religious issues.

University of Wisconsin campus minister Sarah Drummond ’93 said there have been many changes since the last report, but the most significant is its increased diversity.

“There were Protestants, Catholics and Jews, and that was all that people were talking about back then,” Drummond said. “The chaplain was primarily a Protestant resource, and there were marginalized activities for the other two faiths.”

Although the Protestant faith has remained strong at Yale, committee member and University of Pennsylvania chaplain William Gipson said there has been growth with other faiths.

“The Protestant heritage might remain strong and robust, but it is in very good company of other traditions, like Islam, Judaism and students who practice the Hindu faith, Sikh faith,” Gipson said.

Between trips to Yale, each member was asked to write reflections on his or her visit, Drummond said. At the next meeting, members shared their thoughts.

In addition to analyzing religious life at Yale, the members also presented their own experiences working with students. Gipson said the trends at Yale are similar to those in universities across the country.

“What we all basically recognized is what’s happening across American education,” Gipson said. “Students are paying more attention to religion and spirituality as a personal perspective and an area of inquiry across the spectrum.”

Former Episcopal Bishop Fred Borsch, who chairs the committee, said he hopes Yale will continue to be a unique area for religious study and exploration.

“We want everyone to feel welcome and feel that Yale is a place where they can come without discrimination,” Borsch said. “One of the vocations of the University is to foster a kind of openness with religious dialogue.”

Yale Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith, who helped to staff the committee, said members talked to a wide variety of students and faculty.

During three on-campus visits, meetings were scheduled with Yale Chaplain Jerry Streets and Associate University Chaplain Cynthia Terry at the Chaplain’s Office, the deans of the Divinity and Music schools and representatives from Yale’s Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and Episcopalian groups.

There were also meetings with members of the Religious Studies Department and Battell Chapel, as well as meals at the Slifka Center, St. Thomas More and with the Muslim Students Association.

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