The BYU Centennial Carillon on Brigham Young University’s campus in Provo, Utah.
Pepperdine University seemed an unlikely destination for Anushka Bhatia.
The economics junior grew up surrounded by fellow Hindus in Singapore and never imagined attending an American, Christian college. But after moving to California during high school, Bhatia set her sights on Pepperdine because of its close community and small classes.
“I’ve had the best experience,” she said. “Going abroad was wonderful. Joining a sorority was something I never thought I would do.”
Religious diversity appeared on the national stage this week as President Obama’s inauguration included an interfaith prayer after the oath of office. Watching the ceremonies as a student in the religious minority at her school, Bhatia said it was interesting to see faith — something she considers to be personal — turn political.
Though Bhatia said it was “intimidating” to attend school with so many Christians, it created an opportunity for her to learn about new ideas.
“I admire my classmates because they have such passion to talk about religion,” she said. “I don’t feel like I have that in Hinduism because it’s so big and it just amazes me how a student can be so open about it.”
Going to school at a religious university shouldn’t be an intimidating experience, said Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.
Though Galligan-Stierle says Catholic colleges emphasize their own traditions and philosophies, he recognizes the importance of reaching out to students at Catholic universities of different religious backgrounds. Ministries at Catholic colleges sometimes sponsor Protestant, Jewish or Muslim prayer services and often shuttle students to off-campus churches, Galligan-Stierle said.
“We think every student that comes our way should find their path in life because we want them to be grounded in the Holy or the Other,” he said.
Outreach to different faiths is part of the job for Ellen Carroll, campus ministry liaison for student government at the University of Notre Dame. Carroll, a senior studying philosophy, plans spiritual events for all students, such as a candlelight vigil on the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11.
“Respect for what other people believe is really highly emphasized,” she said. “Because the Catholic faith is such a part of life on campus, it’s very easy to talk about it and have open discussions, whatever your beliefs might be.”
Carroll remembers a theology class she took with Christian and atheist students where her professor encouraged open discussion from sometimes-controversial viewpoints, even when they disagreed with Catholicism.
“It was a really interesting mix of people,” she said. “We had great discussions in class about all things: the Bible, faith in general and prayer.”
Even Brigham Young University (BYU), a school known for its strict adherence to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), works to make non-Mormon students feel welcome.
Though university spokesperson Jon McBride said clubs for non-Mormon sometimes fizzle out because they represent such a small percentage of campus, students say the school still creates an open environment.
BYU softball infielder JC Clayton said even with other universities recruiting her, she chose BYU because of its “courteous and clean” environment — despite her being raised a non-LDS Christian.
The recreation management senior said she’s discovered more about her Christian faith at BYU than she did growing up in California.
“It’s not too bad,” she said of going to school at an LDS university. “I mean you do get asked to come join them with the activities they do, and go to church and stuff. And they’ll ask you to join them in prayer. But no one’s pushy. They’re not going to force it on you.”
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