Living on a Prayer: Religion at Andover

At a terrifically diverse, nondenominational Secondary School with a Protestant heritage the role of religion might seem amorphous. Conversations with members of the Phillips Academy community confirmed that the spectrum of religious life at PA is as wide as the backgrounds of students. However, the treatment of religion outside of one’s own personal faith, in relations and exchanges with other students and faculty members, contributes to a distinct discomfort many Andover students have with the subject of creed altogether. Prior to the 1970s, students were required to attend daily Protestant services in Cochran Chapel. Founder Samuel Phillips, Jr. incorporated Calvinist doctrine into the school’s constitution. The Academy grew in tandem with the Andover Theological Seminary, founded as a department of Phillips Academy in 1807, making it the oldest graduate school of theology in the nation, until its merger with Harvard Divinity School in 1910. Today, Andover attempts to ensure that all those who wish to practice their faith on campus are able to do so. Andover employs three chaplains, the Reverend Michael J. Ebner ’70, Rabbi Neil E. Kominsky, and Father Francisco Nahoe ’80, to serve the needs of the school’s Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic student communities, as well as students of other faiths. Religious student organizations include Christianity Happening in Living Life (CHILL), the Hindu Student Fellowship, the Catholic Student Fellowship, the Andover Christian Fellowship, the United Muslim Association, Quaker Meeting, and the Jewish Student Union. The Andover Interfaith Round Table encourages understanding and cooperation between students of all faiths. Services and events celebrating Yom Kippur, Easter, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and Passover, as well as other religious holidays, take place throughout the academic year. Prayer rugs lie in the Oliver Wendell Holmes library for Muslim students. Yet conversely it is almost impossible to keep strictly kosher as a boarding student at Andover. Commons has no kosher kitchen and serves no kosher meat. The department of Philosophy and Religious Studies (RelPhil) has been entirely independent from the chaplaincy for more than two decades. The department seeks “to promote the development of self-critical, tolerant individuals who are committed to working with others to achieve a common good,” affirming that, “the study of religious traditions and an introduction to sustained philosophical inquiry are central components of effective liberal education,” as per RelPhil’s Explication of Statement of Purpose. Despite PA’s plethora of religious student organizations, academic approach to religious studies, and diverse student body and faculty, some students feel that the general attitude towards religion at Andover is one of indifference or disregard. Bob Divers ’07 said, “I don’t feel that religion is very present here. I’ve never gone to any religious services, and we’ve never had any All-School Meetings on religion. I mean, we’ve had AIDS workshops and an entire day devoted to racial equality and tolerance on Martin Luther King Day, but nothing on religious awareness.” Prateek Kumar ’07 noted that, “As a devout Hindu, the campus seems accepting of religion, but in a distant way. Religion is almost a taboo for a lot of students.” He added, “While the school makes a concerted effort to make people feel comfortable practicing their faith, [religion] isn’t very important in most students’ lives.” Indeed, many students seemed reluctant to discuss their own religious lives at Phillips Academy. Becky Greenberg ’07 remarked that religion among the general student population is “not too existent, but the people who are [religious] seem to take it very seriously.” Okosua Oforiwaa-Ayim ’07 described Christian services at Andover as “much less lively compared to my church at home…I only went on Easter this year.” She agreed with Greenberg, “not very many people here are religious, but there’s a very small minority of people that are…people in CHILL seem to go [to church] every Sunday.” While Andover certainly provides the resources to students that actively seek to practice their faith, the general attitude of students toward religion at the Academy is one of ambivalence. Such a religious worldview may be the result of national cultural trends or the culture of the school. Andover students will enter a world where they are expectd to be leaders where many of the most crucial global conflicts lie deeply rooted in spirituality. It would seem more fitting that with the diversity of “Youth from Every Quarter” would come a broader corss section of religious fervor.