Students found inter-religious council

Nearly 30 student leaders of numerous campus religious groups gathered at a “summit” Tuesday night to plan the creation of the “Inter-Religious Leadership Council,” a centralized forum for members of various faiths to promote religious dialogue and understanding.

The council is intended to foster greater communication and exchange among Yale’s different religious groups, said Minh Tran ’09, who orchestrated the first meeting. While specific plans for the group have not yet been finalized, Tran said the group will meet with Dean of Freshman Affairs George Levesque to push the University to add a religious component to freshman orientation, which could involve presentations about religious tolerance and campus groups at Yale. The group will also push for religious networking, support and advising programs, he said.

The council will meet monthly, but can also convene ad hoc in the event of a national or campus crisis, Tran said.

“Chaplain [Sharon] Kugler, President Levin and other administrators can convene this council at any moment should an emergency happen,” Tran said. “This could be called on to respond as a collective voice on behalf of students of all religions.”

Students from over 20 different campus religious groups comprise the council, which is the first group of its kind ever created at Yale, Kugler said. Kugler, who came to Yale in July, 2007 after serving as chaplain at Johns Hopkins University, noted that similar groups exist on university campuses across the country.

The council’s informal structure provides a refreshingly open forum for the exchange of ideas, said Eli Bildner ’10, an attendee of the meeting and the vice president for social action at Yale University Hillel.

The council will serve as an unofficial advisory board to Kugler.

“There are many important stories and concerns that run deep through our religious and spiritual traditions on this campus,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I want to hear these stories and concerns … to help in any way I can.”

Tran said the broad range of groups represented on the council speaks to the group’s potential.

“As a collective voice, [the student religious leaders] will be heard much louder than … each individual group’s voice,” he explained.

Although the council is still finalizing its structure, it is already clear that one of its priority will be to disseminate religious information. The council will provide new informational services for all students on campus through weekly e-mails, a single calendar for all religious campus events and a Web site that provides directory information for student religious leaders.

In addition to working closely with the Chaplain’s office, organizers said they hope to collaborate with the Religious Studies Department.

The group differs from the existing Multi-Faith Council, which brings together students of different religious backgrounds for discussions and University-wide religious event planning, Kugler said.

While the specifics of many of the council’s plans have not yet been decided, she said she is excited about the group’s potential to draw together students from across all religious traditions.

“I felt an incredible sense of energy, commitment and hope … with this council of leaders on Tuesday night,” she said.

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