Over the duration of my three years at Andover, I have found that our school is largely religiously illiterate. It does not seem as though all, or even most, community members are knowledgeable about and discuss belief systems that are dissimilar from their own. This problem is not confined to the student body; some teachers do not seem to have fundamental knowledge about the beliefs many of their students hold.
Although unintentional, this lack of understanding often forces religious members of our community to feel ostracized and offended.
Our entire community needs to be informed about different belief systems. We all have much to learn when it comes to religion and the faith traditions of members of this community. Even if we think we know about a certain religion or belief system, the truth is that we often have only adopted common misconceptions or developed superficial understandings.
To augment our community’s knowledge of different religions, the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies must play a larger role in the movement to increase religious literacy on campus. Though all students are required to take a religion or philosophy course, we are only required to take one, and it may or may not have anything to do with a religion we do not know much about. Some students take courses like Proof and Persuasion, which does not even touch upon the subject of religion at all. Requiring students to take more religion courses would easily increase student awareness regarding different faiths and belief systems.
Our community must also have conversations about faith outside of classrooms. Many students consider race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation appropriate dinner topics on campus, but we have yet to hold constructive and respectful conversations about what religious systems students on this campus believe in.
My advice is to ask your friends what they believe. It will probably be an awkward conversation, but we have to start somewhere. We have to assume the best of each other, start asking, start listening and start teaching. By discussing various faiths and belief systems, we will take full advantage of the diversity of Andover and learn to better appreciate the distinct religious identities of our peers. Even people who do not consider themselves religious have a perspective to share that others in our community should attempt to understand. These conversations can be difficult because we do not like to admit that we do not know something. However, it is fine that we do not know much about other faiths, yet. It only means that the school could – and should – do a better job educating us about other belief systems.
In fact, Andover has already begun to address the issue of religious illiteracy. Groups like the World Interfaith Harmony Week Planning Committee plan to inform students and faculty members about various belief systems and initiate discussions about faith during Interfaith Harmony Week. The Planning Committee includes student leaders from many different groups related to religion, including myself and some students from the Muslim Student Association, Catholic Student Fellowship, Andover Christian Fellowship, Andover Atheist Club and KidSpirit. Because Interfaith Harmony Week is new on campus, the Planning Committee knows that there is much room for improvement. We will continue to strive to make Interfaith Harmony Week feel even more inclusive and informative. We hope, however, that you were able to appreciate at least a part of this week and that you perhaps have learned something about religion that you did not know before.