Our second week of investigation into students religious involvement on campus demonstrates varied willingness to engage in open discussion about faith.
Dave Raskin ’13 said he finds religion to be a topic of interest among his group of friends and appreciates that such an opportunity for discussion arises—even when they have dissenting opinions. Raskin said he and his friends take on a meta view of religion, and try to assess its complex purpose and significance in society.
“I find there’s so much variation in belief systems and degrees of beliefs that even here, where most of my friends are atheists—as I think I am—there’s still a lot of disagreement about what that means, about whether religion as a whole is good or bad,” said Raskin.
“There are still a bunch of people who, at the end of the day, do believe in God or have faith in something supernatural,” he added.
For other students, discussions about religion are centered on their personal faith and beliefs. Andrew Hilboldt ’13 is pleased to share his religious views with his peers.
“When I came to Bowdoin, I became more comfortable with my Christian faith,” said Hilboldt.
“I’m not going to flaunt it, but I’m not going to hide it,” he said. “If someone asks me a question, I’m happy to answer it. It’s a really rewarding experience to have those conversations outside of church.”
Inevitably, Hilboldt turns to his inner circle for more nuanced discussion about the role of religion in people’s lives.
“I mostly talk about it with my roommates, teammates, or a close professor,” Hilboldt said.
“I never try to convert anyone, but I like talking about what I believe and hearing why someone else doesn’t believe that. I hope people continue to be comfortable talking about this in everyday life,” he added.
Unfortunately, Hilboldt’s ability to foster open dialogue is not a reality for all Bowdoin students. As a member of Circle, Lucy Walker ’14 meets with other club members once a week to discuss her spiritual views. Outside of Circle, Walker finds it too difficult to engage in conversations about personal faith.
“I’ve been surprised to hear that people at Bowdoin say they have regular discussions with their friends about religion or spirituality because for me, that hasn’t been the case,” said Walker. “I’d say in my average relationship at Bowdoin, I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing my views with people or broaching that topic, though I’d really like to.”
Kate Kearns ’14 is also puzzled by the lack of religious or spiritual conversation at Bowdoin, given that religion is an integral part of daily life for many people around the world.
“I do think it’s interesting that religion, which for many people is something that’s so connected to their sense of self, doesn’t come up that much in conversation for me,” said Kearns.
Kearns is a coordinator of The Undiscussed, a forum for Bowdoin students to share their thoughts on a wide variety of topics in a safe and confidential space. The central topic of group meetings this year is the idea of happiness at Bowdoin. Monica Das ’14, another coordinator for The Undiscussed, noted an uptick in mentions of religion or spirituality given this year’s theme.
“In our discussions about happiness and unhappiness, spirituality is coming up a lot,” said Das.
“Bowdoin doesn’t have that many religious spaces,” Das said. “Religion is much more personal and something that people pursue on their own.”
Walker agrees that religious life at Bowdoin seems to be largely private, but she anticipates a renewed interest thanks to the appointment of Bob Ives ’69, the new director of religious and spiritual life.
“I think it will be wonderful to have that person here to bring religion and spirituality into more of the public life of Bowdoin,” Walker said. “If there are students seeking support with that, it’s not as difficult for them to find it.”
Leah Kahn ’15 also appreciates how Bowdoin is approaching religion and spirituality. She believes Ives can help accommodate those students interested in learning about religions or spiritual practices that they had not been exposed to before.
“Hiring this director should help to show that the administration is paying attention and knows that there are people here who want to have someone help them through religious questions,” said Kahn. “For a lot of kids, this is the first time they’ve left home and seen any other religion. They might think, ‘Maybe I want to learn about Buddhism without signing up for a course about it and being graded.’”
However, Hilboldt believes that college can also be a time to strengthen one’s beliefs rather than explore new ones.
“I feel like a lot of people come in and are either going to do the Christian thing or not,” said Hilboldt. “I wish people could be comfortable with whatever degree of faith they have and know that it’s okay.”
“My hope for Bowdoin is that people won’t feel intimidated to talk about religion; like in a class, you shouldn’t be ashamed about asking a question,” he said.
For David Smick ’15, taking courses on religion have made it easier for him to initiate discussions on the subject.
“A few times I’ve had that conversation about personal faith, but maybe not enough people take religion classes to have enough fodder to have that talk,” said Smick. “I definitely had conversations with guys in the religion class I took, but my immediate circle hadn’t read or done the same coursework so we couldn’t have that conversation.”
Even outside of the religion department, students are exposed to religious thought through other relevant courses.
“This semester, I’m taking a philosophy class called Free Will, and religion comes into play a lot,” said Raskin. “I find a lot of academic roads lead to religion, but there’s more of a focus on intellectual ideas rather than faith.”
“One of the things that contributes to feelings of isolation or alienation at Bowdoin is a lack of open dialogue,” said Das. “People should know that others on this campus feel similarly. I think that having a community is important to a lot of people’s sense of happiness, so having a place for discussion is important.”
Discussing topics vital to student life can eventually inspire action. Leaders like Das demonstrate that students have the responsibility and power to change Bowdoin’s culture.
“As an upperclassman, I’ve realized that we need to create the Bowdoin that we want to be a part of,” said Das.
If you are interested in discussing spiritual life on campus, we will be hosting a forum to continue the conversation on Monday in the Cafe from 4 to 5 p.m.