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Controversy over Hindu prayer space in Harlan Chapel lends to an uncertain future

Published: February 14, 2014
Section: Featured, News


Last week, on Thursday, Feb. 6, a ceremony was to be held in the Harlan Chapel to celebrate the opening of a Hindu prayer space at Brandeis. It was organized as an attempt to advocate interfaith understanding and to provide Hindu students with the convenient provision of a prayer space. The ceremony, titled “Murthi Sthapana” was instead replaced by an educational discussion of Faith and Space due to an issue that occurred. The ceremony and the placement of the Hindu altar has therefore been postponed to a later, unknown time.

Brandeis currently has chapels that only serve the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish communities on campus, as well as a prayer space for the Muslim community. Considering the university’s diversity, however, assigning space for other religions such as Hinduism has become important to students. Several members of the staff and student body have exerted efforts to find or create a Hindu prayer space.

Students looked forward to the opening ceremony that was scheduled for last Thursday, after an extended period of waiting. The opening ceremony would have led to the installation of Hindu deities in the Protestant chapel. The Hindu community at Brandeis aimed to make use of these deities for weekly prayers. They even agreed that when the deities were not in use, they would be stored in the back room, out of sight of the visiting Protestant community.

On Feb. 3, however, involved members of the Hindu community were notified that certain members from the Protestant community faith uncomfortable with sharing the space, as doing so would go against a major tenant Christian doctrine.

The chaplains held a meeting with involved members three days before the ceremony, where they decided that the ceremony would instead be changed to a discussion of Faith and Space to get a variety of perspectives on the concept of shared religious space.

Despite the disappointing delay in integrating a Hindu prayer space, students felt that the discussion held last Thursday was productive and educational. Approximately 20 people showed their support and shared their thoughts on the issue. Students, chaplains, faculty members and prominent administrators, such as Andrew Flagel, appeared at the discussion. The session made it explicit that having a Hindu prayer space in the Protestant chapel would be problematic, yet members of different communities agreed that having a Hindu prayer space is both necessary and convenient for Brandeis’ Hindu community.

The Hindu community, as of now, remains unsure as to what the solution to this situation might be. Sharada Sanduga ’14, an actively involved student in the matter, remains hopeful for the current situation. “As of now, it seems as though a separate Hindu prayer space would be ideal for everyone, but we wish to keep the spirit of interfaith strong and hope that everyone is open to education,” she said.