New Dharmic prayer center opens in SCC
Last night, the first-ever Dharmic prayer center opened on campus.The new center is temporary and is located on the third floor of the Shapiro Campus Center in what used to be the Shapiro Campus Center Art Gallery.
Hindu Chaplain Vaishali Gupta opened the ceremony by speaking about the concept of Dharma as the main thread tying the four religions together. Hindu, Buddhist and Jain student representatives then spoke about what Dharma means to them in their own personal beliefs and according to their religions. Connotations of the word were varied, ranging from ideas about it meaning “faith” to referring to a sense of order in the universe. Students also spoke about what the center means to them. “Now we have a place to fully express our faith and practice,” said Shruti Vaidyanathan ’16, president of Namaskar, the University’s Association for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs.
University administrators then addressed the modest group of attendees. Andrew Flagel, Vice President for Students and Enrollment, thanked the students for working to create the space.
He told an anecdote about his undergraduate experience studying religion as a philosophy major. He described reading “The Tao of Pooh” — a book that explains the basic principles of Taoism using the characters and stories from the children’s book series “Winnie the Pooh”— and read an excerpt from the book. Dean of Students Jamele Adams thanked the students who worked to create the space, who “got together and met with me and argued with me,” he said.
The Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Elyse Winick ’86 spoke about the history of religious spaces at the University and how the University has had to expand from its original three chapels in light of increased diversity. During its founding, the campus put up three chapels for the religions that were most prominent at the time — Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism. But they have since needed to expand their range of religious spaces.
The ceremony concluded with Hindu, Buddhist and Jain prayers led by students who practice the religions. Attendees of the event were invited to either participate or watch. Erik Howden ’16, an undergraduate department representative for Religious Studies, led a closing meditation.
Discussions to create a space for the Dharmic religions were in the works for a year and a half, Gupta said in an interview with the Justice. The discussions began around the same time that Gupta came to campus as the Hindu Chaplain.
During that time, students from the Dharmic religions were in discussions with Adams, Flagel and Stephanie Grimes, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Activities. The Dharmic prayer center was first assigned to share the space of the Protestant Chapel — a move that upset some students from both the Dharmic and Protestant student groups. According to Gupta, the Center was then “assigned a couple of other spaces which did not work out.”
When asked to give an estimate as to how many Dharmic students there are on campus, Gupta said that the number of students is around 100.
“I want to say it feels good. But it feels right. It feels like it was necessary. It’s part of embracing diversity around us,” said Gupta.
The event ended with an Indian food buffet.