The conference attracted leaders of interfaith communities from 21 colleges all over the United States. We marveled at the extensive religious facilities available at Yale. We attended a Shabbat service and ate dinner at a four-story building dedicated to Yale’s Jewish students. I couldn’t help but compare this space to the Makom Prayer Room that the Jewish students at our campus share with the Hindu Student Association.
While I was amazed at the luxurious prayer spaces around the Yale campus (and heard about the spaces available at other universities), I also noticed that such physical separation between religious communities correlated with intergroup separation. I heard students describe their various religious student associations as “cliques” that stay out of each other’s way, posing a challenge to interfaith dialogue. Since religion at these campuses was more of a private matter, students reveled at the chance to engage with difference at this interfaith conference.
Suddenly, the regularity of interfaith dialogue at our campus overwhelmed my jealousy for Yale’s large buildings. Yes, I enjoyed talking to people of other faiths who were equally interested in religion: it never gets old. But at Georgetown, interreligious interaction is so casual; Catholic students attend Hindu puja not because a program requires them to do so, but because they want to see their friends.
It becomes easy to think that Georgetown would be such a better place if only we had a larger endowment and more space. It becomes easy to remove yourself from the “money isn’t everything” platitude and covet another campus’ greener grass. But while I’m in no position to state that Georgetown touts a greater religious atmosphere than Yale, I will say that interfaith dialogue is built into Georgetown’s DNA, distinguishing it from the more secular universities.