Sorry for the wait! For this I asked one of the lovely Interfaith leaders, Brooke, to give us some insight. Here’s what she wrote:
Let’s see, what is Interfaith…
Well, here’s the “mission statement” that was written a few years back and may need to be readdressed a bit but is a good way to start:
Mission Statement: Members of the Bennington College Interfaith Community believe in the beauty and significance of every person’s journey toward self-discovery and development of a philosophy of life. We cultivate community through conversations in which we explore and share in one another’s diverse experiences of spirituality, faith, religion, and meaning-making. Not only do we provide a safe space for personal reflection, but we also seek to learn from one another’s evolving beliefs, practices, and questions. Additionally, we work to reach out to the broader college community with opportunities for learning, service, and exploration related to interfaith themes.
So we meet once a week for about an hour, which is when we talk about topics of spirituality; share personal stories or stories from our faith or stories that have any sort of spiritual meaning to us; do activities (collages and other artsy stuff, writing, music, etc). It’s a really nice time to let go of all the other worries going on and feel refreshed, and we have a very strong little community that’s growing quite a bit. Very comfy and positive.
We also do a speaker series every term on different themes (last term was Creation) and the luminaries event. We’re hoping to go on a trip or two next term, maybe to a nearby monastery. We’re also hoping to start a monthly/twice a month perhaps (depending on interest) lunch time meeting that would meet in the dining hall to discuss specific texts (this will be a less personal and somewhat more objective, serious, close look at texts). This would be separate from the other weekly meetings.
Overall, Interfaith is a group of people interested in spiritual journeys - their own and others. Most members don’t affiliate with any specific religion - some have created their own or take inspiration from multiple religious areas of thought or from nature or science even. It’s a great place to learn about what other people are thinking and try to figure out what you’re thinking too, which can be pretty challenging.
Enjoy a few interfaith photos below. Thank you Brooke!
Christianity isn’t part of the collective consciousness in the way that it may be on other college campuses (awesome alliteration, Alan!), but we are an open-minded group of people. We have an interfaith group that I think epitomizes that. Religious and non-religious folks alike also seem to enjoy exploring faith related themes in their art here; I would say 40% of the final projects people are working on in my play-writing class are faith-related.
Hellooo, so you are also on Team Halal! Rest assured, our Dining Hall folks got your back. Even though I am one of the few students who requested halal food options, they made sure to accommodate us from day one and there is halal meat available for us at lunch and dinner. Other than that, the range of vegan and vegetarian options is huge so there will always be something for you to eat, whether you’re eating in the Dining Hall or the Student Center or some campus gathering.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a designated prayer room or mosque on campus, but you don’t really need that to pray anyway and you will find many, many quiet spaces on campus (and off-campus) for it if you need to. This year, a bunch of us got together and celebrated Bakra Eid with the Williams College MSA and it was a result of interested Muslim and non-Muslim students getting together to organize the effort since there was not much that happened last year. There is also enough interfaith activity happening (and growing) on campus with the Interfaith Group (here’s David Black talking about it) so that you will have a strong community of people from various faiths sharing their experiences. The Interfaith Group holds a meeting every Friday and has been hosting a speaker series for a while. Recently, Amer Latif from nearby Marlboro College spoke about the concept of The “Other” in the Quranic Worldview, and tomorrow, Fr. Justin Lanier, the new reverend up at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, will be coming to deliver a talk on Contemplation and Social Justice: Who Do You Say I Am? Then there was Sam Watts, a recent graduate, who set up a Sacred Space in Bennington as part of a project to advance interfaith dialogue on campus. In fact, my Plan is centered on Islam and conflict resolution in law, politics and international relations. Sooo, lots of academic and non-academic activity and dialogue going on whether you believe in nothing, everything, one god or several. In my experience, at least on campus and around town, there has been no Islamophobia or religious discrimination — instead people are either knowledgeable about Islam or curious to find out more. Anyway, feel free to write to me at email@example.com for more about this and we can continue the conversation there.
— Maliha ‘14
Hi! There is an interfaith council that meets throughout term to discuss religious life on-campus across all faiths. My impression is that it’s a pretty active group, and the people I’ve known who have been involved with it spend a lot of time discussing not only their own faith but also the roles of said faiths on-campus. Interfaith council is the only dedicated religious organization that I’m aware of on-campus, but there are also a bunch of informal groups that get together and carpool to services in the town of Bennington.
I know plenty of religious folks myself and I can definitely say that they are in no way ostracized from the rest of the student body. While opinions on religion always differ from person to person, it really seems to me like Bennington is a place that values perspectives beyond one’s own - and that includes perspectives on faith.