So a minister, a priest, a rabbi, a mullah, and a Buddhist monk walk into Battell Chapel. The five holy men shake hands, hug, and give each other hearty pats on the back. The rabbi yells to the mullah, “Yo, homie, gimme a pound.” The mullah gives the rabbi a pound. World peace reigns.
Some people would laugh at the above scenario, and pessimists and nonbelievers might dismiss it out-of-hand. But though I admit “pounding” may not have disseminated into the religious community just yet, there is definitely one fad that Yale is into: diversity.
“Just [in one day], there was a Ramadan dinner, a Buddhist meditation and a memorial service for the hurricane victims,” University Chaplain Frederick Streets said of Thursday, Oct. 13. “So in the space of three to four hours, you have an Islamic, a Buddhist, and a multi-denominational service within just a block or two of each other.”
More than 25 official organizations serve a plurality of religions at Yale, while at least five chaplains, working either full-time or part-time, minister to the campus’ five largest denominations: Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism.
A 1995 survey conducted by Michele Dillon, a professor in the Department of Sociology, indicated that 29 percent of undergraduate respondents identified as Protestant, 15 percent as Catholic, 15 percent as Jewish, and 10 percent as other. More recent statistics were not available.
In this tangled web of choices for interested students, the Yale Chaplain’s Office serves as a clearinghouse that educates the student body and promotes religious organizations.
But even with a mediator like the Chaplain’s Office, the student organizations inadvertently end up competing in such a diverse environment. Religious organizations have to minister to their own constituents, but they also have to worry about creating their presence in the community-at-large.
Streets said evangelism naturally permeates aspects of religious life at Yale.
“All religious communities are to some extent evangelical,” Streets said. “Many times, the goal isn’t to see whose truth will be accepted, but just to share the virtues of their own perspective.”
But perhaps more often, the competition arises not between individual faiths but between students’ spiritual life and the secular academic environment and social scene: in other words, God, grades, or beer.
After all, whatever the minister, priest, rabbi, mullah, and Buddhist monk may be doing in Battell, they at least don’t have to choose between their faith, their Shakespeare, and their Keystone Light.
Religion doesn’t have to be a conflict though, and some students feel it is exactly the opposite.
“Religion is a very positive thing, because you get here and everything is new,” said Noah Lawrence ’09, who identifies as a Conservative Jew. “It’s good to know that there’s something afterwards and someone guiding you there.”
Of course, it can be God, grades and beer.
“I drink because I like to drink, and I don’t get drunk because I don’t like to get drunk,” Lawrence said. “God doesn’t factor into that.”