Universities are increasingly putting their chapels and religious affairs offices to use in fostering interfaith relations and religious tolerance, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education (April 15).
The Obama administration has recently issued a message to American universities to encourage interreligious tolerance and local service projects, but there was little reference to the way university chapels and chaplains are already engaged in this function, writes Mark Edington. It is the case that in some colleges, chaplains are mainly seen as counselors, having little or no public function; in other schools, a growing trend is the emergence of external experts—where outside agencies are called in to teach the language of interfaith dialogue, usually without any reference to chaplains or existing religious ministries.
A “multifaith model” is coming into its own whereby colleges ensure the equality of all religious organizations and, sometimes through an interfaith chaplaincy, numerous events are held where students of different faiths come together or engage in volunteer projects. Edington, who is a minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard University, sees the “established church” model as providing the one thing that the other models don’t—a shared worship experience for all students and faculty.
He adds that the established church-type chapel is still present in both religious and secular colleges (including Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Duke Universities) and that “new interpretations of [this model] may help create a commons among those of different religious traditions, different ethnic identities, different class locations, and different political persuasions.”