Religious Leaders Provide Guidance for Curious Students

Abigail Weinberg, Editor-in-Chief

Sometimes, students need guidance in their religious pursuits. Luckily, the 70 chaplain affiliates at the Office of Global Spiritual Life are available to help students practice their religion and to provide information for those who are curious about other faiths.

The university setting is a unique environment for religious expression because students have the liberty to explore different faiths without being tied down to one particular community. Student involvement varies by faith, but turnout is sizeable even for less commonly practiced religions. Affiliate Buddhist Chaplain Malik Walker said that eight to 14 students typically attend his weekly meditation sessions, and affiliate Hindu Chaplain Sangeetha Kowsik reported that 20 to 25 students were in attendance at a Saturday yoga workshop this weekend.

Chaplains encourage students to approach them with questions, doubts and areas of interest. To give you a sense of the chaplains’ approachability, Walker, an ordained Buddhist monk and black man from New Orleans, laughed and said that he doesn’t wear his robes on campus so that he doesn’t scare people. Kowsik offered me a plate of Indian food and stopped herself from using the expression “til the cows come home,” saying, “I think that’s racist to Indian people.”

Both Walker and Kowsik appreciate the unique opportunities afforded by practicing on a campus, because students experience and practice religion differently from adults.

“I’ve lived in the university environment, so it’s kind of a home for me,” Walker said. “It’s important for me to be in this place, being available knowing that I’ve navigated every level of university life as a student and teacher.”

Kowsik said that students tend to need guidance and structure in their busy schedules. Although Hinduism is a very individualistic religion, the Hindu Student Center, founded last year as a student initiative, holds different secular and religious events each week to make it easier for students to get involved.

“The Hindu Center is trying to keep it fun and engaging to promote diversity and tolerance,” Kosuik said. Events include yoga sessions, presentations and an upcoming interfaith Diwali celebration.

Walker also said that faith can be cathartic and accessible for all students, who are undergoing a particularly hectic time in their lives.

“[Buddhism] was something that really brought focus to the way I understood myself and what I was going through,” he said. “It helped to quiet down the noise of college life.”

Kowsik also highlighted the environment of exploration that NYU cultivates.

“Being in a university is great because you get to see students who are really open-minded and want to learn,” she said.

Walker encourages students not to be shy about approaching Buddhism.

“You don’t have to be a Buddhist to talk to us,” he said. “Buddhism is a part of the American religious reality that shouldn’t be taken for granted.”

The Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Humanist, Interfaith, Muslim, Protestant and Sikh chaplains all practice in the Office of Global Spiritual Life at 238 Thompson St., accessible through the Kimmel Center for University Life, though the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life is located at 7 E. 10th St. Kowsik appreciates the close proximity in which the different faiths practice.

“I like the fact that we’re all stuck together and on top of each,” she said. “Once you interact with other faiths, that’s how you build tolerance, love and respect.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 23 print edition. Email Abigail Weinberg at [email protected].