The Five Senses in Worship


Orthodox Christianity is unique in many ways, especially to someone who has never experienced this ancient faith. One of the things that makes us unique is the way in which we worship. How one worships is usually rarely considered or is even deemed unimportant in many faiths, but in the Orthodox Church, the way in which the people worship is very important and can be seemed as a little different to the untrained eye. We are different because we employ all five senses in almost every service, and this idea of worshiping with all our senses has been around since the beginning of the Orthodox Church almost 2,000 years ago and its practices were fine-tuned with the completion of the Bible.

As Orthodox Christians, we believe that “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” – Mark 12:30, and our services engage us very effectively so that our whole heart, soul, and mind are focused on God. Let’s look at some of the ways our five senses are utilized during worship.


“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” – Matthew 6:22

Like much of what Christ said, the above statement has a deeper meaning than just the topic of eyesight. It is referring to sinning with your eyes and being careful of what you allow yourself to see. In an Orthodox church, our eyes are bombarded with stimuli: vestments, decorative furnishings, and especially icons. Icons are not simply pretty pictures, but they call to mind the individuals or events that they represent and remind us that these people are worshipping with us, and ultimately direct our thoughts to God.

Also, the entire Liturgy itself if a symbolic representation of the life of Christ. So, when we see the different parts of the Liturgy taking place, these are visual cues to remind us of what Christ did on Earth, as well as what He is doing for us now.


Christ used this several times:

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The most important thing we hear during an Orthodox Liturgy is the Gospel, or the word of God. Jesus Christ is the son and word of God. God became man so He could be amongst us and teach us Himself. This reflects a very powerful way in which we are to understand God. This is a point in our worship where we are given a clear chance to love God with all our mind. As the priest instructs us, “Wisdom! Arise! Let us hear the Holy Gospel!”

Another way in which we use our sense of sound is during any service. Nearly the entire Liturgy, and any service, is chanted. The hymns of our worship are to our ears what the icons are to our eyes. They fill our mind and our heart with praise of God and remembrance of His works. They reinforce our theology and convey our doxology. We as congregation members are encouraged to chant the hymns in order to imitate the Angels who ceaselessly sing hymns to God. This can be seen in the Cherubic him, “We, who mystically represent the Cherubim, sing the Thrice-Holy Hymn to the life-giving Trinity…”


A common practice in the Orthodox Church is the use of incense, which has been used in worship for ages. When we smell the incense in our services, we are reminded that like smoke, our prayers rise to God and are hopefully pleasing to him like the fragrance of the incense. As we chant during our Vespers service and Presanctified Liturgy, “Let my prayer be set forth as incense before You.”

During Easter, or Pascha as we call it, we smell the burning wick and wax of candles or the burning olive oil of a vigil lamp. This reminds us of the light that these produce and why we light them as symbols of our faith.


When we hear the priest repeat Christ’s commandments during an Orthodox Liturgy: “Take, eat. This is My Body, which is broken for you, for the forgiveness of sins,” and “Drink of this, all of you. This is My Blood of the New Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins,” our heart and our mind is focused receiving Holy Communion. When we receive Holy Communion, our mouth is the gateway to the rest of our being. As soon as we taste this gift, our entire body and soul are saturated with Christ Himself. Just like the Apostles who saw Christ give them bread to eat, we as Orthodox Christians are also partaking in the Mystical Supper (Last Supper) as the Apostles did and we are experiencing God in a very unique way.


In Orthodox worship, our sense of touch is constantly engaged. More broadly, “touch can be expanded to mean any physical activity. We venerate icons, are sprinkled with Holy Water during Theophany (Epiphany), given palm crosses on Palm Sunday, carry crosses and fans in processions, we kneel, make prostrations, make the sign of the Cross (right to left), and are anointed with blessed oil. Our sense of touch is more subtly engaged when we recall the Passion of our Lord and how He suffered bodily and died nailed to the cross for our sins, and when we recall the fate of the many martyrs of our faith. As one Orthodox hymn states, “I suffer for Thy sake that I may reign with Thee; for Thy sake I die that I may live in Thee.”

As you can see, worship in the Orthodox Church is engaging on all levels of our being, not only spiritually or mentally, but physically as well. This is an important aspect of our worship because it is oftentimes the first one most people will forget about. It should be a reminder to us about what Christ said about our eye being the lamp of our body. If we allow our sight, or any of our senses, to be used in ungodly ways, then our spiritual health can begin to deteriorate. We as Orthodox Christians believe that our senses are the doorway between what is inside of us and what is outside of us, and it is up to us what we let through the door.

By: Penelope Antonopoulos

Faith on the Hill: The Religious Diversity of the 113th Congress – Pew Forum on Religion

Faith on the Hill: The Religious Diversity of the 113th Congress – Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

ANALYSIS November 16, 2012

The newly elected, 113th Congress includes the first Buddhist to serve in the Senate, the first Hindu to serve in either chamber and the first member of Congress to describe her religion as “none,” continuing a gradual increase in religious diversity that mirrors trends in the country as a whole. While Congress remains majority Protestant, the institution is far less so today than it was 50 years ago, when nearly three-quarters of the members belonged to Protestant denominations.

Catholics have seen the biggest gains among the 530 seats in the new Congress that have been decided as of Nov. 16. So far, Catholics have picked up five seats, for a total of 161, raising their share to just over 30%.1 The biggest decline is among Jews, who have been elected to 32 seats (6%), seven fewer than in the 112th Congress, where Jews held 39 seats (7%).2 Mormons continue to hold 15 seats (about 3%), the same as in the previous Congress.

Protestants also appear likely to continue to occupy about the same proportion of seats (56%) as in the 112th Congress (57%). In addition, the Protestant share of each political party in the new Congress is about the same as in the 112th; roughly seven-in-ten Republicans are Protestants, compared with fewer than half of Democrats. However, the members elected for the first time in 2012 are less Protestant than the group first elected in 2010; 48% are Protestant, compared with 59% of those elected for the first time in 2010.

Protestants, Catholics and Jews each make up a greater percentage of the members of Congress than of all U.S. adults. The same is true for some sub-groups of Protestants, such as Episcopalians and Presbyterians. By contrast, Pentecostals are a much smaller percentage of Congress than of the general public. Due in part to electoral gains in recent years, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus now are represented in Congress in closer proportion to their numbers in the U.S. adult population. But some small religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, are not represented at all in Congress.

Perhaps the greatest disparity, however, is between the percentage of U.S. adults and the percentage of members of Congress who do not identify with any particular religion. About one-in-five U.S. adults describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – a group sometimes collectively called the “nones.” But only one member of the new Congress, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), is religiously unaffiliated, according to information gathered by CQ Roll Call. Sinema is the first member of Congress to publicly describe her religion as “none,” though 10 other members of the 113th Congress (about 2%) do not specify a religious affiliation, up from six members (about 1%) of the previous Congress.3 This is about the same as the percentage of U.S. adults in Pew Research Center surveys who say that they don’t know, or refuse to specify, their faith (about 2%).


These are some of the findings from a new analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life of congressional data compiled primarily by CQ Roll Call. The analysis compares the religious affiliations of members of the new Congress with Pew Research Center survey data on the U.S. public. CQ Roll Call gathered information on the religious affiliations of members of Congress through questionnaires and follow-up phone calls to members’ and candidates’ offices, and the Pew Forum supplemented this with additional research.

The religious diversity of the 113th congress

Congress’ First Hindu and Other Firsts

In January 2013, when the 113th Congress is sworn in, Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard will become the first Hindu in either the House of Representatives or the Senate.4 Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who has served on the Honolulu City Council and in the Hawaii state legislature, will represent Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district. Gabbard will take over the seat held in the 112th Congress by Rep. Mazie K. Hirono (D), who on Nov. 6 became the first Buddhist elected to the Senate.

In 2006, Hirono and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) became the first Buddhists to be elected to the House. Four years later, they were joined by a third Buddhist member, Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii). Johnson and Hanabusa were re-elected to serve in the 113th Congress.

The first Muslim to serve in either the House or the Senate, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was elected in 2006. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) became the second Muslim in Congress when he won a special election in 2008. In 2012, Michigan Democrat Syed Taj lost his bid to become the third Muslim member of Congress. Ellison and Carson were re-elected.

Members of other small religious groups started serving in Congress more than a century ago. The first Jewish member arrived in 1845, when Lewis Charles Levin of the American Party began representing Pennsylvania in the House. The first Mormon in Congress, John Milton Bernhisel, began serving in 1851, after Utah was officially recognized as a territory. California Democrat Dalip Singh Saund, the first and so far only Sikh to serve in Congress, served three terms starting in 1957.

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), a Unitarian who joined Congress in 1973, became the first member of Congress to publicly declare, in 2007, that he does not believe in a Supreme Being. He lost his re-election bid in 2012.

The New, 113th Congress

Of the 530 members of the new Congress whose races have been decided as of Nov. 16, 299 are Protestant, which is about the same percentage (56%) as in the 112th Congress (57%) and higher than the share of Protestants in the U.S. adult population (48%). But the proportion of Protestants in Congress has been in gradual decline for decades, and the number elected this year may end up being lower than the number in the previous Congress (307), even if the difference in percentage terms is slight.


There have been modest changes in congressional representation within Protestant denominational families. Most notably, in the new Congress the number of Baptists has increased by six and the number of Methodists has decreased by four. Nonetheless, these two groups remain the largest Protestant sub-groups, as in the 112th Congress. The percentage of Methodists is slightly higher in Congress (about 9%) than in the general public (around 6%); the reverse is true for Baptists (14% of Congress and roughly 17% of all adults). The next-largest Protestant groups are Presbyterians and Episcopalians; both are more than five percentage points more numerous in Congress than among the general population.5

Protestants who do not specify a particular denomination (58 members) also comprise a large proportion of Congress (11%). It is unclear what percentage of these unspecified Protestants are affiliated with nondenominational churches; just three members of the 113th Congress specify that they belong to nondenominational Protestant churches.

Meanwhile, the number of Catholics in the 113th Congress has risen to 161 (as of Nov. 16), up from 156 in the previously elected body. If Protestants are not counted together but as separate denominations, then Catholics are the largest religious group in the 113th Congress. They represent more than 30% of the members in the 113th, compared with 29% in the previous Congress. About a fifth of the U.S. adult population (22%) is Catholic.

The number of Jewish members of Congress decreased from 39 to 32. There are 10 Jewish senators and 22 Jewish members of the House of Representatives in the 113th Congress. Jews now make up 6% of Congress (down from 7% in the 112th Congress). But this is still about three times the Jewish share of the general population (2%).

The number of Mormons in the 113th Congress (15) is the same as in the 112th, and they are about as prevalent in Congress (almost 3%) as in the public at large (2%).

As previously mentioned, some other small religious groups are about as numerically well-represented on Capitol Hill as in the general population. Muslims account for less than 1% of the U.S. adult population and make up 0.4% of Congress. Similarly, Buddhists and Hindus (also less than 1% of the U.S. adult population) make up 0.6% and 0.2% of Congress, respectively. Orthodox Christians also make up less than 1% of U.S. adults and comprise 0.9% of Congress. There are no Jehovah’s Witnesses in Congress; the group has a relatively small presence (less than 1%) in the U.S. population as a whole.

Differences by Chamber

Several religious groups are represented in roughly equal proportions in both houses of Congress, including Methodists (9% in each) and Lutherans (4% in the House, 5% in the Senate).

However, a few religious groups continue to have lopsided representation in one chamber or the other. For example, Jews make up 10% of the new Senate but 5% of the House. Likewise, Mormons make up 7% of the Senate and 2% of the House. Presbyterians make up more than twice as much of the Senate as the House (16% vs. 6%). The share of Baptists, by contrast, is greater in the House (15%) than in the Senate (9%), as is the percentage of Episcopalians (8% vs. 4%).


Differences by Party Affiliation

Overall, 48% of the members of the new Congress are Democrats, and 52% are Republicans.

Looking at the partisan breakdown of the various religious groups, Lutherans are divided 50%-50% between the parties. The other sizable Protestant groups (Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians) – as well as Protestants as a whole – have more Republicans than Democrats. The same is true for Mormons; 12 of the 15 Mormon members of the new Congress are Republicans. Catholics are slightly tilted toward the Democrats (57%-43%). Jewish members are mostly Democratic (97%); in fact, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is the only Jewish Republican in Congress. The other non-Christian groups (Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus) are comprised exclusively of Democrats. All the members of Congress who did not specify a religion are also Democrats.

Looking at the religious breakdown of the political parties, 69% of congressional Republicans are Protestant, while fewer than half of Democrats (43%) belong to Protestant denominational families. (This includes newly elected independent Angus King of Maine, who has said he will caucus with Senate Democrats.) On the other hand, Catholics make up a greater share of Democratic members (36%) than they do of GOP members (25%). And while Jews make up 12% of all congressional Democrats (including one independent who generally caucuses with the Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont), they account for less than 1% of congressional Republicans.


First-Time Members

The 81 members who were elected for the first time in 2012 are less Protestant than the 112 first-time members elected in 2010. In the 112th Congress, about six-in-ten members of the congressional freshman class were Protestant (59%), but that figure dipped to less than 50% in the most recent election. The percentage of freshman members who are Baptist and Presbyterian also decreased (from 16% to 10% for Baptists and from 8% to 4% for Presbyterians).

Catholics comprise a higher percentage of first-time members (37%) than of incumbent members (29%). Likewise, unspecified Protestants make up a greater percentage of freshman members (19%) than of incumbents (10%).

The reverse is true for most other groups. About 3% of the first-time members are Jewish, compared with 7% of incumbents. Presbyterians also make up a somewhat larger share of incumbents (9%) than of freshman members (4%). Otherwise, there are relatively small differences in religious affiliation between first-time and incumbent members.


Looking Back

In many ways, the changes in the religious makeup of Congress during the last half-century mirror broader changes in American society. Congress, like the nation as a whole, has become much less Protestant and more religiously diverse. The number of Protestants in Congress has dropped from three-quarters (75%) in 1961 to 56% today, which roughly tracks with broader religious demographic trends during this period. As recently as the 1980s, General Social Surveys found that about six-in-ten Americans identified themselves as Protestants. In aggregated surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2012 and reported in the Pew Forum’s October 2012 report “‘Nones’ on the Rise,” the share of self-identified Protestants has dipped to just under half (48%).

Likewise, many of the major Protestant denominational families have lost ground in Congress in the past 50 years. Methodists, who made up nearly one-in-five members (18%) of the 87th Congress, which was seated in 1961, make up 9% of the 113th Congress. Some other Protestant denominational families also have seen a decline in their numerical representation in Congress. For example, Episcopalians have gone from 12% to 7% and Congregationalists from 5% to less than 1% during this period.

A few Protestant groups have fared somewhat better, however. From 1961 to today, the proportion of Baptists in Congress has increased slightly from 12% to 14%, and the Lutheran share has stayed roughly the same (around 4%).

Meanwhile, other religious groups have seen their share of congressional seats grow, in some cases dramatically. Catholics, for instance, have gone from 19% of the congressional membership in 1961 to 30% today. The percentage of Jewish members of Congress has risen from 2% in 1961 to 6% today.


View a PDF listing the religious affiliation of each member of the 113th Congress.

This analysis was written by Tracy Miller, Editor, Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.


1 This analysis is based on the 530 races that have been called as of Nov. 16, 2012. It excludes four races in which votes are still being counted (Ariz.-02, Calif.-52, Fla.-18 and N.C.-07) as well as the race in Louisiana’s 3rd district, which will be decided in a Dec. 3 runoff. All the candidates in these races are either Protestant or Catholic. Because each additional seat represents just 0.2% of the full Congress, the percentage totals for Protestants and Catholics are unlikely to shift by more than one percentage point. (return to text)

2 The Jewish figures appear to be final because there are no Jewish candidates in the five races that have yet to be determined. (return to text)

3 Tammy Baldwin, a Democratic congresswoman from Wisconsin who was elected to the Senate in 2012, was described in a recent New York Times article as someone who “does not discuss her religiosity.” In response to queries from CQ Roll Call, Baldwin’s office has described her religion as “unspecified,” and she is included in this analysis among the 10 members who did not specify a religion. If, instead, Baldwin were counted with Sinema as unaffiliated (or “none”), they would comprise about 0.4% of the new Congress. This would still be well below the nearly 20% of all U.S. adults who say they are unaffiliated, based on aggregated data from surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in 2012 and reported in the Pew Forum’s October 2012 report, “‘Nones’ on the Rise.” (return to text)

4 Ami Bera, who was elected for the first time in 2012 to represent California’s 7th congressional district, was raised Hindu but now identifies as a Unitarian Universalist. He will be the only Unitarian Universalist in the 113th Congress. (return to text)

5 This analysis counts Christian Scientists as a Protestant denominational family in both the 112th and 113th Congresses because that is how they are counted in the Pew Research Center figures used for the general public. In previous Pew Forum analyses of the religious affiliations of the members of Congress, Christian Scientists were categorized as “Other Christians” because that is how they were counted in the general public numbers at that time.(return to text)

Photo Credit: © Wes Thompson/Corbis


Universities Welcome Muslim Students Through Interfaith Efforts

New York University students, faculty, and clergy gather at the Kimmel Center on the NYU campus to discuss the discovery of surveillance by the New York Police Department on Muslim communities.

By Aaron Shapiro | November 13, 2012

Many American universities—both religious and secular—have recently launched efforts to accommodate and encourage religious diversity on their campuses. Universities are fosteringthis diversity and strengthening interfaith respect and cooperation to better serve their students and to counter rising incidences of xenophobia and other prejudices. Colleges are taking particularly active steps to welcome Muslim students, who too often face discrimination and prejudice because of their faith.

The number of Muslim students enrolled at Catholic universities has reportedly doubled over the past decade. In fact, according to the Higher Education Research Institute, the percentage of Muslim students at Catholic universities is higher than at “the average four-year institution in the United States.” Many may assume this influx of the religious “other” might generate tension, and that has indeed been the case on some campuses. But while much attention has been paid to instances of conflict and discord, the firsthand experience of many students suggests that, theological differences aside, having a religious identity of any kind can serve as a point of commonality for many students.

Muslims thrive on interfaith campuses

Many Muslim students are in fact choosing to enroll at Catholic universities precisely because of the religious—albeit non-Muslim—student body. Maha Haroon, a Muslim student at Jesuit Creighton University, said, “I like the fact that there’s faith, even if it’s not my faith, and I feel my faith is respected.”

Similarly, many Muslim students express a sense of belonging at these institutions because they are surrounded by other people of faith. Beyond merely co-existing, Muslim students are finding their fellow classmates to be welcoming faith partners. Mai Alhamad, a Muslim student at the University of Dayton, told The New York Times that he finds comfort in these efforts, saying, “Here, people are more religious, even if they’re not Muslim, and I am comfortable with that.”

So, too, is Dana Jabri, a sophomore at the Catholic DePaul University. Unsettled by the recent killing of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in Libya and the violent demonstrations that subsequently spread across the Middle East, Jabri felt compelled to organize her fellow students to respond to the violence.

“We needed to come together and just share a moment of silence,” Jabri said in a recent interview with the Center for American Progress.

She worked quickly to organize a vigil on campus protesting violence around the world. About 40 students and faculty from a variety of faiths attended the event and Jewish, Christian, and Muslim chaplains shared their thoughts and prayers. As she recalled the vigil, Jabri said that it felt like a meaningful achievement to simply be able “to stand shoulder to shoulder in a circle, recognizing that it is important for all of us to come together, no matter our faith backgrounds, against this violence.”

As a Muslim and a religious minority at a Catholic university, Jabri has thrived on campus. Jabri is one of DePaul’s seven interfaith scholars—a group of student leaders, each hailing from a different religious tradition, who work with each other and their respective religious communities to cultivate a robust interfaith community on campus.

This kind of engagement extends beyond Roman Catholic universities. Many Muslim students, for instance, are finding common ground with their classmates at Brigham Young University’s Salt Lake City, Utah campus which is “supported, and guided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and where 98.5 percent of all students are Mormon. The values promoted in the BYU Honor Code include “shun[ing] alcohol, illicit drugs and pre-marital sex,” and areimportant in the Muslim faith. These and other similarities have created a sense of solidarity among Muslim and Mormon students, leading Muslim student Sameer Ahmad to conclude that “[Mormons and Muslims] emphasize the same teachings, the same set of beliefs, even though the way of participating [is different].”

In the course of living and studying together, many students at BYU have discovered that their faiths can bring them together instead of pushing them apart. Andrew Moulton, a Mormon who lives with a Muslim classmate, told the Deseret News that, “I didn’t know that our cultures were so similar.”

But it is not just friendships or a sense of belonging that is prompting this increase in Muslim students at non-Muslim religious universities. Brigham Young University is taking concrete steps to create a more welcoming environment for its Muslim students. Each Friday, for example, the university sets aside a room in the student center where its Muslim students can gather for prayers.

Other religiously affiliated universities are making similar efforts to ease Muslim students’ adjustment to campus life. In early October of this year, Gannon University, a Catholic university in Erie, Pennsylvania, completed construction of a new “Interfaith Prayer Space,” where students from all faiths are able to pray and study in accordance with their religious traditions. In another expression of the school’s commitment to engage its Muslim population and improve its interfaith activities, during the ceremony dedicating the new space, Rev. Michael Kesicki read from the Bible and a Muslim student read a passage from the Qur’an.

Many other universities are developing programs and policies that are designed to make Muslim students feel more welcome, as well:

  • Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, where 15 percent of the students identify as Muslim, compared to the average 1.3 percent of students at four-year colleges,established dedicated prayer rooms for Muslim students and launched an “Interreligious Dialogue” program, inviting students from different faiths to discuss a wide range of issues, including anti-Muslim sentiment.
  • Georgetown University, in addition to reserving space for daily Muslim prayers, employs Imam Yahya Hendi as a university chaplain in its multifaith Campus Ministry in Washington, D.C.
  • American University, which is affiliated with the Methodist Church, actively engages Muslim students through its Kay Spiritual Life Center in the nation’s capital and its Muslim Chaplain Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad.

By taking actions that express concern and sensitivity toward students of all faith traditions, these universities have demonstrated a commitment to bridging the river of religious differences and countering the idea that religious diversity inevitably breeds discord. Other universities that have yet to take action ought to note the successes of these programs at both religious and secular institutions—most notably the one fostered by non-religiously affiliated New York University.

New York University as a secular model for interfaith community-building

Well-known interfaith activist Eboo Patel once noted that interfaith work on religious campuses is often successful because it “fits in the category of faith language and fits in the category of diversity. It’s just a different dimension.” As shown above, creating interfaith communities on religiously affiliated campuses is a fairly straightforward task since many religions have similar views on lifestyle choices, even if the specific tenets of each faith are very different.

Building interfaith communities at secular universities among a religiously diverse student body therefore poses a distinct challenge. Nonetheless, several secular universities are leading efforts to create inclusive spiritual environments for students from different religious backgrounds because they see the religious diversity of their student body as a resource upon which to build.

New York University in particular stands out as a model for vibrant interfaith community building. Barely more than a year ago, NYU opened the Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life on its campus in lower Manhattan. This new building houses the Islamic Center and Catholic Center at NYU, and hosts Friday evening prayers for the Jewish campus community each week.

In 2011 a student club at NYU—Bridges: Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue—coordinated an event where Jewish students attended the Friday afternoon service at the Islamic Center, while Muslim students attended the Friday evening Shabbat service later that night. Naturally, the group titled the program the “Jum’ah/Shabbat Experience.” This event demonstrated that multifaith initiatives need not ignore religious differences and can instead embrace religious difference as an opportunity to learn more and broaden horizons.

While the Spiritual Life Center at NYU hosts many significant interfaith events, some of the most innovative and inspiring initiatives take place beyond its walls. In March 2012, in connection with President Barack Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, the White House highlighted a joint effort—led in part by the Bridges student group—in which both Muslim and Jewish students from NYU volunteered to help repair homes damaged by a tornado in Alabama. Chelsea Garbell, president of Bridges and a senior at NYU,explained the larger collaborative vision of the effort: “If we [Muslims and Jews] can learn from one another and develop an understanding of our similarities and differences, we can stand together as human beings in an effort to better the world around us.” By cultivating genuine interfaith relationships and taking interfaith discussions beyond the safety of the university grounds, students can both develop themselves and extend interfaith reach and significance to the greater community.

But NYU’s interfaith efforts also go beyond extracurricular activities: Administrators are bringing interfaith discussions into the classroom. Over the past year NYU chaplains Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna have been teaching a joint course, titled “Interfaith Dialogue, Leadership & Public Service: Traditions of Engagement in the U.S. & Beyond.” Students from diverse religious backgrounds have taken the course, where they learn how to build a better world while forming an authentic interfaith community—all in the safety of a college classroom. This means that they have a chance to interact with those of different faiths in a calm, intellectual setting, where they can truly air their opinions and hear from those who think differently, deepening their sense of other religions as well as their friendship as classmates.

Through these efforts and others, NYU is actively cultivating a community where students from distinct faith traditions can engage as classmates and fellow human beings, and where they can come away enriched instead of divided.

The result: Standing together through a crisis

The Associated Press reported in February that the New York Police Department was keeping Muslim students at NYU under surveillance because of their religious affiliation. Muslim students were outraged and organized a rally against this invasion of privacy. Atheists, Christians, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, and others stood together with their Muslim classmates at the rally, bringing to life the slogan “NYUnited,” which was emblazoned across the t-shirts worn by many rally attendees.

Among the many speakers who stood before the podium at the foot of NYU’s Grand Staircase was Ariel Ennis, a Jewish student. Ennis shaped much of his speech around a quote fromAbraham Joshua Heschel, a prominent Rabbi during the Civil Rights Movement. Ennis said:

We may disagree about the ways of achieving fear and trembling, but the fear and trembling are the same. The demands are different, but the conscience is the same, and so is arrogance, iniquity. The proclamations are different, the callousness is the same, and so is the challenge we face in many moments of spiritual agony.

Ennis was able to speak as a Jew to a largely Muslim audience that day primarily because of his efforts and the efforts of the larger NYU community to develop a strong interfaith community—one that promotes solidarity despite difference and fosters unity without uniformity. As he reflected on the “most profound impact” that interfaith community development had for him, Ennis said that “[It] is not that we have necessarily solved world crises, but we have formed real friendships, deep and meaningful friendships, with many members of the [Muslim] community.”


The lesson of moments such as this seems clear: Building community takes time, effort, and the firm belief that our shared core values are more essential than our differences. Such efforts are central to our well being as a democratic nation. In the face of terrorist threats from Al-Qaeda and other groups of religious extremists, we must stand together as a nation of many cultures and faiths, instead of splintering apart from intolerance and hate.

Anti-Muslim prejudice, hate rhetoric, and bigoted actions divide and weaken our country. According to the FBI, hate crimes against Muslim Americans increased by 50 percent in 2010—the highest number since 2001. Muslim Americans seeking to worship according to their faith have seen their mosques defaced, burned, and destroyed.

But if we choose—much like Ariel Ennis and others at NYU and at other institutions around the country have chosen—to stand together, cultivating our commonalities while celebrating our differences, then we can stem the tide of religious intolerance. Together we can continue to uphold the American values of freedom and tolerance for all.

Aaron Shapiro is an intern with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. For more on this initiative, please see its project page.

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Universities Welcome Muslim Students Through Interfaith Efforts

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Quarterly InterReligious Dialogue Video 11-7-12

Hello! Tonight is our Quarterly Interreligious Celebration at DePaul University! It will be held today Wednesday, November 7th in the Lincoln Park Student Center MPR 120 at 9:15pm. Tonight’s theme will revolve around Restorative Justice and the impact or experience one has had within their faith or spiritual encounter. Below is the link to a presentation/video, on the four components of inter-religious dialogue. More to follow on this event!

InterReligious Dialogue 101


Dana Jabri 2015

Open Space: Take Two

About six months ago, I wrote a commentary regarding an interfaith event on campus: Open-Space. I gave an honest critique of the event and its struggle to gain student involvement. Now, six months later, I am again reflecting on an Open Space event. At the end of this summer members of the DePaul community gave this approach to organizing a “second go.”

Open Space is a method of convening, dialoguing, and planning, but the catch is that the attendees set the agenda; they start the conversation on their own terms. In the context of a University Ministry Leadership retreat, 50 some DePaul students participated in an Open Space. We congregated in a retreat center conference room and students created breakout sessions based on topics they wanted to discuss. Everything from commuter student needs, to an interfaith art exhibit, to post-graduation service opportunities; students gathered to reflect, share, learn and organize. Each session included an individual who wrote down valuable information. Notes taken during sessions were later typed and shared via email with everyone who participated in the event.

The large amount of participants allowed students to experiment and take chances. They more readily used the “law of two feet” and floated between sessions, starting new conversations, and participating at their own desire. In my opinion, this added not only to the diversity of topics, but also opened the door to creative possibilities. Some students even decided to relocate to a local pier for some yoga. What remained consistent (amongst this variety of topics) was the initiative taken independently and collaboratively by students.

The effect of enthusiasm amongst student leaders in conjunction with the support of the University Staff allowed for a prosperous flow of ideas. This exchange was solidified in the group’s ability to document and share information post-Open Space event. An establishment of transparency through this sharing of ideas – and more importantly a commitment to the fulfillment of those ideas – has allowed the energy captivated at the Open Space to carry into the academic year. I hope that future Open Space events, particularly those facilitated by the DePaul Interfaith Scholars, will invite the DePaul Community at large to gather at this forum of possibility. I also hope that we can into serious consideration past pilot programs, such as this second attempt, when organizing future Open Spaces.

Caelin Niehoff – 2013

“Jesus Calling”

My sister recently let me borrow her book Jesus Calling, it is a devotional book and it has one for each day. This particular reflection really caught my attention because the whole week was filled with stress. The first retreat of CCM was coming up and the team and I were rushing to get everything ready, on top of that we had also started with October’s SEARCH 5 retreat! This was a nice reminder that things may go wrong. We can plan all we want, but there are some things that will go wrong and that is totally okay. The unexpected may be good sometimes. These words were well needed. I need to take a step back and take some time to relax. Everything will be done in no time, I just need to take care of myself first.

“You will not find my peace by engaging in excessive planning: attempting to control what will happen to you in the future. That is a commonly practiced form of unbelief. When your mind spins with multiple plans, Peace may sometimes seem to be within your grasp yet it always eludes you. Just when you think you have prepared for all possibilities, something unexpected pops up and throws things into confusion.

            I did not design the human mind to figure out the future. That is beyond your capability. I crafted your mind for continual communication with Me. Bring Me all your needs, your hopes and fears. Commit everything into My care. Turn from the path of planning to the path of Peace.”

1 Peter 5: 6 – 7; Proverbs 16:9; Psalma 37:5

By: Laura Mena Scholar 2012-2013

Quick Reflection: 7 Things I Learned On an Interfaith Pilgrimage to Paris

Katie Brick is a Chaplain and the Assistant Director of DePaul’s Office of Religious Diversity.  She works with Loop students and the Interfaith Scholars program.

From June 12-20th, nine students and two staff members went on an Interfaith Pilgrimage to explore Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Paris.  There were goals set and Learning Objectives learned, but here are a few things I picked up organically, and I hope other participants will post more stories/insights, because it was a tremendous trip on many levels.  Note: click on a photo to see them all  (& associated comments) in larger size.

Reimagining the Conversation



Caelin Niehoff is a sophomore at DePaul University pursuing a degree in American Studies. Caelin is an Interfaith Scholar and is involved with Catholic Campus Ministry at DePaul.


A few weeks ago, DePaul Interfaith scholars engaged in a social experiment: an open space event. An Open Space invites individuals to come to a space where participants set their own agenda for the evening, asking questions and discuss solutions. This particular Open Space event was hosted by DePaul Interfaith scholar and veteran Michael Evers. The group was small, but, as in accordance with the rules of Open Space, those who were there were the right people. The evening was an invitation to those interested in faith, diversity and action at DePaul.

As an interfaith scholar and active member of the DePaul community, I attended the event with curiosity and hopes for a new experience on campus. Participants in the Open Space generated their own questions and topics that they were interested in discussing. The group voted on a series of topics: has anyone thought about using Open Space for the Quarterly Interreligious Celebration? How, where, and when can we share our deep stories at DePaul? Can people of two faiths ever really agree? What about DePaul University makes it seem good for interreligious and cross-cultural diversity?

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Seeking the Promise of Easter



Jordan Kelley is a junior at DePaul University. Jordan is an Interfaith Scholar and is a leader in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. This is Jordan’s first year as an Interfaith Scholar.


Easter is the chief event that all of Christianity hinges on. It is the commemoration of the day that Jesus rose from the dead after being in the grave for three days. This holiday is one that is celebrated by all Christians even though the day that it is celebrated on by the Western and Eastern traditions is slightly different. As somebody who has grown up a Christian my whole life, Easter has continued to take on a deeper meaning.

I can recount many of the Easter sermons I have heard. It’s been drilled into my head since I was a kid that Easter is a pretty big deal, but I never really knew what it all meant. Who cares if this ancient story of a person rising from the dead two thousand years ago actually happened, and how does that even impact me now in the year 2012? Can’t we just move on as normal with ourselves and the world? One thing I have eventually learned is that the Easter story changes everything.

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Dominique Johnson is a junior at DePaul University pursuing a Religious Studies major. Dominique is on the Executive Board of DePaul Interfaith.


“A portion of the true sciences is better than a mass of undigested and misunderstood learning. An ounce of gold is worth a ton of dust.”—Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy  

Budhi[1] or purely “Spiritual Wisdom” is the characteristic of an enlightened one, for it is the blossoming forth of perception into illumination, into the stream of Deva-Wisdom. Theosophia is a partial statement (teachings) emanating from pure-Budhi, which every authentic religious movement is in its origin, a partial statement. “Consequently, the higher aspect of the Revealed Bodha is unavoidably esoteric for most men.”—Franklin Merrell-Wolff, Is Theosophy Authentic. We each gentle reader, in the ascent to the intuition of divine and spiritual intellection ‘must first curb the senses in abeyance, so that the intellect exercise itself independently of the senses altogether.’—to paraphrase Nurho de Manhar (See his commentaries on The Sepher Ha-Zohar).

The infinite cannot be known by the finite, i.e., the finite self, but we must reach that Parent-Sun ever shining its light-rays through the Spiritual Soul (Buddhi) and Higher Mind (Manas); which in the psychology presented can be called the upper triad of the human-being. Ancient wisdom says that our true inner Self is the light of the soul in the heart, and demarks us as the individual drop in the ocean. Your terrestrial human form on earth, and all its aspects (Mind, instinctual-soul, subtle-body, ect.) are vehicles of the Higher Self—the God within. As, when flower-buds pop, what was hidden beauty before (in potentia or latency) becomes known, active, and expressive.

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