Coverage of Religion at Harvard Was Incomplete
TO THE EDITORS
No coverage of religion at Harvard is complete if it lacks substantial input from undergraduates. Your feature ("Rise in Religion", Feature, Feb. 12, 1996) on the "rise" in religion at Harvard failed to reflect the depth of students' activity in religious life.
The notion of a "rise" in religion is nebulous. How, exactly, has religion "risen" or "increased?" Can the thing religion perform such feats?
More to the point, however, is the glaring absence in the article of the voices of many students who are spending a good deal of their time somehow connected to a religious group or a religious issue. While a few students seem to have been cursorily interviewed for the piece, the comments of many student leaders and members of religious groups are notably absent. This absence is disappointing: if there is indeed a "rise" in religion at Harvard, undergraduates are the ones doing the raising.
Enter the Harvard-Radcliffe Interfaith Forum, a relatively new organization which has drawn substantial involvement from just about every student religious group on campus. The group has been meeting since last May to organize itself and to plan interfaith activities. Last semester we put together a panel discussion which included student representatives from the Buddhist Community, the Catholic Student Association, Hillel and the Humanist chaplaincy.
We helped plan the only University observance of Martin Luther King Day, held at Memorial Church, which was also co-sponsored by United Ministry, the Harvard Foundation for Race and Intercultural Relations and the Black Students Association. Anyone who attended the service will know that undergraduates were crucial contributors, representing a marked difference in the service from previous years.
This semester the Interfaith Forum is holding regular dinner discussions about religion, organizing interfaith text studies and visiting each other's prayer services and meetings. We are planning the first ever Interfaith Day of Service, a day during reading period when students from all different religious backgrounds will volunteer together at different public service organizations in the area. In addition, we will regularly volunteer for ongoing service projects with which our religious groups are involved.
We have articulated our goals for the group as follows: communicating among the College's religious and faith communities, creating a forum for sharing and experiencing the diversity of our beliefs, supporting an environment of tolerance for and understanding of all views, educating the Harvard community about the role of religion in people's lives, facilitating an exchange of personal and group experiences and fostering a community which responds to its members' needs and wishes.
Some recent articles and opinion pieces in The Crimson itself seem to reflect the role of different religions in the lives of many students. Not to speak of the Alumni Association's panel on religion held last week, the undergraduate column on religion at Harvard in the latest issue of Harvard Magazine or the upcoming address at Junior Parents' Weekend by Professor Diana Eck on changes in American religion. The Interfaith Forum is both a response to and a catalyst for such activities.
The Interfaith Forum has been hailed by students, faculty and chaplains alike as fulfilling a dire need of the University. The rapid growth of a group such as the forum indicates a progression of students' attitudes towards global and meaningful perspectives.
The imperative of inter-religious understanding demands that we, as students, look deeper than we are accustomed, that we not "flock" only to our own groups but join others in search of meaningful actions. --Naomi S. Stern '97 Chair Harvard-Radcliffe Interfaith Forum