Religion and University Life

The role of religion on a university campus is a complex one. Most universities (including Brock) receive some public funding and are considered public institutions, therefore, connections and affiliations with religious organizations can provide a source of potential conflict or controversy.

As publicly funded institutions, some may argue that universities should remain totally independent of religious organizations. However, universities are also invested in learning and the progression of knowledge, meaning that the exclusion or censorship of certain schools of thought (including religions) could also be argued as something that violates the spirit of a post-secondary education. Universities are, therefore, forced to walk the line between the public pressure for public institutions to remain detached from religion and the need for universities to encourage intellectual discussions and conversations between different groups.

Furthermore, as communities with diverse groups of people, universities have to balance helping students of various faiths find supportive places to practice and learn more about their faith, and remaining a neutral, non-judgemental and pressure-free environment. As a solution to these problems, Brock offers a variety of religious groups that embrace openness, communication and inter-faith discussion. While there are both student-led and professional-led groups on campus that are related to specific religions, these groups are non-discriminatory by principle, open to anyone regardless of their faith (or lack of faith) to participate, talk and learn.

While some students may have negative opinions in regards to religion, or may have had harmful experiences with religion in the past, religious groups on campus consistently demonstrate a commitment to understanding and acceptance. Contrary to popular opinions, many of these campus groups approach their religion from a perspective that focuses on love and care.

There are two major types of religious groups on campus: the university-associated Faith and Life Centre, which is accountable to the larger university, and the Brock University Students’ Union (BUSU)-based student clubs, which are accountable to the students’ union. The main difference between these two groups is that the Faith and Life Centre consists of university-appointed, academically certified chaplains, while the student clubs are run and controlled fully by students and overseen by the students’ union.

Faith and Life Centre

Brock’s Faith and Life Centre consists of various chaplains from different religions and denominations who are available to speak with students. The chaplains also hold regular events for students and members of the Brock community to attend.

Something important that a lot of students do not realize about the Faith and Life Centre is that all of the chaplains are required to be non-judgemental, non-discriminatory and accepting. This means that a student who does not follow a specific religion or lives a lifestyle that they are worried might be condemned by that religion is still welcome to talk to the chaplain without having to worry about being judged.

For example, an atheist student, or a student who is not Christian, is still welcome to talk to one of the Christian chaplains without having to be worried about judgement or pressure to convert. The chaplains are there for spiritual conversation, discussion and support in a non-judgemental environment. They also embrace multi-faith understanding and often work together with people of other faiths and those who do not follow a religion.

“If you were not respectful of other faiths, or of people without a faith, there is no way that you would be appointed chaplain,” said Dr. André Basson, Brock’s Christian Reformed Chaplain. “We will not actively recruit people; that is not what we’re here for. I do not enforce my beliefs on them. I value their ability to express their own opinion, and I want to support them to do so in an articulate and respectful way. Even if someone wants nothing to do with religion, we welcome them.”

The Great Synagogue of Tunis/ divine-name.info

The Great Synagogue of Tunis/ divine-name.info

The kind of inter-faith work done by the centre includes philanthropic and charity work that involves people of many faiths (and people who do not subscribe to a faith) coming together to help out the community or those in need.

“I am often introduced to inter-faith events, and I have had the opportunity to be more involved with the others in the centre. We very much want to get all of the chaplains together to know each other and work together,” said Dr. Mustafa Khattab, Brock Muslim Chaplain for the centre. “I have a lot of involvement in the inter-faith community. I visit churches, and invite them to the mosque in order to promote inter-faith community and work. It’s all about building bridges of understanding and tolerance with other communities and recognizing that we share a lot and face a lot of the same challenges.”

In detailing specific collaborations in which he has been involved, Khattab said that he has worked together with figures from other religions to help provide meals for the homeless, and he has also worked closely with the Mennonite church to help refugees.

Something else that a lot of students don’t realize about the Faith and Life Centre is its academic significance. While the chaplains are there as spiritual and emotional supports for students, they are also there for academic work and guidance as well. The chaplains at Brock are scholars of religion and theology; many of them publish academic work and studies, and they are available for intellectual and academic discussions with students in addition to the other services they provide.

One of the offices at the Faith and Life Centre/ Christy Mitchell

One of the offices at the Faith and Life Centre/ Christy Mitchell

“One of Brock’s weaknesses is that it has no religious studies department,” said Dr. David Galston, Brock’s Ecumenical Chaplain. “People are often surprised at how academic religion can be. We are as much a part of the university academic-wise as we are a service for students. We publish articles and books and are academically qualified.”

Galston said that one thing that defines the job of a chaplain is the love of knowledge, learning and discussion. He suggested that, as a result, somebody who is closed off to certain ideas or who is unwilling to listen to or respect certain perspectives would likely not be drawn to a university chaplaincy, let alone appointed.

“Honestly, my colleagues and I love conversations that involve questioning, discussion, and disagreement. We are coming from academia,” said Galston. “I love knowledge; I love when people can really connect on an academic level. It’s also a learning opportunity: even if you don’t pursue religion personally, you can still learn academic skills from discussing it academically.”

Todaiji Buddhist Temple/ touropia.com

Todaiji Buddhist Temple/ touropia.com

Collin Glavac, the centre’s ecumenical program director, believes that the academic frame of the centre is really important to some students who want to dig deeper into religion in an academic context.

“We don’t have many students [at Brock] who really want to think more and dig deeper,” said Glavac.

“Religion can be exciting at the beginning, but a lot of people don’t want to dig deeper after. If you really want to dig into it, then that’s where we get to something substantial. The Faith and Life Centre is here to support students who want to ask those kinds of questions. The Big Questions Club is another opportunity for those students.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the Faith and Life Centre, their programs and their services can check out their website at brocku.ca/campus-ministries

Student Clubs

Another very prominent religious group on campus is the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA). The association is dedicated to providing a safe and open space for Muslim students to come, as well as to raise awareness about Islam and Muslim students.

“We want to build a safe and open environment for Muslims. We want to make sure they feel safe and welcome at Brock,” said Tibyan Ahmed, the external affairs secretary for the MSA. “We also want to spread awareness about what Islam is really about.”

The MSA has run several events for the Brock community. One of these events included a screening of the well-known, Islam-focused film Tug of War, which included a guest discussion where the filmmaker was able to come in to talk with students after the film.

focus_1_brockmsa

The association also worked together with other Muslim Student Associations to run Islamic Awareness Week. This year, it ran through the week of Jan 25 and was designed to educate students on Islam and correct misconceptions.

The core values of the club include fairness and being welcoming. Ahmed said that the core values of the club reflect their religion.

“We do everything in the name of Allah, and that carries a lot of weight,” said Ahmed. “We are fair, there’s no cheating, everyone is welcome, we have good manners, and we follow what is outlined in the Quran.”

Ahmed said that, while people who follow Islam are called to educate others about Islam through a principle referred to as Dawah, they are also called to educate people on things such as environmental sustainability and recycling. They are also called to learn and make sure that they are reading, talking to professors, and working towards education.

Ahmed said that the MSA is a place to support these goals and help students work together in their exploration of both their faith and of university life.

Beyond programming, Ahmed also said that the social aspect of the club is important as well in creating a sense of community, while still having fun. Meeting regularly in social settings, and making friendships and connections, is also very important to members.

Faraz Siddiqui at Islamic Awareness Week/ brocku.ca

Faraz Siddiqui at Islamic Awareness Week/ brocku.ca

When asked about inter-faith discussion, Ahmed had a similar answer to the other groups interviewed. She said that the club is more than open to welcoming people of other faiths and engaging in discussion with them.

“To join the MSA, you don’t have to be Muslim,” said Ahmed. “You can come and ask questions if you’re interested.”

The MSA holds weekly prayers on Fridays in Kenmore centre and also has monthly talks with Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Brock Muslim Chaplain.

The MSA also has a spoken word event called “Power of the Pen” on Mar. 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the Sean O’Sullivan theatre with guest speakers and a chance for an open mic session after they speak.

For more information about the MSA and their services, check out facebook.com/brockumsa or e-mail brockumsa@gmail.com.

Brock Christian Fellowship

The Faith and Life Centre is a great outlet for students looking for a non-judgemental, supportive and educated source to talk about spiritual concerns. However, for students who are specifically looking for groups of other like-minded students, clubs can be a great resource.

Unlike the Faith and Life Centre, student clubs are not accountable to the university itself, but to BUSU, meaning that they are held to different policies and requirements. Despite this different level of accountability, both of the student groups who were interviewed for this article seemed to demonstrate the same commitment to openness and non-judgement as the Centre.

Brock Christian Fellowship (BCF) is a Christian club on campus. The group’s primary services are focused around creating a space of fellowship and community for people who want to explore their faith.

Nicole Reinsma, one of the head leaders of BCF, said that the principles of community, openness and being welcoming are key to the club.

Brock Christian Fellowship worship team/ Brockcf.com

Brock Christian Fellowship worship team/ Brockcf.com

“It’s a community, we are a group of people gathering together, growing in their faith, studying, having fellowship and reaching out to others,” said Reinsma. “We strive to be a very open, welcoming community.”

When asked about the club’s openness to people whose ideas or lifestyles may be different from conventional members, or people who belong to different faiths than Christianity (or people who do not identify with a faith), Reinsma emphasized that the club highly values this sort of inter-faith discussion. She said that people are always welcome, and that members appreciate the chance to potentially learn from conversations with people who have other perspectives.

“We are open to members of other faiths or no faiths. You’re more than welcome into our community; we’re totally open to anyone to join,” said Reinsma. “It adds a really interesting perspective. Sometimes you can get caught up in your own worldview and miss out on what other people that want to be heard have to say.”

Reinsma also emphasized that she considers being open and welcoming to be an important of being a Christian.

“Christ was open to everybody, and if we were closed off to any individuals, what kind of Christians would we be? We want to be Christlike, and being a Christian is about loving others and sharing God’s support and love,” Reinsma said. “It’s a sad reality that many people can be closed off or judgemental, and we want to make sure that we have a positive and welcoming spirit. We want the chance to learn more about others and give them a chance to talk.”

For more information about BCF, the club’s e-mail is brockchristianfellowship@gmail.com

Other religious student groups on campus include Brock Hillel, whose goal is to create a strong Jewish community on campus, and to foster connections and relationships both amongst Jewish students and between Jewish and non-Jewish students, and the Brock University Mandarin Chinese Christian Fellowship club, focused on supporting Chinese Christian students. For a more detailed list, check out the “Faith and Religion” section of the ExperienceBU Organizations Directory at experiencebu.brocku.ca

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