Religion at Andover

While some students find it easy to practice their religion amidst their many commitments, others struggle more to balance their time. Rabbi Michael Swarttz said, “I think that [religion] is neglected by a lot of the students, but [PA] is very supportive of religion and religious observance, and makes sure that the religious needs of all of the students are met.” Approximately 100 Phillips Academy students identify themselves as Jewish though only five to ten students attend the weekly Jewish service, according to Swarttz. Swarttz said, “I think it’s partly that students prioritize, and that it’s partly a reflection of service attendance in the general Jewish world.” Ely Shapiro ‘10, President of the Jewish Student Union, said, “I tend to believe that religion is not a priority in the majority of student’s lives.” She said, “Members [of religious clubs] have to make a conscious effort to attend meetings regularly, but with adequate planning, religious clubs do not take a significant amount of time out of a student’s schedule.” Nikita Saxena ‘10, a member of the Hindu Student Union, said, “I don’t think it’s difficult [to practice Hinduism at Andover]. Everyone here is pretty open to what you believe.” “I have a little statue of one of the gods in my room, and when something big is happening I’ll go and say a little prayer, and I know [other] Hindu students on campus do that as well,” Saxena added. Isabella Uria ’10, President of the Catholic Student Fellowship, said that going to mass at home is a family-oriented experience. After coming to PA, she said going to mass provided a community and stability for her faith. Reverend Anne Gardner, Director of Spiritual and Religious Life and Protestant Chaplain said, “I find most students to be enormously curious about religion and religious practices. Most people who are raised in a religious denomination haven’t had opportunities to experience other [religious practices].” Uria said she thinks “there are some very outspoken atheists on campus who try and convince you to change your beliefs. But, in general, people let you do what you want, because they accept it as another aspect of diversity.” Jane Thomas ’10, President of the Andover Christian Fellowship, said, “I haven’t gotten into any debates in the classroom. I think it’s rather peculiar that no one has discussed religion in any of my classes. I think that ‘Jesus’ can be a sort of taboo word.” Mary Kantor, Catholic Chaplain, said about 150 students are members of the Catholic Student Fellowship, which has a social and fellowship gathering every week. Gardner said 25 to 30 people typically attend the Protestant service each week, and that student attendance depends on their other commitments as well as the school year schedule. “I recognize that I’m one piece of a tremendously diverse and exciting curriculum that’s available at Andover, but it is an important piece for some people, and that’s why I take it so seriously,” Gardner said. She added, “[High school] is the time period when a lot of the questions about yourself start to percolate… So this is the natural time to look at the ways in which we have institutionalized religion, as well as the ways in which people can be spiritual, but not connected to a particular institutional church.” She said, “There are definitely students who are very devout [about] whatever religion they practice, but there are so many things competing for students’ time. I’m interested in the Chapel providing religious programming to people who are interested, and [for those students to participate] in whatever way and [at] whatever level they want.”