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Veritas Forum Explores Christianity at Harvard

By Georgia N. Alexakis

Offering what organizers called a chance to explore the role of Christianity at an increasingly secular Harvard, this weekend's Veritas Forum attempted to help participants find God at Harvard.

Workshops on Saturday afternoon featured several essayists who mapped out their spiritual journeys through Harvard in Finding God at Harvard, edited by forum organizer Kelly K. Monroe.

Other sessions encouraged discussion of how to practice faith in an academic setting.

The forum concluded yesterday with a celebration at Park Street Church featuring Olympic silver medalist Paul Wylie '91.

"I came to Harvard knowing most of the Bible in my head but not in my heart," said Angela Suh Um '92, founder of the Asian Baptist Koinonia and an organizer of the forum. "I came here and started thinking about the fundamentals and turned to God for the answers."

Students said they attended the forum for a variety of reasons.

"I came to the forum to renew my spiritual foundation," said Shawn J. Achor '00. "The idea of a 'godless Harvard' scared me, but I was going on the faith that God would come with me to school. The forum helped me understand that there are others [here] who have my love for God."

Brenda M. Birmann, a second-year student at the School of Public Health, agreed that the forum helped her refocus on religion.

"The challenge to me is the way I live my life," she said. "Jesus was a healer, and so he is relevant to all my disciplines."

Other students, like Patricia R. Fessler '99, said they came to explore.

"I've always classified myself as an agnostic who wasn't trying very hard," Fessler said. I figured that I'm in college now and that I would give it the old college try."

Ten thousand flyers and programs were distributed to attract students to the forum, Monroe said.


The sessions also raised questions about the role of God in the lives of students and the role of faith in the University.

In particular, some forum participants charged that Harvard has strayed from its roots as a school for future clergy.

"I don't think Harvard deserved the title 'godless' in the beginning, but now there seems to be a curious silence about the Person for whom the College was founded," said Monroe, who is a chaplain for United Ministry. "This makes for an illiberal education--an education not open to all possibilities of the nature of truth and reasons for hope."

University officials, however, disputed the assertion that Harvard is "godless."

"I do not think that Harvard's undergraduates can, as a group, be called 'godless,'" Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles said in an interview yesterday. "There are many, many different religions, creeds and deities in which our students believe."

Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III agreed that religion plays an important part in students' lives.

"Religion at Harvard is very well-represented, although it is true that the official College does not express itself in religious terms," Epps said.

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