It is yet another Tuesday afternoon in the Hopper dining hall. I settle into my seat across from an acquaintance, ready to repeat the same liturgy of motions I’ve been conditioned to repeat in my time here at Yale. The familiar sequence of questions that begins every small-talk conversation — “What college are you in? What are you majoring in?” and, worst of all, “What extracurriculars do you do?”

I dread this question. I usually begin my answer stridently, saying something like “debate, some economics research, and…”. It is usually about here that my voice starts to trail off, and drops to an almost incomprehensible mumble. You can hardly hear the last few words of this sentence, but they go something like “yeah, and some Christian groups and stuff around campus.”

What I really meant to say was that yes, my religion is my main “extracurricular,” and yes, I probably devote more time to the study of scripture or worship practice than to anything else I do at Yale. But for some reason, I can’t bring myself to say these words proudly, nor can I bring myself to pray over my food openly. And so I have to self-censure. There seems to be a widespread disdain for religion grounded in the misconception that religion is diametrically opposed to reason. Over the years, I have learned to instinctively protect myself from disdain, knowing too well that it will arise.

Once, a friend who heard the end of my response about extracurriculars off-handedly remarked, “So much time on Christianity? I thought you were into math and stuff, didn’t really peg you to be “that” type of person.” Soon after this conversation, they basically never spoke to me again.

Indeed, it is this fear of being castigated, or pegged as “that” type of person that grips probably every religious person here on campus. We live our lives in fear of being the subject of others’ disdain. Here, I want to avoid generalizing to the whole Yale population because I believe that there are friends who have always embraced my beliefs with openness and respect. I also want to qualify that there are certainly a multitude of different reasons for peoples’ disdain towards religion, be it their personal experience or their intellectual school of thought. 

One reason for disdain that does come up a lot, though, is the criticism that rational thought and religion are inherently opposed. Adherents to this school of thought believe that religious people spurn rigorous academic debate and thought. Consequently, they are also more likely to believe unfair generalizations such as “if you are Christian you don’t believe in evolution,” or that “if you are Christian you cannot possibly believe in the scientific process.” Essentially, being religious is associated with being unthinking.

This misconception is, in large part, owed to unfortunate historical inheritances, such as a long history of the early modern church cracking down on science. Some might point to Galileo and lament the injustices foisted upon him by the Roman Catholic church because it wanted to maintain a monopoly on knowledge. Another reason for this misconception is the state of American politics today. Because of the polarization on both sides of the house, sweeping statements by people on social media such as “anti-vaxxers are all religious nuts” have continued to tarnish the good name of religion. In today’s political climate that is fraught with tension, it seems that hatred towards religious people is only escalating.

What frustrates me about this misconception is that this could not be further from the truth. Some of the greatest thinkers and tinkerers of history, who are the subject of countless discussion seminars here at Yale, were indeed religious — C.S. Lewis, Francis Bacon, and Bernhard Riemann amongst others. In fact, religion was the driving force of so many important developments in the history of the world. Notably, the Islamic tradition is famous for being the source of many great inventions that continue to pervade our modern world. For example, inventions like the university and algebra were Muslim innovations. Another salient example that comes to mind is the Chavrusa-style Yeshiva study of Judaism, which is a rabbinic tradition of Talmudic study involving discussion and debate in small groups about holy texts. At least in the Abrahamic faiths, there is not only a condonement, but an active encouragement of academic endeavor. Discussion and thinking are actively promoted as a way of deepening wisdom and appreciation for creation. 

Each person is undoubtedly entitled to their own views and beliefs. But my imploration here is to at least levy fair criticisms of religion squarely and directly to us, rather than unfairly castigating us with broad generalizations. Have candid conversations and ask questions, rather than dancing around taboo topics, which only leads to more disinformation. And if this is not possible, at least leave space for religious friends to pray and express their religion safely, without fear of open disdain. My identity as a Christian, inherited from a centuries-old tradition, is as much as belief as it is a cultural affiliation that deserves respect.

SHI WEN YEO is a junior in Morse College. Contact her at

Shi Wen Yeo edits the Opinion Desk. She is a Senior in Morse College, majoring in English and Economics. Her column "Through the stained glass" runs every other Tuesday.