Emory needs a stronger institutional foundation to promote dialogue among religious groups. Recent tensions on campus, seen through responses to the desecration of the ablution room and distribution of mock eviction notices, illustrate a lack of structured support for fostering the dialogue needed to build bridges rather than burn them. Although there are student-led initiatives such as BridgeEmory, which is now being created to foster this dialogue, we hope the Emory administration can offer more support toward this cause. A designated safe space would allow critical conversations to occur in an environment where students feel comfortable.
This year, the world has seen shocking events of religious hatred and violence occur on the global stage. For instance, we have witnessed the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting, the New Zealand mosque attacks and, most recently, the Sri Lanka bombings. In solidarity with these tragedies, members of a multitude of faiths at Emory have stood in support of each other. This religious pluralism proves that Emory’s student body can be both diverse and inclusive.
Yet the inconsistent communication around these events has created tension and unease on campus. Even though these groups are willing to discuss their differences, there is no institutional structure set up for them or the larger Emory community to facilitate this dialogue. This hostility has made for a contentious few weeks as the semester concludes. The University should take action now to prevent similar situations in the future.
These conflicts have been religious and spiritual in nature, suggesting that the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life (OSRL) should be at the forefront of these issues. However, a lack of dedicated spaces for OSRL severely limits its ability to foster and cultivate this dialogue on a University-wide scale. Unlike Emory, leading institutions such as Stanford University (Calif.) have robust interfaith student centers, which generously accommodate a whole spectrum of religious and spiritual groups in welcoming common spaces. In contrast, all Emory has to offer is Cannon Chapel during limited hours with critically limited space. The Candler School of Theology has priority during the week’s regular business hours (9 a.m.- 5 p.m.), while OSRL has priority at nights and during the weekends.
It is evident that the current chapel, consecrated in 1981, does not meet the needs of the multi-faith and religiously pluralistic community that inhabits this campus today. It does not help that the chapel building’s facade displays a large permanent cross that is not consistent with the collaborative model of multi-faith work.
As a result, there is no central space where each religious group can congregate in an environment tailored to fit their religious needs. The Muslim community deserves more than a small ablution room and limited prayer spaces; the Hindu community deserves more than a puja cabinet; and the Jewish and Christian communities should rally behind groups not afforded the same privileges on campus. Overall, all religious communities deserve a space where they feel welcome on this campus.
We call on Emory University to establish an interfaith center for its students.
Emory’s religious communities deserve a central space where they can come together to embrace their differences, engage in dialogue, foster community and learn from one another. As members of the Inter-Religious Council (IRC), we have engaged in weekly conversations where we have learned about other faiths and confronted our own biases. Through an inter-religious building, we hope these critical conversations can more easily occur at Emory.
The students of the IRC strongly feel the new University chaplain and dean of spiritual and religious life should prioritize creating such a space to anchor religious and spiritual communities. An interfaith center would ensure that future religious dialogue can be productive as opposed to divisive.
The Emory community has the opportunity to learn from its mistakes this semester. Creating an interfaith center would be an important step in the right direction.
Marwan Nour (20C) is from Johns Creek, Ga., and Akshar Patel (19C) is from Roselle Park, N.J., and wrote this with support from the Inter-Religious Council.