Yale Daily News

When Audrey Gatera ’26 — a Rwandan native — came to Yale last fall, she was skeptical about engaging in American religious life on Yale’s campus. Now, however, she is an avid member of Yale’s Christian Union and serves as a Peer Liaison for the University’s Chaplain’s Office.

“We have noticed a large increase in interest in our religious communities,” interim University Chaplain Maytal Saltiel wrote to the News. “At the beginning of the year, our numbers were much larger than any of the previous 3 years and even larger than our pre-COVID numbers.” 

Saltiel explained some of the data behind this increase: over 200 Muslim community members attend Jummah prayers each week, the Slifka Center’s Jewish community had approximately 300 people for its opening Shabbat dinner and around 400 people are expected at next week’s Diwali celebrations.

The Rev. Ian Oliver, senior associate chaplain for Protestant life and pastor of the University Church in Yale, noted that attendance is now up 10 percent at the University Church from the Church’s pre-COVID-19 numbers. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the University’s social-distancing guidelines temporarily curbed religious engagement on campus. On holidays and special occasions, religious groups held virtual or dramatically reduced services and celebrations, which made engaging in religious life on campus difficult for some students.

“Students are wanting [an] in-person religious community after missing it for a couple of years during the pandemic,” Oliver wrote to the News.

Judy Nguyen ’26, a practicing Buddhist student, noted that having a religious space on campus made navigating previous trauma and the transition to college more manageable. As a student from rural Maryland, Nguyen appreciated how easy it was to engage in religious life on campus; back home, the closest Buddhist temple was approximately two hours away. 

Now, Nguyen can engage with a bustling Buddhist community of approximately 130 active members.

Buddhist Chaplain Rev. Sumi Kim agreed with Oliver’s notion that the hardships of the last few years could be responsible for an uptick in religiosity and religious interest on campus. She also highlighted the sense of community many on campus gain from engaging in religious spaces. 

“Young adults need community and friendship. I think many turn to faith communities to find friendship and belonging with people that have a similar orientation toward life or the world,” Kim wrote to the News. 

The sentiment rings true for many Yalies, including Alex Schapiro ’26, who told the News that the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale has been a place of spirituality and also friendship for him.

In light of the ongoing war in Israel and Gaza and a steady rise in antisemitism across the country and on college campuses, Schapiro told the News that it is important to have a safe space on campus to gather with other Jewish students. 

“I am super grateful for the community that Slifka has given me,” Schapiro told the News. Speaking broadly about his college trajectory so far, he shared that, “They have been an immense part of my Yale experience, and I would not be having the amazing time I am having here without them.”

This increased interest has left the Chaplain’s Office busier than ever before. 

Saltiel, who oversees all different religions under the Chaplain’s Office’s purview, noted that many of the religious spaces on campus are now too small for the number of students interested in attending events. The University’s Buddhist shrine, Saltiel noted, regularly fills up or overflows.

In order to adapt, “we are trying to be flexible and creative at finding better spaces and increasing our offerings,” Saltiel wrote. 

The Chaplain’s Office is located on the lower level of Bingham Hall at 300 College St.

Kaitlyn Pohly is a junior in Silliman College. She serves as the News' Sports Editor. Previously, she reported on student life and student policy and affairs for the University Desk. Originally from New York City, Kaitlyn is a History major. Outside of the classroom and the newsroom, Kaitlyn dances with YaleDancers.