Keeping the faith

PART 2 OF 2: Religion is an important part of students’ lives, but most keep to their own

Hillel president Sheri Krell, ArtSci ’08, at the club’s headquarters on Centre Street.
Hillel president Sheri Krell, ArtSci ’08, at the club’s headquarters on Centre Street.
Photo: 
Campus for Christ member Craig Langridge says interfaith interaction is good, as long as it doesn’t distract from their primary focus on evangelism.
Campus for Christ member Craig Langridge says interfaith interaction is good, as long as it doesn’t distract from their primary focus on evangelism.

Craig Langridge thinks interfaith interaction is a positive thing, but only as long as it doesn’t distract
him from his cause. Langridge, Sci ’08, is the Men’s Ministry Co-ordinator for Campus for Christ, an on-campus Christian student group. “I think it’s always good to have interfaith relations,” he said. “But at the same time we don’t want to get distracted from our number one focus.”

Langridge said his group’s focus is to run campaigns to encourage new members each year.

“We believe that people can have a personal relationship with God,” he said. “Every year we try to offer attractive opportunities to every student to hear the gospel.” Past campaigns have included the
“Just Ask” campaign and the “Do you agree with Jamie?” campaign. Both campaigns encouraged students to think more about Christianity.

Langridge said there are between 80 and 100 people involved in the group, which isn’t funded by the AMS. “We don’t have member fees,” Langridge said. “We’re funded by donors.” Langridge said he couldn’t say who the donors are. He said he’s never worked with anyone on the Interfaith Council,
but his group is considering branching out and being involved in an upcoming event called, ‘What is God.’ The event is being run by the Thaqalayn Muslim Association at Queen’s on Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m. “We’re considering it. I’m not sure there the decision stands on that right now,” he said. “I’ve
never met anyone on [the Interfaith Council]. I’ve never been to see the chaplain.” Noah Bonder, ArtSci ’08, runs the Interfaith Council, a student initiative on campus to promote religious tolerance.
Bonder said the Interfaith Council was brought about because of the Concordia riots in September 2002, when pro-Palestinian protestors forced the cancellation of a speech by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “It was brought in to be a mediator to prevent something like that from happening here,” he said. “The thing is, though, we don’t have that type of mentality at Queen’s. It’s not really a confrontational situation.”

Bonder said one of the council’s focuses is to encourage religious groups to better understand one another. “A lot of people will join the clubs and get involved in the clubs but will stay in that club and will put themselves in a bubble and not break out of it,” he said. “So what we’re trying to do is bring people out of these bubbles a little bit, get them to understand each other, and start to speak to each other, because that’s the only way we can start to get acceptance at Queen’s.”

Bonder couldn’t say definitively which religious denominations were represented on the council. “There are several different denominations [on the council],” he said. “We’re trying to diversify a bit more.”
Bonder cited a lack of involvement and interaction as the reason for the divisions between religious groups on campus. “Clubs will reach out to other clubs, but there isn’t the reciprocity,” he said. “A lot of the smaller groups tend to fade out pretty quickly.” The University Registrar doesn’t collect data on the religious denominations of Queen’s students.

Sheri Krell, ArtSci ’08 and president of Queen’s Hillel, said she has never felt discriminated against by the University, but she has felt there is a lack of understanding surrounding religious holidays. “It’s not discriminating against; it’s more a lack of understanding. I’ve never felt not proud to be Jewish,” she said. “But sometimes when there are lectures on Yom Kippur and they’re still going on, professors say, ‘Get notes from friends’.” She said her club is supportive of interfaith initiatives on campus.
“We’ve been very active participants in the Council. Unfortunately, the other clubs haven’t been as receptive. Usually it’s been us and the Baha’i club,” she said. “We have a large non- Jewish contingent to our club as well. We have a non-Jewish executive member this year.”

Queen’s Hillel is not funded by the AMS, Krell said, and their headquarters at Hillel House was given to them by Beth Israel Synagogue, which is located next door at 116 Centre St. “We receive funding from
membership fees and donations from the community,” she said. Haseeb Khan, ArtSci ’07 and chairperson of the Queen’s University Muslim Association (QUMSA), said his club isn’t funded by the AMS either.

“Our membership fee is $5 per year,” he said. “The paid membership is for Muslims. We don’t want to give any non-Muslims a reason not to participate,” he said. QUMSA ’s club space is located next door to the interfaith room in the JDUC. Khan said their club space in Room 232 opens into the interfaith
room but there is a divider students can pull across if they want to use Room 231, but he hasn’t seen any other clubs use the space this year. “We put a new carpet in there this past summer. It’s there for
anyone to use,” he said. “We try to keep the doors open. We officially book the space during Ramadan. Then, we are using the space pretty much from morning to sunset.” Khan said he has met the interfaith council a couple of times, and communicated with them mostly through e-mail.

“We’re not so actively involved but we’d like to see more [interfaith to realize what our needs are, and
how we can help each other.”

The chaplain has helped QUMSA on several occasions, Khan said. “He has performed a memorial
service for us,” he said. “He will help us if we approach him.” However, Khan said he would not go to the chaplain for help with his faith.

“Within the faith, he’s not the first figure [I would approach],” he said. “We’re fortunate enough that we have past professors from Queen’s who are very active in the mosque. I would discuss it with them.” The Islamic Society of Kingston is located at 1477 Sydenham Road. Khan said he has experienced discrimination in his time at Queen’s.

“The level of discrimination varies. Someone can say something or someone can do something physically. As a Queen’s student, I have never experienced physical discrimination,” he said. “I have
experienced discrimination in the form of people saying things. Professors who have used terms like ‘Islamist fascists’ and ‘fundamentalists,’ which may not seem unusual to other people.” Khan said a focus in Islam in the religious studies department is lacking.

“The religion itself has come under a microscope in the past few years. It’s the responsibility of academia to ensure people are properly educated about it,” he said. Gurleen Singh, Comm ’07
and president of the Queen’s Sikh Students Association (QSSA ), said her association doesn’t use University facilities for its weekly ceremonies. “I run the ceremony because no one else knows it,” she said. “It’s held at someone’s house because there isn’t a gurudwara in Kingston.” A gurudwara is a Sikh place of worship, or temple. Singh said you don’t have to be a member to attend the ceremonies, called Paht sessions, which are held at a Sikh Kingston resident’s home.

“For our Paht sessions, it’s more beneficial to have it in front of the holy book. It’s beneficial to have the woman there because she can translate,” she said. “We’ve never looked into having it on campus.” Singh said her group doesn’t run events with other religious groups on campus and isn’t involved with the interfaith council, but there’s no animosity between the groups.

“There’s no controversy; we’re all friends.”

Singh said QSSA isn’t funded by the AMS and it’s their responsibility to raise money through events such as bake sales. “There is a rumour that the AMS doesn’t fund religious clubs. Religious groups aren’t a priority for the AMS, but I can understand that because you don’t want to favour one group that doesn’t benefit everyone,” she said. Singh said the most challenging part of running her group is
attracting involvement. “There are a lot of Sikhs on campus who don’t practice.”

Meghan Teuber, AMS vice president (university affairs), said a religious club’s ratification is the same as any other AMS club and gets approved by AMS assembly. “The process is the same. Under the Human Rights code, religious groups have the right to have exclusive membership. Our policy is that our clubs have open membership but because it’s the Human Rights Code, we have to give them exclusive membership,” she said. “For example, QUMSA has an exclusive membership for students who are Muslim and an honorary membership for students who are not.”

She said the AMS does not favour non-religious student groups. “We certainly don’t have any
policy that says we don’t fund religious groups. They have the same access as any other club to
apply for a student fee through referendum or any other grants,” she said.
The distribution of club space is decided by the vice-president (university affairs), the internal affairs commissioner and the student centre officer, Teuber said. “It’s based somewhat on precedent,” she said. “The Debating Union has held the same club space for the past 150 years or whatever. It’s based somewhat on whether they’ll use it, if they need storage, and so on. It has nothing to do with what kind of club it is.” At Queen’s, there isn’t an active Hindu student group or Buddhist student group.
Rahul Sharma, Comm ’07 and a Hindu, cited the fact that Hinduism doesn’t really require you to practice as the reason for the lack of an organized club. “[A Hindu club] is not something they will probably ever have at Queen’s, because of the nature of the religion,” he said. “If we were to establish something, they would do it in different languages, different ways. It’s a very personal religion.”

Sharma said there are a few Hindu students at Queen’s but for them, the way they practice relies on family tradition and incorporates individual prayers and meditation. “The most important thing in
Hinduism is knowledge. So in a way, a Hindu student going to class is the best prayer they could
have made,” he said. “It’s such an adaptable, flexible faith. It’s the religion that works around your schedule.” Sharma said there’s no Hindu temple in Kingston.

The Kuluta Buddhist Centre, located at 182 Wellington St., offers drop-in meditation classes at the JDUC and the Ban Righ Centre free of charge. Kelsang Chogo, education co-ordinator for the centre, said it offers classes and a study program. Regular classes cost $10 and the study program is $75 per month, she said. Dylan Crosby, Law ’09, is one of those students and he frequents the centre three to four times a week. “Most of the practice is through meditation. There are also prayers. Often it’s just reminding yourself, for example, to be kind to others,” he said. “Everyone wants to be happy. It’s such a fundamental wish, but we all suffer. Buddhist teachings teach us the real causes of happiness.”
There are two streams of Buddhism, Theravada and Mahayana, Crosby said.

“I’m a Mahayana Buddhist. In Mahayana Buddhism, you can help others eliminate their suffering. In Therevada, it works towards eliminating the suffering in yourself. In Mahayana, it’s to eliminate it in
yourself so you can eliminate it in others,” he said. The Baha’i club did not return the Journal’s request for comment by press time.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.