A good faith effort to create religious space

Speaking of a modern religious revival on Yale’s campus has its limits. The University is far removed from the days when young men who came to New Haven to receive their training as clergymen participated in real revivals, and the fire-and-brimstone of Jonathan Edwards would appear out-of-place if transplanted to his namesake college today. But with dozens of religious groups on campus, Yale is not exclusively a bastion of blue-state secularism, either.

Yet the growth of Yale’s religious groups — and perhaps more strikingly, their ever-increasing diversity — requires the University to find new space and new resources for them. While the University has not released the full contents of a recently completed report on religious life on campus, the findings we have seen so far suggest an earnest attempt to reconsider the experience Yale offers for its religious students — particularly members of communities that have only recently emerged here. Already, the report has yielded Halal meals for Muslim students during Ramadan last year, an option that would barely have been imaginable 25 years ago. What remains to be seen is whether the report will help close a much broader gap between what many religious groups on campus now have and what they still need.

Perhaps unintentionally, the University has created an environment where the ability to build a vibrant community or even pray is vastly different for some groups relative to others. In the Slifka Center, the soon-to-be-renovated St. Thomas More or Battell Chapel, Jews, Catholics and some Protestants, respectively, are blessed with beautiful, expansive facilities that serve as focal points for active communities. For others, like Yale’s Muslims, the best space available is the basement of Bingham. These vast disparities are not the fault of the University — the Battell connection is one forged by Yale’s history, and Slifka and St. Thomas More have been specifically funded by generous alumni donations — but it still leaves smaller or newer groups underserved.

Yet while the University’s report on religious life explicitly stated a need to offer greater support to those campus groups, we are still eagerly awaiting a more substantive sense of that commitment. One of the major decisions to emerge from the report — an end to Battell Chapel’s decades-old affiliation with the United Church of Christ — may unfortunately offer limited hope to create a meaningful space for students of other creeds. Even if it provides space for a somewhat broader range of Protestants, a nondenominational Battell will still remain largely Christian. So we hope the University is thinking more broadly about locations — perhaps in the new Rose Center, for example — that can provide a more welcoming location for student worship than a basement on Old Campus.

In just over three centuries, Yale has evolved from a school in which a single religion was practiced to one that respects and fosters a wide range of beliefs. But despite its commitment to an increasingly diverse campus, Yale still needs to do more to find a place for some of its faithful.

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