Students Open Interfaith Dialogue

Last Sunday, 14 Harvard students gathered in Winthrop House’s Feer Room for the first meeting of a new religious discussion group on campus.

Founder Moshe S. Davis ’06 said he founded the group to provide a forum for discussing the obstacles devout students face at a secular college.

“[Harvard’s] an environment with an intellectual bent, and such rationality doesn’t always flow well with spirituality and faith,” he said.

Davis said he came up with the idea for the group after being frustrated over a perceived unwillingness of students to engage in a discussion about a guest speaker’s apparent condonation of Palestinian suicide bombers.

He said that Associate Dean of the College Judith H. Kidd helped plant the idea in his head.

“I met with Dean Kidd after the incident, and she encouraged me to pursue an organization, not necessarily about politics, but about understanding students of different faiths on a deeper level,” Davis said.

Davis invited students to the loosely-defined discussion group over the Winthrop e-mail list on March 13, asking readers to forward the message across campus.

The first meeting included Catholic and Jewish students, as well as participants who said they were hesitant to declare a religious affiliation.

According to Davis, the hour and a half long discussion covered many topics including how religious students could feel uncomfortable discussing their personal, spiritual issues with their respective chaplains.

“We wanted to create a safe space and a nondiscriminating group where we could just talk,” Davis said. “It went smoothly and pleasant, but it still wasn’t an easy conversation to have.”

Ari Z. Moskowitz ’06, an orthodox Jew, said he participated in an interfaith organization last semester but noted that this group was different.

“In my group last semester, we focused on teaching one another about our respective faiths. This is more about helping each other face the challenges of being a religious student at Harvard,” he said.

Brenden S. Millstein ’06, who described himself as an atheist, said he attended the discussion out of curiosity.

“There is an incredible number of people here who are religious and who have their lives shaped by religion. The presence of strongly pro-life campus groups, for example, has made me more interested to talk about religion,” he said.

Judith T. Greenberg ’07 said that the discussion went well despite the fact that many of the participants didn’t know each other.

“It was a new experience for a lot of us, and in a sense, no one knew what to do. But we were excited to be there and see where the discussion would take us,” she said.

Davis said the yet-to-be-named group is not currently focusing on receiving official College recognition, which requires 10 officers, two faculty officers and a formal constitution. Instead, it is aiming to garner a consistent and diverse membership, he said.

The group has scheduled their next meeting for mid-April.

—Staff writer Shayak Sarkar can be reached at ssarkar@fas.harvard.edu.