Two weeks ago, Campus Ministry held its first religious services open house of the year, a week in which the ministry encouraged students to observe and participate in the services of other religions. But unless you were already practicing a faith, odds are you never heard about it.
I, for one, found out about the open house only after attending Catholic Mass. But my initial excitement eventually gave way to ambivalence. The week passed, and I made empty promises to attend another time — or perhaps Googling the religion would be good enough.
Instead, I chose to spend my time on other things, like many of the students who had heard of the open house. And as for the majority of students who never received the memo, well, they were likely elsewhere, too.
While Georgetown currently promotes the study of religion and provides outstanding resources for the curious student, it should take greater strides in making the appreciation of religious ceremony a fundamental, rather than optional, part of our experience. In other words, Georgetown’s formal curriculum fosters theological discussion, but the most integral component of religion — communal worship — must also play an important role in our education.
Sacred texts, the conception of God and the methods of worship can all make a rightful claim to be the center of a faith. But whereas we can describe the first two in a classroom, prayer can only be experienced and is most profound when shared.
When we participate in a service together, we partake in a tradition that transcends ourselves. The service is an expression of faith that binds us with others, equally devout in their convictions, who lived thousands of years before. Religion has inspired great art and music and driven historical events. Everyone — regardless of religious background — should at least try to appreciate the ceremonies and rituals that captivate billions of humans worldwide.
As evidence of how important ritual can be, in the near future, the Catholic Church will change certain words of the American English Mass to more closely reflect the original Latin. Though the adjustments are subtle, the decision demonstrates the importance of religious tradition — in this case, a tradition that extends two millennia into the past.
Our Jesuit identity hardly asks us to filter everything through a Christian lens. But it requires us to facilitate dialogue and constantly ask questions about our beliefs. And yet, unless we explore other faiths — which we hardly do of our own accord — we are unfit to hold any sort of deeper conversation.
We could more effectively engage with different religious cultures by incorporating their ceremonies into the syllabi of theology, history and philosophy courses. If attending services constituted homework assignments, we would be extending the intellectual discussion beyond the classroom. Art classes make use of the museums downtown, and a Shakespeare class might venture to see a play’s latest interpretation on stage, so it hardly makes sense that religious services right on campus rarely make it into a lesson plan.
In his series of essays, “Idea of the University,” Cardinal John Henry Newman describes a model he calls an “atmosphere of thought,” in which intellectualism pervades our daily lives from the classrooms to the dormitories. The atmosphere cultivated here is part of what makes Georgetown special. But religion should be the cornerstone of our constantly thinking atmosphere. Bridging the active engagement with the passive study of faiths should not come with the timid encouragement of Campus Ministry; it should be the work of the university as a whole today.
Andrew Toporoff is a sophomore in the College. MULTUMQUE UNUM appears every other Friday.