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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Hindu community still in need of a permanent space for worship

Published: March 21, 2014
Section: Featured, News

Members of the Protestant and Hindu communities, along with other faculty and staff, sat down in early February to talk about options for the religious group, Namaskar, to have a place of worship. The discussion, which took place in the Harlan Chapel, was sponsored by the Interfaith Chaplaincy to have an open discussion about faith and space after members of the Protestant community raised concerns about having the Hindu community using the Chapel to hold their new Hindu altar. Weeks later, a temporary Hindu prayer space has been established in the ICC.

Discussions are still being held about allocating the Hindu community a place to worship, including a place to hold a ceremony as a dedication of their alter. The Protestant Chaplain, Rev. Matt Carriker, said after an email was sent to the community about sharing the space, some students and professors voiced concerns over the legal issues relating to a shared space and being comfortable with it.

“I originally didn’t see any problems with it,” Carriker said. “But there are thousands of dimensions to the Protestant faith, all with different beliefs. As we started to publicize the date, there were some concerns about having the ceremony in the Protestant Chapel. Legally, we’re still trying to figure out if there was somewhere in the contract that says the Chapel is solely for Protestant worship.”

Carriker said that they have lawyers helping them look into this issue, but in general that there is a larger issue presenting itself in this situation regarding faith.

“I think there’s not as much knowledge about Hinduism so there were concerns about what it means to establish this Hindu altar with the deities in the Protestant space reserved for Protestant worship and prayer,” he said. “And so this made some students share their objections to it based on their own faith and their interpretation of faith.”

In the long term, Carriker hopes that they can build another chapel. As of now, the school has three chapels, but there are more religious groups represented here in the community. Carriker thinks that Brandeis should look to other schools for new ideas such as Northeastern University, which has a multi-faith sacred space that all religions of the community can share.

Carriker said that the recently hired Hindu adviser, Vaishali Gupta, is helping to look for a permanent space for Namaskar, a group on campus established to promote Hindu, Jain and Sikh culture and spiritual heritage.

Co-President of Namaskar, Sharada Sanduga ’14, said that Carriker and Gupta have been very helpful in trying to find a permanent space for the group. She said she said that she is glad that people in the community voiced their concerns about sharing a space.

“They were very compelling arguments, and it’s hard to deny what people feel,” Sanduga said. “I would rather have people bring these issues to the table than having people sitting with it and being uncomfortable with it.”

Sanduga also stressed the importance of having a space where her own community feels safe and comfortable.

“With religion, you need to be open, so we understood why there was an issue but we were glad there was an honest and safe discussion about it,” Sanduga said. “We want to be comfortable in our space of prayer, and we don’t believe we have the right to be denied of this space.”

Sanduga, Carriker and Gupta have worked together to establish a temporary space in the Multipurpose Room of the Intercultural Center (ICC). On Monday evenings from 5-7 p.m., Hindu services will be held in this space. It has a kitchen, which is something that the chapel lacks, and it is a large space that Sanduga said “works for everyone.”

“So far, there have been no conflicts of interest,” Sanduga said. “Hopefully in the long run we can have our own space where everyone can come and learn.”

Monique Gnanaratnam, the director of the ICC, said the Namaskar group and all members of the community are more than welcome to join for an opportunity to learn, worship and unite as a group.

“I am pleased that Hindu Services will be held in the Intercultural Center,” Gnanaratnam said. “Students have anticipated the opportunity to have services at their home institution. It is wonderful to see the opportunity to worship and to provide inter-faith education for our community come to fruition.”