Religious Advisers Supporting Spiritually Diverse Students Aid Interfaith in U.S. Universities

At a time when inviting advisers to serve students of minority faiths at many U.S universities is still making headlines, the University of Chicago has just appointed its third successive Religious Advisor to Pagan students.

Of her new appointment, Rev. Angie Buchanan, who is a Trustee Emeritus of the Parliament, says in a statement to popular Pagan platform WildHunt,

Having a Pagan advisor on staff at a prestigious university such as the University of Chicago supports the mainstream recognition that opens up opportunities and freedoms already available to the practitioners of other religious traditions. It also helps secure the establishment of Paganism as a world religion.

Assistant Dean of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel Jigna Shah says paying effort to supporting spiritual diversity is a long-established value of the University she herself experienced personally. In being named the first non-Christian to a deanship role at the Chapel three years ago, Shah reflects, “I am honored and humbled. I take my appointment very seriously and with great responsibility in continuing efforts to diversify and reflect spiritual landscape of our campus.”

Context can be complex in these matters, and an absence of non-Abrahamic faiths in the chaplaincy does not always reflect of a university’s attention to spiritual life and student affairs. Still, in 2011, there were only 30 Muslim Chaplains serving in U.S. universities according to various media, and other prestigious universities were still inviting Hindu advisers to serve students for the first time.

By November 2013, Brandeis University brought in its first non-Abrahamic adviser to the campus chaplaincy after student appeal and expanding celebrations of Diwali and Holi in the appointment of their first Hindu advisor.

Rallying for the Muslim Students Association at Pennsylvania-based Swarthmore University, Hillel’s Jewish students and campus Christian groups are currently imploring administration to recognize a permanent staff position to advise Muslim students, citing their own benefits from their respective spiritual advisers, also crediting the presence of a temporary Muslim adviser a prevailing reason interfaith activity on campus flourished this year.

Buchanan couldn’t say it better. “With the growing ease of international travel and the advent of the internet and social media, the world is getting smaller. In the United States, we have populations within populations; there are hospitals, prisons, schools and universities, and even social, political, business and special interest groups.

“I believe that as a culture we are recognizing the need for a diverse set of spiritual advisors in multiple environments, and we are beginning to embrace a positive attitude regarding the diversity of religious traditions co-existing in society.”

With an expanded presence of interfaith organizing on college campuses, fostering increased collaborations among staff and students will strengthen actions and overall impact of the movement.

Religious communities and student groups at University of Chicago continue to nominate new advisers for recognition by the University’s Office of Spiritual Life. This year, the office also welcomes Charles Nolley as the first advisor to serve Baha’i students.

The Parliament stands in deep respect to Nolley, who holds the achievement of helping bring the 1993 Parliament to fruition as an early Board Chair, and who undoubtedly lit a fire for interfaith now so imperative to the national higher education system.

Above Right: Rev. Angie Buchanan, Parliament Trustee Emeritus, is now appointed religious advisor to Pagan students at the University of Chicago.

Above Left: Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago


A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that the newest appointment of a Pagan religious adviser at the University of Chicago was a first for the university, and that religious advising is facilitated by Rockefeller Chapel. Spiritual Life at University of Chicago has historically extended recognition to advisers in a student-driven and inclusive manner. The Parliament thanks Rockefeller Chapel for an ongoing commitment to spiritual diversity. Parliament Communications apologizes for the error.

 

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