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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Interfaith Chaplaincy expands its reach

Published: November 8, 2013
Section: Featured, News

With an active Interfaith Chaplaincy composed of four chaplains—Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and Muslim—the religious and spiritual leadership at Brandeis University already reflects the diversity within the student body. Now the school has welcomed a new Hindu chaplain, Vaishali Gupta, who will work to serve the spiritual needs of students in the Hindu, Jain and Sikh communities.

The Chaplaincy hosted a meet-and-greet event to welcome Gupta on Wednesday, Nov. 6.

Gupta, who is already the spiritual advisor for Hindu students at Wellesley College, hopes to incorporate her passion for the environment into her interfaith work at Brandeis. She spoke fondly about her role in organizing “Diversitree,” a sustainable food gardening project that took place in her hometown of Ashland, MA. The initiative was a response to President Obama’s Interfaith Challenge, which works to bring religious communities together through community service projects.

The new chaplain plans to lead a two-hour prayer and discussion group every Thursday evening, based on the prayers and rituals that students are most interested in including.

Gupta led the candle-lighting ceremony at the Diwali celebration hosted by Namaskar, the student-led organization for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, on Friday, Nov. 1. She explained the customs of the holiday to many students who were experiencing Diwali for the first time. Her responsibilities include leading other holiday celebrations, planning field trips to Hindu, Jain and Sikh temples in the Boston area and inviting speakers who can teach the greater Brandeis community about other aspects of Hinduism.

She is most looking forward to becoming part of a campus community “with a lot of excitement for spirituality” and “making our education whole” with a new multicultural perspective.

The chaplaincy found Gupta after a three-year search, with much input from members of Namaskar and other students who wanted to see a greater representation of their religion on campus. Led by Catholic Chaplain Father Walter Cuenin, the chaplaincy searched the Boston Hindu community for a well-versed spiritual leader who could “hear what the students need,” Rev. Matthew Carriker, the Protestant chaplain said.

Carriker described how the chaplaincy is working harder to meet the needs of students whose religious backgrounds are not as widely represented at Brandeis. Jihyang Padma, a Buddhist nun, is coming to campus to speak next Monday, while Sangha, the Buddhist meditation and culture club, will now meet twice a week.

Atheists and non-religious students are part of this initiative as well. In February, Chris Stedman, the chaplain for atheists, agnostics and secular humanists at Harvard University, will visit Brandeis to deliver a lecture on his book, “Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious.”

The chaplains agreed unanimously that with Gupta’s arrival, they are most looking forward to “adding more diversity to the interfaith conversation” by learning from perspectives beyond the Abrahamic religions.

“There are two components of our jobs: serving the people in our own faith traditions and thinking creatively about what we can do as chaplains,” Carriker said. “Interfaith service, coming together for peace and social justice, only becomes richer when there are more faiths sitting around the table.”