Fourteen students and adults representing a number of different religions sat and kneeled on cushions at the New Haven Zen Center for several hours Saturday during the third annual University-wide Multifaith Retreat.
“The retreat is more experiential than academic,” Assistant University Chaplain Reverend Cynthia Terry said. “Everybody who presents talks from their own experience of their religion, rather than from being an expert.”
This year’s retreat featured the theme “Continuity and Change.” Terry said the retreat’s chief goal was to discuss how different religious traditions interpret the nature of change. Participants discussed types of religious change they felt can, should and should not occur over time, and debated how change should be implemented.
The retreat also featured informal presentations from adult religious figures and group-wide discussion. The event culminated with participants joining together to make and eat a kosher, vegetarian dinner.
Terry said the retreat had two main goals.
“First, it’s a chance for people of different religions to begin and continue to get to know each other,” Terry said. “Second, it’s a chance for us to learn about the topic, whatever it is.”
The retreat was organized by the Multifaith Council, an organization of students from many religious backgrounds whose goal is to foster awareness of the religious diversity on campus. The group also strives to promote understanding of other religions’ cultures and traditions.
Council members said the group fills an important niche at the University.
“Spirituality is often overlooked on the Yale campus,” Multifaith Council member Laura J. Khalil ’05 said. “People don’t know what’s out there, what’s available. The Multifaith Council fosters awareness among ourselves, and eventually, we hope to spread that out to the Yale population in general.”
But council members said the group sometimes runs into problems while trying to promote its ideals.
“We always come into conflict with each other’s religious practices,” Khalil said. “It’s ironic — in trying to come together, the exact things that we try to promote cause scheduling issues.”
Council member Sarah Heiman ’05 said the council’s discussions of diverse traditions are critical to the group’s mission.
“In our discussion of diversity, we can reach a better understanding of what other traditions are,” she said.
Polly Mygatt ’07, who does not serve on the council, said she enjoyed the retreat and the council’s mission.
“Although I am not a very strict follower of any religion right now, I have wrestled with the idea of continuity and change in religion and I thought it would be cool to see what other people thought about it,” Mygatt said. “The retreat proved to be a great environment for that and I really enjoyed it.”
Aside from the one-day fall retreat, the council also holds a weekend-long retreat in the spring and hopes to hold three to four “moveable feasts” each semester. The moveable feast dinners, initiated by the council earlier this semester, feature informal conversations on a chosen theme. The first theme was “Feasting and Fasting.”