While Yale is home to students of over 30 religions and spiritual traditions, two of the less common faiths on campus — Sikhism and Baha’i faith — have seen a growing population on campus.
Although it is estimated that there are 27 million practicing Sikhs and 8 million Baha’is worldwide, just six first years and a total 0.51 percent of the student body at Yale practice those faiths. Through student groups such as Sikhs at Yale and connections to groups in the New Haven community, members of these groups have found meaning through their religious identity.
“The most important thing to know is that we make sure that these communities feel supported,” University Chaplain Sharon Kugler wrote in an email to the News. “Even if they are not large in number, they are vital members of the Yale religious community.”
According to Sikhs at Yale President Ikbal Ahluwalia ’22, his organization has been a good way to meet other students and serve the larger Yale and New Haven community.
The organization was revived in Spring 2018 after having been inactive for several semesters due to members graduating. Since then, it has organized several main events. These events included hosting New Jersey Attorney General Gubir Grewal — the first Sikh-American to hold such a position in the United States — and hosting a Turban Tying Day to “spread awareness about the Sikh identity [and] destigmatize the turban,” according to the group’s Facebook page.
The group contains 15 to 20 members, and also has biweekly dinners and volunteer nights at the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen. Ahluwalia told the News that one of the pillars of Sikhism is seva — or selfless service — which is the idea that every day one should help someone in need.
“Selfless service and community are pillars of the Sikh faith,” said Jyot Batra ’21, treasurer and former president of Sikhs at Yale. “We try to focus our presence on campus by forming a welcoming community for Sikhs at Yale, doing our part to help the surrounding New Haven community and raise awareness about who Sikhs are and what we believe in.”
Batra noted the Chaplain’s Office significantly supports Sikhs at Yale by sponsoring printing costs for informational brochures, food stipends for study breaks and funding for other group events. Kugler added that the Chaplain’s Office also helps sponsor trips to local gurdwaras — Sikh places of worship.
Ahluwalia recalled how it was only when he moved to New Jersey in 10th grade — coming from the Midwest — that he found a more sizable Sikh community. He noted that having a student group on campus helps, as the Sikh community is relatively small in the United States.
“I’ve engaged in the Sikh student association a lot and worked closely with the Asian American Cultural Center and the Chaplain’s Office,” Ahluwalia said. “In my experience, it’s been great to have the support of Yale in an official and unofficial capacity. [Sikhism] is the fifth largest religion in the world. Even though the vast majority of the people in the religion live in India, there’s a pretty sizable presence in the United States, especially in the Northeast and California. So we want to keep spreading awareness.”
While there is not an official Baha’i student organization at Yale, Kugler wrote that the Chaplain’s Office attempts to help Baha’i students meet each other by connecting students to New Haven communities and organize New Haven celebrations of Baha’i holidays. They also help by informing administrators and instructors about the 19-day fast for Baha’is each March.
Cam Aaron ’21, who serves as an undergraduate Chaplaincy Fellow and was raised in the Baha’i faith, told the News that she enjoys going to the Chaplain’s Office for “introspection.”
“It’s a wonderful spiritual tradition that I will always carry with me and [that] very much orients me towards justice, community and love, which are really facilitated to my section of the Yale community,” Aaron wrote in an email. “I, however, have struggled with how to practice faith at Yale, especially outside of my at-home community, and have not been super involved in Baha’i activities or projects around campus or in the community. I’m glad to have been reared in the faith and continue to try to locate it in my adulthood.”
Kugler added that the Chaplain’s Office annually hosts an event called Feasting on Faith in February, where different religious groups, including the Sikh and Baha’i communities, share food, music and dancing related to their faith.
Helena Lyng-Olsen | firstname.lastname@example.org