Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 24, 1995

Seeking Spirituality: Hopkins Students, Faculty And Staff Are 
Finding The Space To Exercise Their Faiths

By Mike Field

"A brief religious service will be held every morning at 8:45 in
Hopkins Hall. No notice will be taken of the presence or absence
of anybody."
                         --Message found tacked to a 
                           bulletin board at the first 
                           Hopkins Campus on Howard Street, 
                           circa 1880.

     Every morning before sunrise, Murtuza Ahmed gets up to pray.
In the dark and often in the cold, at a time when nearly all his
classmates are sleeping, Ahmed kneels on the floor facing
northeast--toward Mecca--opens his heart to Allah and touches his
forehead to the ground. In this way, says Ahmed, "I submit my
whole being to the will of the Creator." A junior natural
sciences major studying hard for the MCATs, Ahmed enjoys an
active social life when not studying or in class. Nevertheless,
he will find time to repeat his prayers four more times in the
course of each day.

     Meanwhile, in another part of campus, at about the same time
Ahmed is beginning his morning prayers, a group of Jewish
students sit patiently in the basement of AMR 1, one of the
original student dormitories on the Homewood campus. They await
the arrival of the 10th man for minyan, the quorum of 10 Jewish
males needed to perform morning services. Although shabbat or
Friday evening services have long been a fixture at Homewood, the
morning service is something new. Last semester, a minyan met 53
of the 55 school days their services were scheduled. This
semester, the group hasn't missed a day. Says senior economics
major Michael Kelsey, one of the organizers of the minyan, "We do
this because we are commanded to; that's the straight, quick and
easy answer. But the larger truth is, it's very rewarding. If I'm
running a little late and I walk in and there is already a quorum
it's a wonderful feeling. This is a sign of commitment to God."

     Commitment to God or belief in a higher power are not
prerequisites for studying, teaching or working at Johns Hopkins
University. In fact, by mutual consent and the force of
tradition, they are rarely even discussed. Founded deliberately
as a secular institution, Hopkins has, by policy or by oversight,
directed little effort toward the spiritual realm. There is, for
instance, no Religion Department in the School of Arts and
Sciences or even a religious studies major. Hopkins, unlike most
other universities of similar size and age, is one of the few
schools without a campus chapel. Even the office of campus
chaplain is a relatively late development, the current chaplain
being only the third person to hold that post in the university's
117-year history.

     Yet students, staff and faculty from across the campuses say
that spirituality in general--and religion in particular--is very
much present in the hearts and minds of many members of the
university community. 

     "When I first came here I was told this place was an
a-religious institution," said Homewood campus chaplain Sharon
Kugler. Originally brought in on an interim basis in March 1993,
Kugler spent her first months on the job making contact with the
dozen or so religiously affiliated student  groups on campus. Her
contacts quickly led her to doubt the prevailing notion of
irreligiosity or lack of interest. "I found a deep sense of
spirituality among students, faculty and staff," said Kugler.
"People don't tend to realize that at Hopkins we have many people
deeply committed to their religions."

     Nor is Kugler alone in her discovery. Shortly after her
arrival as associate professor of economics at the Nitze School
of Advanced International Studies in Washington, Judith Dean was
approached by a group of students asking her to help organize a
weekly fellowship and Bible study for students, faculty and
staff. That group eventually became the SAIS Christian Forum, a
non-denominational weekly gathering that focuses on issues of
faith and meaning within the context of international relations.

     "There should be a link between faith and learning," said
Dean. "These students agree that one's life should not be
compartmentalized. Faith isn't something you do on your days off.
It's an integral part of your life. Part of the purpose of this
group is to discuss the relationship between Christian faith and
our academic pursuits at SAIS." 

     The SAIS Christian Forum examines different issues related
to faith each semester. Last fall, the group discussed the
question of "Being a Leader as a Christian." This semester, they
brought guest speakers and organized discussions around the issue
of "Being a Christian in the Workplace." Despite an often
grueling work schedule, the group consistently attracts 10 to 15
members each week. 

     "It's always a question of, Can I really afford to go?" said
African studies and international economics major Katharina
Vogeli. A Swiss citizen who says she has been a Christian for 15
or 16 years, Vogeli rarely regrets her decision to attend. "It
makes me feel recharged. I feel encouraged," she said. "It's a
support group, if you want, based on very definite foundations
that we share. Yes, it does take very valuable time away from
studies, but it's worth it."

     From the very start, the university has grappled with the
need to balance scientific objectivity with spiritual fulfillment
and to acknowledge the sense of tension that seems to exist
between those "very definite foundations" of faith and the
inquiring demands of reason. According to contemporary sources,
the original trustees felt strongly that the university "should
forever be free from the influences of ecclesiasticism or
partisanship, as those terms are used in narrow or controversial
senses." When Daniel Coit Gilman arrived as the university's
first president, he took up the charge, declaring "Religion has
nothing to fear from science and science need not be afraid of

     As if to prove his point, Gilman offered to lead morning
prayers in a classroom each day before the 9 a.m. commencement of
classes. The trustees, anxious to demonstrate that Hopkins was
not destined to become the godless institution some contemporary
critics were decrying, quickly accepted the offer. Those
services--Christian in nature, featuring a reading from
Scripture, a brief talk and a prayer--were led by the president
for more than a dozen years before the duty devolved upon dean of
the college and ordained minister Edward Griffin. At all times,
attendance at the services was strictly voluntary.

     Officially led morning prayers are long a thing of the past
at Hopkins. The need for spiritual fulfillment, apparently, is
not. If anything, suggest observers, spiritual needs on campus
are being felt more acutely, and answered more widely, than at
any time in recent memory. 

     "In the past at this institution benign neglect seemed to be
the order of the day," Kugler said. "It was an approach
considered appropriate to who we are and what we do. However, the
truth is, if you prod beneath the image of the research
institution you still find people who, at the end of the day, go
home and search for meaning in their personal lives."

     What has changed perhaps, is not the need to search, but the
many avenues available to those looking. In the days when
President Gilman could offer to lead communal prayers, Johns
Hopkins University was, for all intents and purposes, a Christian
organization. That is emphatically no longer the case. Today the
university--like the larger society to which it belongs--is a
quilted patchwork of spiritual and religious beliefs. Christians,
Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and many others are represented
on the many campuses, often--owing in part to the large number of
international students, faculty and researchers--in numbers far
larger than the general society might suggest.

     "I think as we see violence increasing in the general
society we experience an increase in spiritual needs among all
age groups," said Joshin Kado, an ordained Buddhist nun who
serves as the Buddhist campus minister at Homewood. Kado has
established a meditation group that meets weekly at the campus
chaplain's office in the Alumni Memorial Residences. "As I
observe people around campus I find spiritual and religious
issues are very important to them. Hopkins has traditionally had
this sort of low-key effort to stay very secular, but we've seen
a turnaround from that. 

     Today there is a recognition of the need, and the recent
reorganization of the campus chaplaincy is evidence of that.
Frankly, if our students can't find answers to their religious
questions on campus from legitimate priests, nuns, rabbis and so
forth, then they are more vulnerable to things like cults."

     The possibility of cultlike religious groups recruiting
students on campus is a growing concern at universities across
the nation. Some have even had to resort to legal efforts to bar
certain groups from their campuses. While not a problem at
Hopkins, Kugler remains vigilant to groups that, in the name of
spirituality or religion, would try to run students' lives. 

     "Some groups are not interested in dialogue," she said.
"They will insist that all answers reside within the group and
that members limit contacts with outsiders. That is a red flag
that warns us to be wary." 

     Part of Kugler's mission as chaplain has been to increase
contact and dialogue among religions on campus. In 1993 she
started the Interfaith Council, a student group composed of
members of most faiths represented at Homewood. The group meets
weekly to talk and listen and learn about each other. "We
encourage the recognition that others' journeys have value," she
said. "As a group, we learn what is relevant to other people's

     One thing that became apparent not long after Kugler founded
the IFC was the desire on the part of many students for an
organized academic course of religious studies. "Here you are at
Hopkins and you walk across campus seeing all these different
people and hearing all these different languages, and it's
literally a smorgasbord," Kugler said. "But how do you get to
know them, how do you get to understand their beliefs? There is a
hunger for that knowledge and for the ability to talk about the
differences in religious and spiritual ideas."

     In answer to that need, Campus Ministries helped create the
university's first religion course, Christianity and World
Religions, to be offered in the fall semester through the School
of Arts and Sciences. The 300-level, 3-credit class will be the
first of what Kugler hopes will be a series of courses examining
issues of religion and spirituality in an academically credible
way. Many students have expressed hope that the university will
create a more permanent and structured form of religious studies
through the curriculum of the School of Arts and Sciences, a
proposal that is currently receiving serious consideration from
the administration.

     "I have met with a number of students who are interested in
a religious studies program and we have looked at that in some
detail," said Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Knapp. "We are
currently exploring several options, including a religious
studies major, but the crucial thing, of course, is making sure
we have the faculty resources." 

     Dean Knapp served on the Religious Studies Faculty Board at
Berkeley, where he taught a popular course titled The Bible as
Literature, a class he describes as a "good candidate" for what
he might teach here. Classes dealing specifically with religious
themes are increasingly in demand, he said, perhaps in part
because the process of accommodating many different religious
viewpoints has progressed considerably in recent years. 

     "There's less embarrassment among faculty and students about
the issue of religion," he said. "There is a growing recognition 
that you can pursue the secular academic study of religion in a
way that doesn't promote a particular faith, but at the same time
acknowledges the cultural and philosophical importance of
religious belief and expression. The scholarly study of religion
is not automatically hostile or demystifying; to treat it
seriously you cannot take a purely mechanical or condescending

     Studied or not, religious and spiritual issues define many
individual's lives within the university community. Occasionally
a source of friction, as when the expectations of scientific
skepticism confront the demands of faith, most individuals report
little difficulty in reconciling the world of the academy with
the needs of their soul. 

     "As the Koran teaches, 'There is no compulsion in
religion,'" said Muslim student Murtuza Ahmed. "Even though there
are moral and ethical differences of opinion on campus, this does
not make it hostile to belief. You have to know before you
decide. We are here to further our understanding and knowledge.
But we also want to add and enrich the community with different
points of view and different talents as well."

     For many at the university--on every campus, across a broad
spectrum of beliefs--the spiritual and the eternal cannot be
separated from the material and temporal: they are one and the
same. It is perhaps impossible to describe each group, to hear
every voice. But to a surprising degree, they speak with great
unanimity. Says Priscilla Boudreau, an administrative secretary
in the Development Office who attends a weekly Bible study and
prayer meeting held on campus, remembering her faith within a
secular institution invigorates her soul. It is, she says, "like
a drink of cold water in a dry place."

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